Sometimes people snicker when I say The Iron Giant is my favorite movie.
I’m not sure why; I’m hard-pressed to find a more likeable, entertaining and all-around great movie. Sure, animation isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Many people unfairly shrug off animation as a children’s genre unworthy of comparison to live-action films, but they really are missing out on some of the great stories of cinema.
The Iron Giant tells the story of a robot crash-landed on earth, who crosses path with pre-teen Hogarth Hughes in a sci-fi adventure that every young boy has dreamed about. Particularly Hogarth, who spends his nights at home alone eating Twinkies while watching sci-fi horror films. But Hogarth has to keep the Giant hidden from the Sputnik-paranoid town.
In my opinion, no movie quite strikes the balance of comedy, action, adventure and heart that this movie has. There are scenes that are absolutely hysterical: see Hogarth’s unconventional way of “saying grace” or his coffee-fueled rant about school bullies. And there are deep meditations on soul, death and purpose. Brad Bird said the originating question of the film was “What if a gun had a soul?” and the Giant answers.
The relationship between Hogarth and Giant is one of the best ever put on screen, capturing a wide-eyed wonder I’ve never quite felt to that degree in any other film. The Giant is the obvious outcast, but that allows him to make fast friends with Hogarth who is also a misfit. Both characters are labeled by the people around them, but the core of their character is much deeper than what people see on the surface. When Giant looks at comics with Hogarth, he sees his mirror in Atomo on the outside, but Superman is who he is on the inside.
Grown men cry at “I am Superman” and the final declaration that “you are who you choose to be” may be simple, but resonates so powerfully due to the construction of the movie. Hogarth’s Mom and Dean are such great adult characters — they act like real people instead of the mindless idiot parents we have seen plenty in animated fare. And Kent Mansley is both scary and hilarious as the NSA agent bent on cracking Hogarth’s secret. His meltdown when trying to put the phone back on the receiver is a highlight.
Although it was a box office flop when it was released, more people have fortunately been finding this film every year. I, for one, am happy to see that The Iron Giant is finally ascending to its proper place in the echelon of animated film.