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Film Review: The Iron Giant

The Iron Giant (1999; Directed by Brad Bird)

Brad Bird finally got his well-deserved huge success with his Pixar films, but this Cold War-era parable about technology and morality was his first great piece of feature animation work, and maybe the last great traditional 2D animated film. Adapting a Ted Hughes novel (yes, Sylvia Plath fans, that Ted Hughes) about a mountainous extraterrestrial robot who lands on earth and is befriended by a precocious and lonely boy, Bird displays his sharp visual and verbal wit and crafts a tale of its time but for all time. With fine voice performances all around, especially from Vin Diesel (yes, bad movie fans, that Vin Diesel) as the Giant and Harry Connick, Jr. as a charming junkyard Beatnik artist, Bird’s uncanny version of 1950s America encapsulates nuclear paranoia and secretive government control, and floats portentous meanings without weighing itself down.

Ultimately, The Iron Giant has much to say about America’s monomania for “national security”, especially in War on Terror era that it cannily anticipated by a few years. The parable of a sentient machine built as a weapon that learns to care for others instead of destroying them is a gentle but powerful reminder that even when faced with nebulous dangers and unapprehended threats, the good and moral shouldn’t abandon their values. Bird’s film suggests that preserving the tolerant democratic soul is a greater sign of strength than resorting to vengeful violence, and does it without a hint of self-involved didacticism. In a modern political climate in which pre-emptive war, imprisonment without trial, and even torture are apparently state actions whose righteousness and legality is up for debate, this remains a powerful and timely message. And how wonderful that it has a magnificent animated film such as this to help drive it home.

Categories: Film, Reviews
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