Brad Bird’s wonderful film The Iron Giant has a ton of honest and genuine heart to match its retro animated style, and despite not finding a blockbuster theatrical audience, has become both a cult and family favorite for those looking for a film with a serious message and that still packs prime entertainment value. Released in 1999, The Iron Giant’s thoughtful screenplay by Tim McCanlies (based on the novel The Iron Man by Ted Hughes) is its greatest asset, and when combined with Bird’s astute visual sense, this Cold War-set fable about a boy who meets and saves a giant robot from outer space really takes flight as one of the more memorable hand-drawn pictures of the last 20 years.
The voice-work is fabulous, with Vin Diesel’s imposing voice work a perfect match for the titular character, while Elie Marienthal, Jennifer Aniston, Christopher McDonald, Harry Connick, Jr., John Mahoney, M. Emmet Walsh, James Gammon, and Cloris Leachman all delivered fantastic vocal support that never felt at odds with the vintage aesthetic that Bird and his collaborators presented to the audience. Michael Kamen’s superb score pulls on the heartstrings and provides sonic adventure in equal measure. Filmmaker Joe Johnston assisted in the design of the robot.
There’s a sense of innocence to both the narrative and the aesthetic that I’ve always found refreshing, and it’s no surprise that Bird’s live-action features (Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol and the underrated Tomorrowland) feel like films that embrace the anything-can-happen vibe that an animated film brings to the table. I’ll never understand why Warner Brothers would have spent the amount of money that they did on this film (reportedly between $70-80 million) to then just half-heartedly release it with a minimum of advertising outside of the key summer weekends or closer to the holidays.