I’ve always found it strange that even as an adult I can go back to my favorite movies from when I was a child and still find them to be as enthralling and magical as when I was young. Hell, I can even find that same magic still alive in the higher quality modern children’s movies that I see for the first time as an adult like Up or Where the Wild Things Are. There is something about being transported back to the innocence and beauty of childhood that is absolutely mesmerizing. Intellectuals often look down on children’s movies and say they are beneath them, but that I think that is just silly. No more proof can be found that the first children’s movie I have reviewed so far for this blog also happens to be the best movie I’ve reviewed so far. 1999’s The Iron Giant, while a complete commercial flop, is in my mind one of the finest children movies ever made.
The Iron Giant tells the tale of young Hogarth Hughes living in picturesque Maine in the 1950’s in a town that could be taken straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting (purposefully, I believe, the town itself is called Rockwell). He likes to stay up late and watch cheesy science fiction movies of the day and read stacks and stacks of comic books. He’s a latchkey kid and his imagination is his portal to escape the boredom of his life. His life is turned upside down by the arrival of a giant robot from outer space that he quickly befriends. I won’t ruin the rest of the plot, but what follows is a beautiful tale of friendship, the loss of innocence, and a surprisingly dark take on the Red Scare for what is otherwise a children’s film.
The film is beautifully animated. It expertly combines gorgeous hand-drawn animation along with slickly incorporated computer imagery. The script by Tim McCanlies and Brad Bird is riveting and well-written all the way through. It’s a loving send-up of old science fiction features along with the coming of age tale of classic movies like E.T. (which is an obvious and huge influence on the film). Brad Bird actually made one of my favorite Pixar movies as well, The Incredibles. He’s a man with some serious talent in this particular field. Much like Up and Toy Story 3, this film had me just ravaged by tears by the end of it. It’s touching and heart-felt and if you aren’t emotionally moved by the sincerity of the film, then perhaps you are heartless.
The film only had one flaw, and it was the very last scene, which diluted a lot of the emotional impact of the fifteen minutes or so before it. That’s pretty much the only reason this film didn’t get a perfect score. Honestly, if you are able to still appreciate the child-like wonder needed to watch a family film, watch this right now. It’s a loving tribute to the wonders of being a child, but at the same time, it’s mixed with just enough of a political commentary about the 1950’s and the Red Scare to be incredibly interesting and enthralling to adults of all ages. You owe it to yourself to watch this if you have never seen it before, or to watch it again if you haven’t seen in it in a long, long time.
Final Score: A