The Birthday Series – The Iron Giant (1999)

Droids Birthday Series 1999 Resulting from an ill-advised decision to count down to my birthday by reviewing a film released on or around August 2nd for every year of my life, I give you 1999.

The Iron Giant Poster I’m not really a huge fan of animated films. Apart from Pixar and Aardman I don’t actively seek them out. Don’t get me wrong, there are some wonderful animated films out there, but for the most part they don’t do that much for me. For this reason, this is the first time I’ve seen ‘The Iron Giant’.

The Iron Giant 5 It’s 1957 and the cold war is trucking along quite nicely. The Russian satellite Sputnick has just been launched and America is anxiously looking to the skies. Off the coast of Maine something crashes into the ocean. It’s a gigantic robot from outer space that feeds on metal. 9 year old Hogarth (Eli Marienthal), who lives with his single mum (Jennifer Aniston), befriends the robot after he saves it from electrocution when it tries to eat a power plant. But with a government stooge hanging around asking questions, where do you hide a hundred foot tall robot?


“The Iron Man came to the top of the cliff. How far he had walked? Nobody knows. Where he had come from? Nobody knows. How he was made? Nobody knows.”

                                               – Ted Hughes, “The Iron Man”

The Iron Giant 1 ‘The Iron Giant’ is a “delightful” little film. It’s a very basic story of friendship, with some easily recognisable themes about “you are whatever you choose to be”. There’s echoes of ‘ET’ in the sense that a boy befriends a unearthly being and must hide him from the government nasties.

The Iron Giant 4 The performances by the voice actors are excellent. Marienthal (who was Stifler Jr in the ‘American Pie’ films) is terrific, lending Hogarth that childish wonder and enthusiasm for just about anything. Aniston and Harry Connick Jr, as the junkyard owning artist that helps to hide the robot, are good as well. And Christopher McDonald is great as the villainous CIA goon Kent Mansley who’s paranoia endangers the whole town. An unrecognisable Vin Diesel is the voice of the Iron Giant and John Mahoney has a small role as the Army General who mistakenly believes Mansley’s stories.

The Iron Giant 3 Based on the novel “The Iron Man” by Ted Hughes, the screenplay by Tim McCanlies alters the tale slightly. The novel saw some sort of enormous creature (my memory is vague so correct me where I go wrong) attack earth, and The Iron Man protected us. Changing the setting from rural England to Maine, McCanlies plays up the Cold War paranoia aspects of the story. He also makes the robot into an actual weapon, one that transforms into (many) guns when it’s defence is triggered. The government (deceiving the Army) is the enemy here, which makes it a more relevant story for older American audiences, but I doubt that the target audience will have been able to understand quite what the story entailed. But no doubt that will matter nought, because the themes of friendship and loyalty will be more recognisable, and there is a certain element of wonder watching this giant robot simply walking amongst the forest. And there are certain scenes, such as when a deer is shot and killed by hunters, that boldly teach the audience about death. It’s unusual for themes such as these to appear in a childrens animated film.

The Iron Giant 2 This is the feature length début of director Brad Bird, who went on to make the brilliant superhero film ‘The Incredibles’ and the wonderful ‘Ratatouille’. The Iron Giant has some excellent use of traditional line animation. The characters are basic, but clearly defined and always believably natural. And there’s a scene in the film where Hogarth is wandering through the forest at night searching with his flashlight. The realistic way the flashlight is animated was really quite impressive. Bird is (currently) attached to ‘Mission Impossible IV’, which will be his live-action début. It’s not a film I’d have wanted him to make. Not that it can’t be good. Just that I’d rather he not do a third sequel to a tired franchise. But hopefully that will lead to better, more interesting films in the future.

The Iron Giant 6 ‘The Iron Giant’ is a wonderfully entertaining film, with surprisingly grown up themes, as well as plenty for the kids. It’s a nice tale of friendship, and one of the better animated films I’ve seen.


Thanks for coming! This has been my 1999 party. Drink up. Time to leave now. The ugly lights are on!


For Droids a jolly good fellow!

2009 – The Collector

2008 – The Midnight Meat Train

2007 – Hot Rod

2006 – Bon Cop Bad Cop

2005 – The Dukes of Hazzard

2004 – The Manchurian Candidate

2003 – Gigli

2002 – Signs

2001 – Rush Hour 2

2000 – Hollow Man


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About Judge Droid

In between refining my procrastination skills I talk a lot of shit about movies and such.

31 responses to “The Birthday Series – The Iron Giant (1999)”

  1. Continentalop says :

    I’m not a huge Animated film fan either, but I love this film. I was absolutely blown away.

    Forget MI:IV, they should really tap Brad Bird for the next Superman movie. This film proves the character is still relevant and can connect to people, and the basic plot of the Iron Giant would work wonders as the template for a Superman movie involving Bizzarro IMO.

    Great review Droid.

    • Continentalop says :

      I would give it one more Chang though. I do see this as a 4 Chang animated movie. But that is just me.

    • Droid says :

      Cheers Conti. Yeah, I’ve thought of Bird for Superman as well. That was based on The Incredibles (also thought of The Avengers as well). I think he’d make an amazing Supes flick.

      I was toying with giving this 3 1/2. I think if I watched it another time, say in a year or two, I will probably appreciate it more. It’s one that will grow on me I think. Still, great film, and a 3 Chang minimum.

      • Droid says :

        And I’m just hoping that MI:IV will be the jumping off point for him. If, as I expect, it’s at least a solid film, he will be able to move onto bigger and better things.

      • Continentalop says :

        Well, it had good Superman references. So that always means an extra Chang out of me (save for Kill Bill, which lost a Chang with it’s horrible and pointless Superman monologue).

  2. just pillow talk says :

    This is a good flick, and I completely forgot he was attached for the fourth MI.

    I wonder why he chose to go with that? I would think he would have had some leeway to go into another unique direction for his live action debut. I mean, the dude has a proven track record in succeeding, albeit in the animated world.

  3. ThereWolf says :

    Yeh, I also sniff around animated films warily.

    Usually, there’ll be a phase I go through when nothing but animation will do. I’ll wait for one one of those to come round again and give Iron Giant a go.

    Nice one, Droid.

  4. Bartleby says :

    Im writing this one up for the 99 segment over at PCN. (BTW, Droid, need Bowfinger)

    I’d give it an extra star to add up to 4 too. I know it isn’t subtle, but I think I honestly prefer it to E.T., once the nostalgia has cleared from everything. I think the ending here is more powerful, and it’s heart-tugging without being emotionally sloppy.

    I can’t help but feel with E.T., its less about who he is, and more about the feelings that others imbue him with. He doesn’t do anything really spectacular as a character.

    The IG on the other hand, gets a chance to make a real character choice, and I think he’s arguably well-rounded by the time the movie closes. That bit at the end.. with ‘Superman’?

    Like a bitch.

    • Continentalop says :

      I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who loved that Superman bit at the end. I didn’t cry, but it sure pulled my heart-strings.

  5. koutchboom says :

    You know this film did not hold up for me second time around. Yeah it was good, but I didn’t love it as much as I did when I first saw it.

    • Bartleby says :

      geez, nothing but Pixar will do for our Koutch.

    • Bartleby says :

      I actually just rewatched it with my nephews this weekend, back to back with The Incredibles, and it’s still terrific. I lvoe the animation, the voicework, the attention to detail, and the fact that there’s real character to the designs. Also, kudos for an animated picture attempting to do a period drama without all the daffy stuff most aniamted movies at that time had.

      • ThereWolf says :

        I’m not drawn to that style of animation. I’ll still give it a go. I got reet turned off by the animation in Titan AE.

      • Bartleby says :

        try it out There, I think you will be surprised. I saw the trailer and thought the animation looked a bit cheap. When I actually saw the film, I appreciated it a great deal more. The best thing though, that I think will endear you to it, is the fact it’s an honest to goodness 50’s space alien movie.

      • ThereWolf says : has got it, so I might give it a spin later on.

    • koutchboom says :

      Yeah I’m not saying I hate it or anything, but at first it would’ve been 4 out of 4, now it’s like 3 out of 4.

  6. Droid says :

    It could’ve all gone horribly wrong. Bird made the decision not to use any of this…

    …which was the original intention when the film was greenlit.

    • Droid says :

      Not that I’ve actually heard it, I must admit. It just wouldn’t have been as good IMO.

    • Bartleby says :

      yea, I remember that. It isn’t and it wouldn’t have been. I love Ted Hughes original book, but it’s actually quite a different beast, with the Iron Man being a more conventional hero of sorts, and battling, rather humorously, a giant space dragon, whom he eventually bests and reforms(if I am remembering it correctly).

      I appreciate the transformation of it into a Cold War parable, and I was legitimately surprised in that third act bit when the death-rays come out.

      Still, I remember walking out of the theater thinking that this was still the Iron Giant I remembered as a child. That’s kind of impressive in and of itself.

      • koutchboom says :

        You know the Iron Giant story sort of reminds me of the Savage Dragon origin story.

        Savage Dragon is actually the worlds worst monster, he kills and rapes everything. He was either sent to Earth to destory it and something happened and he lost his memory and woke up wanting to do good, or he went to Earth on purpose to lose his memory and become good. Something like that.

        Yeah not really similar but same idea, monster turned good, but that’s in a lot of things.

      • Droid says :

        I remember the book from my early childhood. But I don’t remember much from the actual tale, apart from giant robot from space.

        The story is quite different, but the screenplay got the tick of approval from Hughes.

        Hughes himself was sent a copy of McCanlies’ script and sent a letter back, saying how pleased he was with the version. In the letter, Hughes stated, “I want to tell you how much I like what Brad Bird has done. He’s made something all of a piece, with terrific sinister gathering momentum and the ending came to me as a glorious piece of amazement. He’s made a terrific dramatic situation out of the way he’s developed The Iron Giant. I can’t stop thinking about it.”

        This is the image I remembered from my childhood…

        The Iron Man

    • ThereWolf says :

      John Lee Hooker as the Iron Giant!

      Gotta love that.

  7. Bartleby says :

    not to give too many spoilers, but I dont think of the IG as in the same camp as the thing ‘that kills and rape everything’ and forgets, so he becomes a good guy.

    It’s not like Darth Vader coming to Earth, losing his memory and deciding to do good. I think plotwise, it’s a more interesting concept. Like if a missle became sentient and actually pondered the choice of whether or not it wanted to detonate.

    • koutchboom says :

      Yeah I was just saying in terms of created for evil turned into good, I realized about half way through that they didn’t really match but I put it anyway because most people don’t know that about Savage Dragon.

  8. Continentalop says :

    Isn’t the Black Sabbath song “Iron Man” based on the book?

  9. redfishybluefishy says :

    I’m with many of you, I’m not in love with animated films, in general, but I do like this one. It’s got all the elements I like.

    But honestly, one of my favorite things about The Iron Giant is the colour pallette. There’s something about those autumn evening tones that just makes me want to curl up in it.

    great review. the countdown continues!

  10. ThereWolf says :

    Seen it now.

    It was okay. Considering it’s for kids, the discussion about death they have in the film was quite brave.

  11. Tom_Bando says :

    *Very good review Droid.

    *I have this on VHS, haven’t watched in ages, really like it.


    *Just got back from Maine. They could USE some giant Robots there.

    *My memory is WB just threw this away, which was a shame, really fine fine movie.

    *Best Vin Diesel role yet.

  12. koutchboom says :

  13. MORBIUS says :

    One of my favorite animated movies, nice to
    see that you gave it a shot…and liked it.
    Nice piece Droid.

    I recommend ‘Treasure Planet’ as you’re
    next foray into the Wonderful World of Animation.

    • koutchboom says :

      Yeah I love Treasure Planet, great film and animation as well. Maybe the best looking hand drawn stuff Disney has every done. JGL FTW!

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