Rated PG - Running Time: 1:26 - Released 8/6/99

As summer wears on and the blockbusters run their course and fade from memory, there are always a few cinematic gems that emerge seemingly from nowhere. In the wake of Disney's Inspector Gadget and Henson's Muppets From Space, we find an unpretentious little film called The Iron Giant, released by Warner Brothers, which threatens to outsell both its competitors. It lacks their multimillion-dollar price tags, but is still a warm, pleasing story with nice characterizations and a good message.

Directed by Brad Bird, The Iron Giant takes place in 1957 just after the launch of Sputnik. As the Soviet satellite orbits the Earth, an unidentified object crashes into the Atlantic Ocean near Rockwell, Maine. A local fisherman with a drinking habit phones the government, though his story is considered suspect by his friends. Meanwhile, the creature is discovered by a young boy named Hogarth Hughes (voice of Eli Marienthal). Finding the 100-foot giant struggling in some power lines at the town's electric plant, the boy saves it from electrocution by shutting off the juice. And so a friendship is born.

Soon a man from the governmment appears to investigate a recent call. Chief Inspector Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald) is a rabid anti-Communist who spouts "red scare" dogma at the slightest provocation. Hogarth doesn't trust Mansley from the start, but his mother Annie (Jennifer Aniston) shares no such feeling. She rents out the spare room to the G-man, who senses that Hogarth has something to hide. While he attempts to trail the boy, Hogarth has clandestine meetings in the woods with his new pet, teaching him some English and several principles of Earthly philosophy boiled down to simple phrases, such as "guns kill" and "souls don't die."

Hogarth finds a friend in beatnik artist Dean McCoppin (Harry Connick Jr.), who runs a scrapyard and uses the discarded metal to create junk sculptures. Dean is willing to accept the gentle giant, but doesn't appreciate the huge bites taken out of his prized possessions. As Inspector Mansley closes in with plans to destroy the giant (which he suspects to be of Soviet origin), Hogarth and Dean must try to protect it. But the robot is soon on the run from the U.S. military, and must choose between his own existence and that of his little friend.

There's no question that The Iron Giant lacks the slick production design and marketing strategies of Disney, Dreamworks, et al. But a great lesson it teaches is that quality beats quanitity when it comes to dollars spent. Warner Bros. and the film's producers (among them Pete Townshend of The Who) see the value of finding a good script and quality talent. The story is a heartwarming treatise on the power of love over prejudice, and the actors all do a fine job, particularly Marienthal. Though it is really the little guy, The Iron Giant fairly towers over its competitors. ****½

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

See Current Reviews

See FilmQuips Archive