The Iron Giant is an old-school animated adventure that highlights the unearthed prowess of director Brad Bird. While this was his animated debut away from Disney, Bird is best known for his work on The Incredibles and Ratatoille, as well as live-action films like Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and Tomorrowland. It’s obvious that the man knows how to blow things up beautifully on screen, but he also has a knack for making us care about his characters, too.
Based on Ted Hughes’ The Iron Man, this 1999 gem features yesteryear’s animation blended with computer animation to display an unlikely friendship between a five-story alien robot and a nine-year-old boy named Hogarth Hughes in the midst of the Cold War (circa late 1950s). Hogarth (voiced by Eli Marienthal) is being raised by his single mother (Jennifer Aniston), who works as a waitress, scraping together enough to pay the bills but lacking the time to properly care for Hogarth. When he discovers the Iron Giant (voiced by Vin Diesel), he finds a friend and cohort for his adventures.
While John Mahoney’s General Kenneth Rogard is the bigwig military leader in Washington who finds himself facing a threat to national security, slimy Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald) is the real bad guy in this story, who fears that the Iron Giant is simply to big and powerful (too other) to be worth getting to know. What follows is clearly a reflection on the Red Scare/McCarthyism, but sadly, reflects on the way our country still operates in some corners.
In this signature edition, a special feature will unpack the story behind how the film was first critically acclaimed, then a box office bomb, and finally beloved in many circles (including my home!) There remain feature-length commentaries by Bird and others that were previously available, as well as a ‘making of’ featurette lead by Diesel with commentary by cast and crew. It’s a clear reflection on the way that our ‘tastes’ change over time, but that the best of what we see tends to stick around.
Still, as a movie lover, a father, and a pastor, I see the beauty of this in the way that the Iron Giant takes his cues from Hogarth: he recognizes the need for heroes, for people who will lay their lives down for their friends (Jesus said that somewhere). While the government – namely Mansley – see the Giant as ‘other,’ and therefore a threat, Hogarth recognizes the beauty in his individuality and creative ability and befriends him.
If only we would be a bit more like our kids, we might stop seeing the ‘other’ in each other, and instead recognize the imago dei instead.