The Iron Giant: Special Edition
June 13, 2005
When The Iron Giant was released in 1999, it flew in the face of the current trend popularized by Disney animated musicals. Based on the 1968 children’s book, The Giant: A Story in Five Nights, by late British poet Ted Hughes, The Iron Giant refuses to rely on musical numbers and simplify its message in an obvious appeal to kids. It is one of those rare animated films that both adults and kids can appreciate. It is also a nostalgic ode to the ’50s that is thought-provoking and entertaining.
Set in the small town of Rockwell, Maine in 1957, a nine-year old boy named Hogarth (Marienthal) befriends a mysterious 50-foot robot (Diesel) that has crash-landed near the town from outer space. Raised on a steady diet of alien invasion B-movies, Hogarth tries his best to hide the presence of his large, metallic friend from his mother (Aniston). He also keeps his new friend a secret from a snooping government agent (McDonald), but ends up sharing it with Dean, a jazz-loving beatnik sculptor (Connick, Jr.), who runs the local scrap-yard.
In many respects, The Iron Giant has a lot in common with another excellent film that came out around the same time, October Sky (1999). Both films are set in the same year (1957) with the beginnings of the space race and the dawn of the atomic age as their respective backdrops to the main action. The young protagonists of each film are dreamers and outsiders of their societies and present refreshingly peaceful resolutions to their respective conflicts.
The Iron Giant has a wonderfully nostalgic, small-town atmosphere that is brought to life by stunning animation that is on par with anything that Disney has produced in recent years. The attention to period detail, from the cheesy educational videos that Hogarth’s class is forced to watch, to the way the townspeople talk, is faithfully recreated and goes a long way to drawing the viewer into this engaging world.
The real strength of The Iron Giant is the relationships between the characters—something that is often overlooked in animated films in favour of flashy visuals and epic musical numbers. This film has the feel of a very intimate, character-driven story with the relationship between Hogarth and his robot friend as the emotional center but with several other relationships (like the ones between Hogarth and his mother and between him and Dean) featured prominently as well. This is no simple Saturday morning cartoon but a strong feature film that actually has something to say.
There are brief biographies and filmographies for the cast and crew.
Also included is an audio commentary by director Brad Bird, head of animation Tony Fucile, story development head Jeff Lynch and animation supervisor Steven Markowski. They talk about the challenges of realizing their ambitious ideas with a limited budget and time constraints. They also talk at length about the techniques they used to achieve the desired effect of a given scene. This is a very informative, if slightly technical track.
There are eight additional scenes with introductions by Bird that total 18 minutes. This includes an original opening sequence that was longer and too elaborate. There is also a nice scene where Hogarth and the Giant witness a drag race. Hogarth’s recently deceased dad was established earlier on in a cut scene and originally Cloris Leachman had a bigger scene with more dialogue that was also trimmed down for time.
“Teddy Newton ‘The X-Factor’” is a five-minute look at storyboard artist, Newton. He’s a creative guy who drew up boards for the movie and talks over some of his drawings, including scene that featured a date between Dean and Hogarth’s mom in Canada.
“Duck and Cover Sequence” features Newton again as he talks about the creation of the old educational film that Hogarth and his class watch.
“The Voice of the Giant” features footage from the original featurette on the first DVD version of this movie. It briefly examines Vin Diesel’s work on The Iron Giant.
“Behind the Armor” allows you to watch the movie and at certain points access behind-the-scenes footage for a particular scene.
“Motion Gallery” is a four-minute reel of rough drawings, artwork and storyboards juxtaposed with the finished film.
Finally, there are two trailers for the movie.
Missing in action from the first DVD is the music video for “Cha-Hua-Hua” by Eddie Platt and the 22-minute Making Of featurette (some of it has been absorbed into the new extras) but they aren’t really missed with all of these new, more substantial extras.
The Iron Giant is one of those rare animated films that not only appeals to both children and adults; it does not contain one annoying musical number. It is also refuses to serve as one long, obvious advertisement for a toy. In fact, this film is an entertaining, even touching story about tolerance and compassion. It deals with real issues like death and bigotry—pretty heavy topics for a children’s animated film—in an honest and heartfelt way. From all indications, The Iron Giant was clearly a labour of love for those involved and this translates into an enjoyable film for everyone to enjoy.