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Review: The Iron Giant: Signature Edition (TIFF 2015)

The Iron Giant: Signature Edition (TIFF 2015)
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PLOT: Hogarth Hughes  (Eli Marienthal) lives with his mother (Jennifer Aniston) in Rockwell, a picturesque small town in 1950's middle-America. A sci-fi buff, Hogarth's dreams of adventure come true when he discovers a giant robot (Vin Diesel) with no memory of his origin or purpose. The two become fast friends, but a pesky government investigator (Christopher McDonald) threatens the safety of Hogarth's new pal, while the giant's deadly origin itself may put Hogarth's whole town in danger.

REVIEW: THE IRON GIANT is a fascinating film to revisit. A flop upon it's initial 1999-release, the movie has since gone on to become an enduring cult classic, with it having launched Brad Bird's career and paved the way for some of the more thematically mature animated films that followed in it's wake. A low-key release from the short-lived Warner Family Entertainment (their other releases included THE QUEST FOR CAMELOT and CATS DON'T DANCE) I first saw THE IRON GIANT on a 16MM copy rented out to my hometown CEGEP (the Quebec version of junior college) in the fall of '99. While I had next to no interest in animation at the time (my eighteen-year-old self was far more keen on the recent FIGHT CLUB) even then I thought IRON GIANT was underrated although in the sixteen years since I never actually wound up revisiting it – until now.


Truth be told, I wasn't even sure I was going to write it up as I only squeezed the film into my TIFF schedule in order to land an interview with Brad Bird, who's doing the press rounds promoting his new “Signature Edition” (which is part of TIFF and will be getting a theatrical re-release shortly). It's supposed to contain two new scenes but given how long it's been since I originally saw it, I couldn't tell you what they were, although fellow journalists were hard-pressed to point out the additions too as they've been seamlessly integrated.

What made me eager to review IRON GIANT is how layered and thematically rich the movie still is in the wake of Bird's work with the folks at Pixar, who must have been strongly influenced by the initial run of the film, with it's mature approach – uncommon in nineties-era kids movies – now standard for the company. One of the reasons THE IRON GIANT may have flopped initially was the PG-rating, but in this regard Bird was way ahead of his time as the goal here was clearly to create a true “family film” meaning not just fun for kids, but entertaining for the whole family.

Like the Pixar movies, I'd wager more mature audiences were actually the intended audience as the movie's so sophisticated compared to other kids movies of that era. Being set in the fifties, Bird is able to tackle the idea of the non-nuclear family in a way that's still fresh, with Hogarth being raised by his single mother (voiced by the then-'Friends' star Jennifer Aniston) who – in turn – is romanced by a kind of prototypical boy-man, a hipster artist voiced by Harry Connick Jr., who must have seemed like an unconventional character in a kids film back then but now is common.


One thing to remember is that THE IRON GIANT came out in the wake of Columbine and the anti-gun message of the movie resonates even more now considering what we see pop up on CNN far too frequently. Along with BAMBI, THE IRON GIANT contains one of the best illustrations of gun violence in screen history where the child-like giant befriends a deer, who's killed by hunters looking for a trophy. Again – this kind of harsh acknowledgement of reality and death was unconventional for kids movies of the era (but not unheard-of, see THE LION KING).

As pure entertainment, the film holds up magnificently with young Eli Merienthal hitting all the right notes as Hogarth, while Vin Diesel is superb as the titular giant. Diesel does so much with only a handful of words, and I'd wager his voice acting here is one of the best in the history of animation and a fun prelude to his even-more economic turn as Groot in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, where he uses only one word to express a huge range of emotions (Diesel is a far better actor than people give him credit for). I'd also forgotten how terrific Christopher McDonald is as the antagonist, Kent Mansley, who starts off as a clown but eventually reveals a sinister, sadistic streak.

Probably the only downside of seeing THE IRON GIANT again is how evocative it is of the now extinct form of hand-drawn animation that we never see on the big-screen anymore. CGI animation is all the rage now, but there's something so beautiful about the hand-drawn images on display here. We've gained a lot with beautifully constructed Pixar movies like Bird's own THE INCREDIBLES, but we've lost something too in that 2D animated movies like this are almost unheard-of. I'd forgotten how incredible animation like this looked on the big-screen, and this refurbished IRON GIANT (mercifully not converted to 3D) is a perfect example of that.

Source: JoBlo.com



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