During a time of cream sodas and analog TV, when parents didn’t track their kids’ smartphones, when hanging with strangers in rusty scrap yards was a typical Saturday, and when government agents happily chloroformed little boys, many hours flew by in the hunt for adventurous shenanigans. Through The Iron Giant we get a hindsight view of Cold War fear and national secrets all experienced from the perspective an unsupervised, small town boy. The background noise of suspicion and anxiety buzzes around an imaginative kid with too much time and not enough friends. As a result, The Iron Giant is a tense, dubious movie cleverly disguised as an afternoon of playtime in the woods.
I get the feeling not much happens in the small town of Rockwell, Maine. That is, until a mysterious object crash lands just off the coast. The fisherman who first spots it rambles his way into Crazy Old Maurice territory while the rest of the town (and the Giant lurking in the woods) go about their business. One night, however, after losing reception on his TV, young Hogarth (voiced by Eli Marienthal) goes wandering into the woods in search of whatever ate his antenna. What he finds is a giant metal man munching on the local power station. After a couple minutes of justified freaking out, Hogarth decides to save the monster from electrocution. Thus is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. While the Giant can’t speak English – yet – he understands instructions at the Grade Three level of a smart dog. Hogarth, it seems, has hit the jackpot. Now he faces the tough decision of whether to hand the Giant over to the government agent who’s been snooping nearby oooooorrr train it to spin so fast it could whip him around at 200 mph. Tough choice, Hogarth.
There are many aspects of The Iron Giant which mirror How to Train Your Dragon, including the idea that something dangerous (a metal invader during the Sputnik era) could actually be friendly, as well as the creative and Viking-like name of “Hogarth”. What’s most enchanting about The Iron Giant, however, is its innocence. It focuses on the idea that something which adults and government agents find obviously threatening could, if handled the right way, actually be an advocate for peace. The Giant doesn’t want to ransack the village; he wants to play superhero in the junk yard and go swimming at the lake. As a counter attack on 21st century parental advice, The Iron Giant preaches the message that not everything that looks dangerous actually is. How about that?
It may be the story or perhaps the inspirational message which makes this movie so memorable for me. Or it could just be the colourful citizens of Rockwell. Dean (voiced by Harry Connick Jr.) is your typical Generation X-er stuck in the 1950s. Why conform when you can really stick it to The Man by living in a junk yard and making art that no one wants to buy? Don’t ever change, Dean. On the opposite spectrum sits – or rather stands firmly at attention – Kent Mansley (voiced by Christopher McDonald). Rules are made to be the foundation for more rules, and no citizen is too young to be interrogated by lamplight in a barn. That said, there has yet to be a man who can steadfastly stand his ground against the mighty persuader of Ex-Lax.
The Iron Giant is as beautiful to watch as it is enlightening. It’s one of those films which pay tribute to the height of animation, using six different shades to highlight damp pavement or the glow of a sunrise on choppy seas. Hogarth is the classic case of a kid with too much freedom but who finds guidance in the direction of bored strangers. The Iron Giant is a magical movie that brings attention to the Cold War from a kid’s perspective – and the perspective of a metal-eating Giant trying to make a home for himself in rural Maine. For some reason I keep coming back to this movie, and am therefore inclined to give it an 8.5/10.