While film director Brad Bird isn’t a household name like Spielberg, he definitely has more public attention now than when he started making movies 16 years ago. Most recently helming Tomorrowland and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Bird’s roots are in animation, starting as a creative consultant on early seasons of The Simpsons and later directing The Incredibles and Ratatouille at Pixar.
Before all his other movies, Bird made his directorial debut back in 1999 with the Warner Bros. film The Iron Giant, which, despite a positive critical response, bombed during its initial theatrical run. Over time, though, word regarding the film has spread positively, to the point that Fathom has collaborated with Warner Bros. to re-release the film for two nights only, those being September 30th and October 4th. Not only is this the film’s first time being distributed in HD (Its Blu-Ray release isn’t scheduled for several more months), but two previously unfinished scenes have been seamlessly added, offering something new for longtime fans and a still-fantastic animated film for curious newcomers.
Taking place in the fictional seaside town of Rockwell, Maine in 1957, the first scenes see the titular giant, an enormous sentient robot (Voiced by Vin Diesel), crashing to Earth like a meteor, with word of his appearances steadily increasing as the film progresses. Local boy Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal) hears something destroy his TV antenna one night, and follows a path of destruction into the woods before briefly encountering the giant. After finding him again the following day, he discovers the giant both means no harm but remembers nothing before landing on Earth, urging Hogarth to try and teach him the basics of the world.
Hogarth’s attempts to hide the giant become harder with the introduction of Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald), a government agent sent to investigate claims of the giant. Mansley initially puts on a suave demeanor, but as the story progresses, he shows a disturbingly paranoid and obsessed side, declaring the giant to be a national threat despite knowing nothing about him and resorting to underhanded means to locate it. A local junkyard owner named Dean (Harry Connick Jr.) eventually discovers the giant and allows Hogarth to hide him, but things continue to escalate until a climactic final confrontation between the giant and the army.
The Iron Giant is novel in its animation approach, as the characters and environments are presented in the classical hand-drawn style that nowadays is virtually nonexistent in feature films, but the giant himself is a 3D, computer-generated character. Bird and his crew put extra work into making the two styles convincingly blend, and the result still has few contemporary equals in terms of how seamless it looks. The rest of the cast is appealingly designed and expressive, and as Bird puts it in a new introduction before the film, will likely make audiences miss the days of hand-drawn films.
Thankfully, the animation isn’t the only thing going for the film, as the script and overall direction is rock solid. It’s able to pull off hilarious moments that leave the audience howling as well as more emotional scenes, especially the tearjerker ending. The characters feel believable and have many memorable lines. Bird has always had a talent for pulling off natural-sounding and engaging conversations in his animated work, and this is no exception. Even the giant, with only a few words spoken by Diesel, is an endearing and entertaining creation.
The biggest draw for existing fans of the movie is the inclusion of two previously unfinished scenes, newly animated and seamlessly inserted back into the film. Of the two, one is a cute but insubstantial and brief conversation early on between Dean and Hogarth’s mother (Jennifer Aniston), but the other, more intriguing one shows us one of the giant’s dreams, which provides a big hint regarding the discovery of his original purpose revealed late in the film and also showcases some nicely done animation. The scenes, interesting as they are, are too brief to truly make themselves the only reason for fans to revisit the movie. Getting to see it in high-def on the big screen for the first time since 1999 should be reason enough.
Bird and Warner Bros. have confirmed that The Iron Giant: Signature Edition will make its way to Blu-Ray down the line, but for now, this pair of theatrical screenings are the only way to see it. The Iron Giant remains an amazing work of animation, able to truly appeal to all ages and deliver a mature but accessible story and some nice visuals to boot. If you’ve heard hype about the film in the past but haven’t gotten around to actually watching it, this is a wonderful way to do so.