The Iron Giant (1999)

“I am not a gun.”


When I first brought up the idea for this blog to my husband, he was all for it. He’s supportive of pretty much everything I do, and I’m lucky to have that. He was, however, curious about one thing. “What movies are going to get perfect scores?” he asked. It seemed like a relatively easy question, much like “what’s your favorite movie?” but in reality it is so much harder to answer once you actually stop and think about it.  

It’s true: I do like a LOT of movies. I tend not to be overly critical, and can see the good in a lot of really crappy movies that a lot of people just really don’t like. I am, however, VERY picky about what movies get the coveted “perfect” score. It’s more than just my opinion. It’s more than just the characters or the plot. My perfect score is going to occur when a movie comes along that has amazing characters, an amazing plot, humor, drama, connection, values, lessons, and above all, heart. It’s just going to be a feeling. I know that seems rather silly in talking about it, but a movie really has to hit me hard PLUS have all those things to get a perfect score. It almost has to change the way I see movies. 

 So why am I talking about this now? Well, when my husband originally asked me, I started going through our movies, quickly pulling out ones I could see myself giving a 5/5. This movie was the first one on the list that even had a shot. So after watching it, how does it rank? Is it the recipient of my first perfect score? We’ll see….

 This movie is really strange to bring up to people. First off, half of the people you mention this to have never heard of it. Another quarter have heard of it but thought it was made years ago, like in the 80s or something. Another sixteenth might tell you they heard about it but never watched it because it looked kinda boring. But you get that one person left in that 1/16th who, when you mention this movie, starts going on and on about it. They say it’s the best thing they’ve ever seen. They say they can’t believe it wasn’t bigger! They say they can’t believe no one has ever heard of it. Yeah. I’m that person normally. It IS gaining in popularity I feel, but this is as much of a cult classic as you are ever going to get. (although it is one of the top 5000 movies on imdb. Hmm. I guess us fans know good movies.)

 It’s pretty amazing that the man who would go on to direct The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol started here. That’s right. This movie was written and directed by the ever wonderful Brad Bird. Now a household name to anyone who loves Pixar, this was actually his first adventure in feature film, having only worked on tv (a few episodes of the Simpsons and misc. Stuff). He is an amazing writer and director, so it makes sense that this movie has everything his other movies have. So why do people not know about it?

 I was thinking. Maybe it’s because of when it came out. I did a little digging, and my goodness 1999 was an amazing year for movies. We had Star Wars Episode I, which everyone was drooling over. We had the 2nd Austin Powers movie. We had the sixth sense, American Beauty, Toy Story 2, The Matrix, and Tarzan, just to name a few. No wonder this poor little movie by a then not known man faded into the background. I mean, this thing technically was a flop! It only made about half the amount of money back that it cost to make! This is ridiculous!

 Ok, so why do I keep blabbing on and on about this movie? Because it’s THAT good. Because everyone needs to see it at least once. Because on the surface, it seems like a movie about a boy and his pet giant robot, but it’s so much more. So so so much more.

 Our story centers around a boy named Hogarth Hughes (yeah, we’ll talk about characters in a sec), who is the type of kid who keeps bringing animals home to his hard-working single mother Annie. It’s the cold war, and everyone is paranoid about nuclear war and missiles and crap like that. One day after hearing a story about a giant alien robot creature in the forest, goes out and finds it, saves its life, and befriends it. Meanwhile, the government is getting involved because people have been reporting strange goings on and whatnot. Hogarth tries to hide the giant but eventually the government finds out what this thing is, as well as what it is supposed to be doing here. All hell breaks loose and we end in an amazing climax that involves a nuclear weapon and a lot of crying on my part. 

 That plot is so bear bones because most of the explanation really comes from the characters themselves. Because alone, that plot sounds similar to E.T., or Super 8, or any other alien/strange creature movie. And in all honesty it is. On the surface, it’s a plot we’ve seen before. The brilliance is in the details of the story and in the characters that have been created. Let’s jump right into it.

 Hogarth is our main character, and man oh man, he is one amazing kid. I would actually love to have a kid like this. His first scene in the diner his mother works in shows you exactly what type of kid he is. He brings in a shoebox, asking his mother if he can keep the new pet he found. Naturally, the chipmunk that was in the box has now escaped, and he calmly and cooly attempts to find it before anyone else in the diner does or before his mother realizes what he did. He does this by locating said chipmunk and sits down and has a conversation with the guy whose booth he’s hiding under, trying to get him to understand the predicament. Eventually all hell breaks loose and he goes running out, but you get it. He’s smart, he’s persistent, he’s friendly. He’s creative. He’s a kid, and a believable one at that; possibly the best written kid I’ve come across so far in a movie. He gets scared at horror movies (and watches them alone even when his mom told him not to), wants to play superheroes, and gets annoyed when he’s told to do something he doesn’t want to. He’s so real you’ll swear you’ve known someone just like him. I could go on and on about this kid, but there’s much more to talk about. just do yourself a favor and watch the movie to see how awesome he is.

 The other characters we get to know in the town are his mother, Annie, and a scrap yard owner/artist Dean. Again, both are so interesting even though their parts may not be all that involved. Annie is protective of her son but at the same time we can tell she’s a working mother who is just trying to make ends meet. She worries about him but is willing to listen, unless he just disobeyed her. She’s strict out of love, but isn’t that annoying mom so many other movies have. At her opposite is Dean, an artist who owns a scarp yard that Hogarth ends up using to keep the Giant happy. He’s in on the whole secret and you can tell he doesn’t like that, but won’t break a promise to this kid to do so, because he can tell it’s really important to him. He even grows to like the Giant. He’s sort of a hippie/cool dude, but at the same time seems to understand and even tries to tell Hogarth that this is bigger than he thinks. 

 Our villain is this crazy insane agent named Kent, who not only acts as the villain but also as a bit of comic relief. He will literally stop at nothing to get to the bottom of what’s going on, and has paranoia coming out his ears. He finds Hogarth’s beebee gun at the site where the giant was spotted, and spends the rest of the movie being that stupid annoying guy who just hounds and hounds him to try and give it up. There’s even this really creepy scene where they’re sitting in their rooms across from each other (Kent stays at his house due to his mother having a room to rent), each refusing to be the first one to fall asleep because they know that’s when the other will take off to go after the Giant. I mean… who does that? Half this shit Kent does or says nowadays would be conceived as child abuse or something. He’s creepy and insane and that doesn’t stop until literally the last few minutes of the movie. He’s not a scary villain, but he’s unpredictable, and to me, that’s even more disturbing.

 Finally, we have the titular Iron Giant. This guy is so much more interesting than E.T. He comes from another planet, but on his descent, he falls and hits his head and basically has amnesia about why he was sent there or what he can do. Through his friendship with Hogarth, he learns to talk and learns about superheroes and villains, and good vs. Evil. Hogarth always emphasizes that he is good; he’s not a villain, he’s like a giant superhero with amazing powers. The giant learns to love this boy who has taught him everything and has shielded him from harm. It’s only when they’re playing in the scrap yard one day that the Giant’s instincts take over once a fake gun is pointed at him. He changes and suddenly becomes a destructive monster, firing lasers and almost destroying his friend. He pulls himself back, almost not believing what he had almost done to the person he loved. Not understanding, Dean as well as the village flee for their lives, while Hogarth tries to get him back, knowing that deep down he’s not a villain, and being the only one who realizes that he only acts defensively.

 This is what I mean about movies having more depth in the characters and the details. Now this movie isn’t just about an alien and the government trying to get him. It becomes personal. It’s Nature vs. Nurture. This Robot has been planned to be destructive, but a boy’s love told him he doesn’t have to be like that. There’s an amazing scene where the giant and Hogarth come across a deer, only to watch it get shot a few moments later. They have a talk about death, and suddenly the Giant becomes very emotional, wondering if he is going to die, and wondering how people could kill like that.  Hogarth tells him that killing is bad, but that if you do die, a part of you always lives on; your soul.

 This movie is so deep. It knows how and when to have fun, but it really knows how to do the emotional stuff well. It’s about making your own choices and not being what society sets you up to be. It’s about not passing judgement on others, whether it be a hundred foot giant or a sloppy hippie/artist. It’s about being free to make your own choices, and how one little boy can save the world.  It’s about being tolerant. And it is a story about love. The love between a boy and a robot. The love between a mother and a son.  It does this all so well.

 I’m not giving away the ending. It’s too good to tell. All I have to say is if you watch it and don’t at least well up, then you don’t understand this movie. It’s sad, but happy and hopeful at the same time. It’s honestly just so perfect that words just can’t describe it.

 I tried and tried and tried to find something wrong with this movie, but I couldn’t. I tried looking at it and being overly critical, and I still couldn’t. It’s a movie that is almost so perfect I can’t stand it. Did it change my life? No. But it is the type of movie that makes you stop and think about things. Sometimes it just helps to look at it through a kid’s eyes.

 This movie is great for anyone, although some scary war stuff at the end might be a bit too intense for really little ones. But it does deal with some ideas like death and free choice. These can be hard for kids to understand, but it’s done so well that I think this would honestly be a great way to introduce these things to them. It’s a wonderful movie that really deserved so much more at the box office. I only hope that more people will watch it and fall in love with it. I know I did.

 I’m giving The Iron Giant (1999) my first 5 out of 5. Great movie with amazingly fleshed out, real characters. Every family animated movie I subconsciously measure up to this. Go see it. NOW!

 Next up: The Adventures of Tintin (2011)


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