"Tarzan" brought Disney animation back to working order this summer with it's rich animation, terrific narrative songs, and a specific attention to what made the previous Disney blunders fail both critically and financially. "Tarzan" still played by the tired Disney rules, but they are learning. With Warner Brothers animation, they seem to be taking more risks with their own product. From the cross-promotion antics of the lively "Space Jam" to the noble failure of "Quest For Camelot", The WB has been fighting mightily to grab the animation crown of recognition that sits rusted on top of mount Disney. With "Iron Giant", Bugs and company jump miles ahead of any cartoon competition (except for the "South Park" feature) to create a timeless, and nearly flawless, animated feature.
You just know you're in good hands when director Brad Bird's past credits include a stint as a writer-director on the genius animated show "The Simpsons". That show often goes out of it's way to parody Disney animation and others of it's ilk. Bird knows exactly what trappings to avoid and what emotional buttons to push. It is this knowledge in the end that makes "Giant" so effective.
The story, based on a children's novel entitled "The Iron Man", is set in 1957, just as the cold war was getting warm. Hogarth Hughes is a precocious 10 year-old boy with big dreams trapped in a paranoid society in deep fear of the Red Menace. His single mother (voiced with honey by Jennifer Aniston, who's name is misspelled in the end credits) works long hours to pay the bills, and Hogarth is often left alone and lonely. When an iron robot crash lands on Earth one stormy night, Hogarth discovers the Giant and quickly befriends the dazed and confused robot. Soon after, a government agent (another sneaky Christopher McDonald acting job) learns of the Giant's appearance and sets out to destroy the Giant without ever truly understanding that the robot means no harm.
One of the first things that director Bird gets just perfectly is the tone and color of 1950's America. Now, we've seen this period time and again in movies, just not this accurate. The threat of Russian invasion hangs in the air like an old sock. The kids watch "duck and cover" reels in school. The government, having been burned by Sputnik, experiences the itchiest trigger finger know to man. All the "Leave It To Beaver" type material is represented in this film as well, but for a movie aimed at 10 year-olds? Warner Brothers and Brad Bird deserve much credit for keeping this cartoon more cerebral than any in recent history. This is one good script and story, told with zest and intelligence.
I also applaud the simple notion of keeping the Giant's origins a mystery. We never know where the Giant came from or what it's purpose in the grand scheme of things inevitably is. With every film wasting time spelling things out for the audience, "Iron Giant" asks you to just use your imagination. What a notion.
Using period pastels and detailed architecture, it is the look of this animated feature that truly thrilled me. So used to current Disney animation am I that to see a cartoon in the widescreen format literally makes me weep (even if it ends up being the lame Super 35 format). "Giant" easily is the best looking cartoon to come around in decades. It looks like they spent 3 years on each shot. Bird and crew create a unique looking film that seems to be born of the comics and the animation itself of the day. With five o'clock shadows on the men, deliriously wrinkled faces of the aged, and the scary waistlines of the women, "Giant" is spot-on with it's drawings. I could watch the film time and again just for the animation. It makes up for some iffy drama that occupies the film's 2nd act.
To see a film like "Inspector Gadget", with it's relentless delivery and shameless corporate plugs(I know "Giant" will have a merchandising landslide, but the film never feels like a 90 minute toy commercial), make a killing at the box office, it's imperative that a film like "Iron Giant" be known. We need more story-centric cartoons like this. I'm embarrassed to admit that I felt an outpouring of emotion at the end of the film. It's rare to get an animated feature that engages the crowd with lovable characters without being so calculated. It's even more rare to get an animated film that has no songs to drown the narrative. "Iron Giant" is told clean and true. The bittersweet climax (reminiscent of the traumatizing "Fox And The Hound") left me thrilled with "Iron Giant" even more. This is one good animated film that should finally put Warner Brothers on the map.
Review by Brian Orndorf from the Internet Movie Database.