The Iron Giant (Brad Bird, 1999)
Category: Sad animated film. Animated films afford animals, mythical creatures, and even inanimate objects the powers of speech and song and slapstick comedy. Oh, and crushing, crushing sadness. It’s safe to say that we are living in the Golden Age of the Sad Animated Film. Devotees will recall that the list of films at which I have cried, included in my very first post on this blog, included three recent Pixar films: WALL-E, Up, and Toy Story 3. I don’t know why Pixar, a company that ostensibly makes movies for children, devoted several years of production time solely to the goal of making adults cry. But I am both thankful and quite sniffly for their efforts.
Of course, the sad animated film is nothing new. Bambi is famously one of the saddest movies of all time (at least for non-hunting enthusiasts). I recall being profoundly saddened/freaked out by both The Lorax and FernGully: The Last Rainforest (recycling never seemed so URGENT). We’ve already discussed my distaste for the message of All Dogs Go to Heaven, but it is about dead dogs, after all. And pretty much every classic Disney movie from our childhood features extremely sad elements (Mufasa’s death in The Lion King being the prime example of this). It’s no wonder our generation is so depressed about everything all the goddamn time.
My familiarity with this issue: I’m told that after a few cold beverages I tend to get quite animated. Get out.
The animated films of our youth are one of the few things that snobby young adults, such as me and everyone I know, can all agree on. They remind us of our childhood, and they allow us the necessary ironic distance that we require for everything we claim to like. (I’m told this movie takes place in the 50s, which gives us the added bonus of feeling nostalgia for a period in history that we never actually experienced.) And so it’s pretty de rigueur for people of our generation to revere Disney films (as well as the Nickelodeon shows that are apparently being revived at the moment to great acclaim among my Facebook friends). They were shared experiences that we all had before we knew each other, or before we became who we are now. There’s a safety that comes from saying you love Aladdin, a safety that does not exist when you say you love Mumford and Sons. Plus it’s always fun to get drunk and sing “Colors of the Wind.” As a result, the movies are now imbued with a sadness that was completely absent when we were kids, because we now have jobs and bills and stuff.
There’s another advantage to watching animated films as an adult: namely, that we understand them on a different level than we did when we were younger. The Genie in Aladdin, for example, makes at least twenty references in his first scene alone that I’m sure I didn’t even remotely get when I was seven. (On the other hand, “He’s got the monkeys, he’s got the monkeys” is fun no matter how old you are.) I’ve watched some of the recent Pixar films with actual current children, and I know they’re not getting the same out of it as my friends and I do. It makes me feel superior. (Also incredibly angry when they talk all throughout the wordless montage at the beginning of Up.) But of course it also makes me feel a little sad, knowing that I’ve lost the innocence that the kids who watch them now have.
This is one of those movies that somehow passed me by when I was younger. At least two reputable sources – FOTB Nate Wolfson and GFOTBOTB Rose O’Malley – have urged me to include it in the blog. Knowing just about nothing of the movie aside from the title, I’ve been pretty skeptical. I maintain a healthy fear of iron giants of all stripes. I don’t care how many feelings they have. I trust that this movie is going to try to change my mind, but I doubt it will work.
Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: "This is the story of a nine-year-old boy named Hogarth Hughes who makes friends with an innocent alien giant robot that came from outer space. Meanwhile, a paranoid U.S. Government agent named Kent Mansley arrives in town, determined to destroy the giant at all costs. It's up to Hogarth to protect him by keeping him at Dean McCoppin's place in the junkyard."
What I thought about the movie: OHHHHHHHHHH IT’S SO GOOD. AND SO SAD. THAT POOR IRON GIANT. NOBODY UNDERSTOOD HIM.
OK fine so it worked.
This movie is awesome. It was like Super 8 (by which I mean, it was like E.T.), but probably even better. In fact, I found myself thinking of Super 8 a lot during the movie: both involve mystery, nostalgia, kids in trouble, single parents, train accidents, evil government people, regeneration, and small-town charm. So many similarities! But this movie had the added benefit of Vin Diesel providing the voice of a giant robot.
It takes place in Maine in 1957, right after Sputnik (which also made me think of October Sky, awesomely), and centers on Hogarth (Hogarth!), a curious young boy who befriends the iron giant after saving it from electrical wires (with the help of a giant ON-OFF switch, natch). This all makes sense. With the help of his cautious single mom (Jennifer Aniston), and a beatnik (Harry Connick, Jr.) who makes art out of scrap metal (much like the cranky old man from season 4 of Friday Night Lights), Hogarth tries to protect the IG from the evil G-Man (voiced by Shooter McGavin) out to destroy it. That’s all I’m gonna say about it because it’s just too good to spoil. Suffice it to say it is definitely Taste My Sad material. OHHHHHHHHH.
But before the sad stuff (and remember, it's a kids movie so it's not like bleak or Holocaust-y levels of sad), it is just awesome, full of adventures and great cartoon villains and awesome robots. I can’t understand why it wasn’t more popular (by which I mean, why I hadn’t seen it yet): it’s very fast-paced and fun and just wonderful. Seriously. Go see it. I feel like Gene Shalit.
How I, John Krizel, related to the movie: I have found that I am far less curious, and far less willing to hang out with clearly non-human entities, than most child protagonists. Hogarth, who is like nine years old, was home alone, watching a horror film about sentient brains, when he heard a noise outside. All of these things are unacceptable on their own. But then of course he goes to investigate the noise, and that’s where it gets ridiculous. There’s the incident with the electrical wires, and all of a sudden Hogarth’s got himself a new pet. I was about his age when we got our cat, and I was uneasy about that.
He hides the IG in the shed (it’s a good thing he doesn’t have a dad during this part, because the dad would no doubt be tooling around in there at some point, something that a single mom has no time to do), and they go on frequent playdates where he teaches the IG English and they go running around the countryside having adventures, finding metal for it to eat (the IG is on a strict all-metal diet, it seems), and on and on. It’s all very potentially unsafe, and once the government gets involved, it gets actually unsafe (much like this debt ceiling debate, AMIRITE TEA PARTY LADIES). I will admit that the adventures seem like tons of fun, but Hogarth could’ve probably done similar stuff with the local kids about town. Unless they were shunning him for not having a dad. Which is not out of the realm of possibility. (Kids are very mean.)
I’m often told that I would like certain things more if I just gave them a chance. Well that’s fine, and in this case it was right of our Hogarth to give the IG a chance, because it turned out to be the nicest funnest robot of all time. But this was the Sputnik times! It could have just as easily turned out like Red Dawn. And the beatnik stuff is also troubling. I’m assuming Hogarth Sr. is dead (was he in Korea? HISTORICAL), so he needs a strong father figure while his mom is busy working at the diner to make ends meet. But not some unshaven Keroauc who lives in a trailer at a SCRAP METAL YARD “making art.” How shady is that! Give things a chance, sure, but also think about stranger danger, HoJu!
When you think about it, Hogarth is very lucky to have not been maimed by a giant robot, or, um, "manipulated" by some beatnik interloper. I would have made safer choices. If I were the protagonist of this film, it would not have been called The Iron Giant. It would have been called John Sits In His Room And Internalizes His Feelings Of Sadness About His Dead Dad While Another Kid Goes On Adventures With The Iron Giant.
How I felt after the movie ended: Srsly though, this is really the kind of movie I love. Unlike Wednesday’s film, it’s escapism in its best possible sense: nothing at all like how my life was, but the kind of awesome adventure I can get involved with. I intend to watch it again and again and be sad at the ending many times. It will join my Mount Rushmore of Sad Animated Films, joining the last three Pixars. Now if you’ll excuse me, I've just heard a strange noise outside my house, so I’m off to hide under the bed.