5-Word 365 #020 – The Iron Giant

Welcome to episode three of Kids Film Friday. For anyone who hasn’t been following this whole project so far, Kids Film Friday started in honour of my niece on her first birthday and has accidentally become a regular feature. This week in honour of, well, nothing specific really, I’ve gone for one of those almost timeless films that feels like it has been around forever, but you might not have caught yet.

The Iron Giant

Brad Bird, you’ve ruined me.

Firstly, I should be clear that I don’t have any kids of my own. When I watch a “kids” movie, it is for my own amusement, and just because a film is aimed at children that doesn’t mean a grown-up can’t enjoy it. In fact, the day I don’t want to watch kids films is the day I’m going to throw myself off a bridge, because that will be the day that the last of the magic in my soul will have died. In his book Danse Macabre*, Stephen King says that “most great writers have a curious childish look to their faces, and that this seems even more pronounced in the faces of those who write fantasy”. I like to think that also applies to those of us who love to read and watch and listen to fantastic stories, even as we are supposed to have grown out of them. I see the mark of a good kids film is that anyone of any age can find something to enjoy in it if they know where to look. The mark of a great kids film is that you don’t need to look to find something to enjoy. And then you get a film like this. For me, this movie transcends qualitative description. It is simply a beautiful piece of work.

More “inspired by” than “adapted from” Ted Hughes’ book The Iron Man (there are no space dragons here), this is about Hogarth Hughes, a young boy who lives with his widowed mother in a small fishing town of Rockwell, Maine in 1957. One day Hogarth finds a 50-feet-tall robot that crash-landed fom outer space. He befriends it, but the Army wants to destroy it. And the robot wants to be Superman. As far as the plot goes, that’s all you need to know. Writing about what happens will not even begin to convey how great this is. It is something that has to be experienced. The story is wonderful, but the voice cast are pitch perfect. From 13-year-old Eli Marienthal as Hogarth, to Harry Connick Jr as Dean – the local beatnik junkyard owner/sculptor – to Vin Diesel as the Giant himself, everyone is a believable and rounded character. As much as I love the Fast and Furious franchise, before today I never expected a Vin Diesel performance would get me all misty. The animation is just gorgeous to look at too. The 50s setting is evoked perfectly, right down to the Cinemascope widescreen aspect ratio prevalent at the time, and even though the Giant was animated digitally, he is placed seamlessly next to the more traditional hand-drawn elements. Considering this flick had about a third the budget and half the production schedule of a Disney feature, that is a hell of a thing.

He's actually got a squirrel in his trouser leg right now. True story.

There is a downside to all this fawning though; I don’t know how any other kids film can measure up to this standard. Am I doomed to be disappointed for the rest of my life? Well, I guess finding out is going to be part of the fun.

This movie makes me want to have children, just so that I can watch it with them and see the looks on their faces.

*A great book, by the way. Not a novel, it’s King’s thesis on the evolution of fantasy in general and horror in particular, across all media over the course of his life. I re-read it every year. Be warned though; you’ll have one hell of a reading list by the end.


  1. Bubbawheat · January 21, 2012

    Brilliant movie, along with the Pixar movies, this is one of my favorites. I’m a huge fan of animation and so-called “kids” movies. One great somewhat lesser known one is Mirrormask. It’s a Neil Gaiman Jim Henson collaboration that’s along the same lines as The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth.

    • Ryan McNeely · January 21, 2012

      That’s another one I can’t believe I haven’t seen yet. Consider Mirrormask added to the list for a future week.

  2. nortonsensei · May 21, 2013

    Hi Ryan,
    I agree! I do have a son, but sometimes I watch this one on my own. Loved it.

    • Ryan McNeely · May 28, 2013

      Arigato Sensei. Hopefully your son will grow to love movies as much as his father does!

Go ahead, punk. Make my day.

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