Sunday, August 7, 2011

"31 Movies, 31 Days": #3 The Iron Giant

Movie: The Iron Giant (1999)

Budget: $48 million

Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Format: Netflix streaming

From an 11% movie to a 97% one, the early selections for "31 Movies, 31 Days" are certainly living at the extremes. The Iron Giant is a pre-Pixar animated film which, despite the amazing reviews, I just never got around to seeing. I rarely go see animated movies in the theater, and my enthusiasm for watching them at home is something akin to the enthusiasm I have for a well-reviewed foreign film...which is to say I know I'll like it, but hitting "play" is the hardest part. Twelve years after its release, I finally got around to seeing The Iron Giant...and I was not disappointed.

The first thing you'll notice about The Iron Giant is the old-school animation. We've all become spoiled by the clean, clear, crisp digital animation that Pixar and Disney do so well---so much so that the initial impression of the animation for Iron Giant is kind of negative. It's just not as vivid or smooth as we're expecting. The lines are uneven and wobbly. Eventually, our eyes adjust to the classic, hand-drawn approach, helped along by the decision to use CGI on the robot only---a nice juxtaposition. Within ten minutes you stop complaining about it not being Pixar-quality and start appreciating the genuine artistry of the animation.

The story, based on a 1968 children's book by British Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, tells the tale of a huge robot and its friendship with a young boy. The book grew out of a story told by Hughes to comfort his and Slyvia Plath’s two children following her suicide. The tale is cleverly re-purposed here to take advantage of 1957 Cold War paranoia. Now, if the story feels like a Pixar film, that's because it was directed by Brad Bird--who also gets a story credit. Bird, of course, is the genius writer/director behind The Incredibles and Ratatouille, and is also an adviser on pretty much every other Pixar film. While the screenplay doesn't have as many sly, winking-to-the-adult jokes as you would expect in a Pixar film, its emotional core is just as strong...or stronger. I defy you not to shed a tear or two.

Overall, The Iron Giant didn't appeal to me quite as much as, say, Toy Story 3 or Ratatouille, but the narrative is strong and it's really just a perfect family film. It's also the perfect vehicle for Vin Diesel's over-sized acting talents. Diesel plays the Giant (duh) and only has to grunt a few words here and there. He really nails the robot-acting aesthetic! Oddly, the three main voice actors in The Iron Giant are known more for their on-camera attractiveness than their sound booth acting talents...but Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr., and Diesel all do great work here without ever having to take their clothes off.

Finally, the movie seems to have solved one minor mystery for me. If you're familiar with the work of writer/producer/director J.J. Abrams (Lost, Super 8), you've probably seen his "Bad Robot" production company animation at the end of every episode or movie. While I wasn't able to verify online the origins of the "Bad Robot" name, it seems clear to me now that it derives from this movie. In one scene, the little boy chides The Iron Giant and calls him a "bad robot." That alone might be enough to make the connection, but J.J.'s next project is producing Mission Impossible 4 (he directed MI3). And who is directing the newest Mission Impossible installment? Brad Bird. Dun dun dun!

Kraig's Rating: 8/10

Movie #1: Skyline
Movie #2: Killers


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