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The Iron Giant

Animation and Science Fiction & Fantasy movie directed by Brad Bird

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I am a fearless iron man!

  • Jun 20, 2010
  • by
No, I am not referring to myself here (although there may be a slight ring of truth therein).  Moreover, this review reflects the wonder of the late English poet laureate and American poet Sylvia Plath widower Ted Hughes's 1968 masterpiece of a children's chapter book entitled, The Iron Giant: A Story In Five Nights.  (Because that book was not listed here on Lunch, I had to use the corresponding movie link to access the appropriate category for this work)  

Set to take place immediately following the aftermath of World War II in England, The Iron Giant tells the tale of an immense robotic figure who virtually appears out of silver thin air on to planet Earth and seeks to find his way around with the help of Hogarth--the main character and protagonist.  A young boy learning about the world himself, Hogarth sets out to guide the iron giant (sometimes referred to as "the iron man") through his newfound land (no, it's not the Canadian province)...in a short amount of time--as this story bears only five chapters each taking place over the course of a single day (hence the five nights).  For this reason, along with the brilliance of English literary theory exhibited by Hughes all throughout this book), I rate this story a high-five thumbs up.  The age range noted on the sleeve of the book cover covers Grades 3-7--strictly due to the rather short (5-6 pages in length) chapters and double-spaced simpler dialect expressed therein.  Fortunately, readers of all ages and abilities are in for a metallic treat (literally), as the iron giant goes under the wing of Hogarth and in a period of five days/one school-/workweek: finds a junkyard filled with delicious food for his iron stomach, escapes his presumed pitted fate in a pit dug by local construction workers who seek to bury his ironness simply due to misunderstandings of the giant's intentions, encounters and then defeats an alien-like space creature aiming to destroy planet Earth through human consumption, finally rightfully earning the praise, love, and support of his human surroundings and followers.  

Think that's great?  Well, there's more!  21 years after Ted Hughes penned a prolific piece on paper came a musical rendition of the literary children's classic under the conductor's hand of brilliant British singer/songwriter/composer/musician, Pete Townshend of The Who!  In 1989, Townshend encountered his longtime literary idol, Ted Hughes, and with the author's permission, created a Broadway musical based on the story in review, bearing the title, The Iron Man: The Musical. Containing a total of 12 musical selections (11 penned by Townshend himself; 2 of which were performed by Townshend alongside his surviving bandmates, John Entwistle and Roger Daltrey of The Who), the musical altered the storyline slightly to include additional characters, a more colorful plot (no pun intended on the black-and-white pages contained within Hughes's original text), furthering the intellect initiated by Ted Hughes in 1968 (which also saw the compositional year of Townshend and The Who's landmark rock opera, Tommy).  It was in fact this musical (drawn to my attention by a fellow Pete Townshend/Who fanatic online during college and partly quoted in this review's headline) that drew my interest in reading the book.  In fact, I would recommend that you read the book AND listen to the musical (in any order you choose). Because the latter goes in a song pattern of storyline-moral from the opening note to the finale throughout the 12 compositions, listeners and readers can draw comparisons between the literary work and musical product both generally and specifically by pinpointing quotes and/or passages from the text signified in the tunes.  Another factor in the five-star rating!

But that is not all (oh no, that is not all).  10 years following the Broadway musical acclaim came the movie, The Iron Giant.  Although an animated classic (as noted by professional reviewers right and left upon the film's production in 1999), the televised component of this tale simply does not match the high quality aura of its textual and musical predecessors.  I recommend that you view the movie LAST--after you've read, listened to-, and even analyzed the book and musical.  This is due to the fact that the film does not do either preceding creation justice in its outlook.  Being an American Disney product, it naturally plasticizes any plausible plot through cheap cartoon emotionality without telling a story like it's meant to be.  Oh well; it is not a complete disaster or total loss.  I am just saying that the chain of events depicted within the film do not do the original tale justice in their outlook.  I still own the film though.   

Having digested all of this information, I encourage you to venture forth and rent the book from your local library or order it online (as the work is out of print), obtain the musical on vinyl LP, CD, or iTunes (the remastered version has three bonus tracks which add an alternative twist to three of the original 12 tunes in the project), and put your brain to work!  Whether you are a lover of literature, music, Ted Hughes, Pete Townshend, Broadway, (Disney) television, or the arts in general, I guarantee that the character in question is certainly one giant of an iron man who will definitely not disappoint!  For an outstanding oral read, be sure to check out Pete Townshend's musical narrative of the book's opening chapter in his studio demo. available on his 2001 solo release, Scoop 3, entitled "Iron Man Recitative".  On a final note (no pun intended), Pete Townshend declared himself in the liner notes to the 1989 Broadway musical companion that he hopes "the Iron Man gives you many ideas as well".  Well Pete, you've inspired me the way Ted Hughes inspired you.  In 2010--21 years after you wrote The Iron Man: The Musical (the numeric pattern continues)--I am in the process of envisioning a live stage version of the production you had always hoped would make it to the theatre--featuring my own children/students!  

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More The Iron Giant reviews
Quick Tip by . July 03, 2010
super cute movie
Quick Tip by . June 24, 2010
Great movie! It's been a while since the last time I watched it, but it has a nice plot and great characters who are easy to form attachments to.
Quick Tip by . June 21, 2010
I didn't care for this. Not terribly interesting.
review by . August 31, 2005
posted in Movie Hype
The Iron Giant is a loose adaptation of a wonderful book of the same title, by Ted Hughes (written in the late sixties). In the book the origins of the giant are unknown, and he is initially buried beneath the earth before being attacked and ultimately befriended. The enemy in the book, who becomes a common enemy to both the humans and the giant and the cause of their alliance, was a giant dragon-like creature (as big as Australia!!) who the giant ends up outsmarting.     In …
review by . November 30, 2004
I am always hesitant to give a five-star rating to a film. I always try to compare movies to ones that are in the same genre first, and then to films that have stood the test of time before determining if they are worthy of five stars. "The Iron Giant" towers over the competition in its genre, and I believe that it will be around much longer than many of its modern counterparts. It is full of heart, wonder, and amazement. It has emotional twists that keep you intrigued. It is definitely worthy of …
review by . December 22, 2000
The Iron Giant choked in the box office, buried under a deluge of flashy films, all of which suffered from a serious dearth of heart and soul. It didn't help that the advertising campaign was painfully bad, embedding a pretense of "crappy kids' movie." And, of course, the animated motion picture genre is decidedly handcuffed by Disney, and any non-Disney flick is sure to elicit cynicism from the kids (the prime demographic for a movie like this).But forget all that...The Iron Giant is a fine movie. …
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Member Since: Apr 16, 2010
Last Login: Jul 28, 2010 10:46 PM UTC
About this movie


This gentle reworking of Ted Hughes's 1968 novella was the unseen gem of 1999. Hogarth, a young boy who lives in the Maine woods during the cold war, befriends a giant robot. As with E.T., the iron giant is a misunderstood outsider who becomes a child's best friend, and Hogarth does his best to hide the massive figure from his mom (voiced by Jennifer Aniston) and the local scrap-yard beatnik (Harry Connick Jr.). Soon the suspicions of neighbors and a government agent (Christopher McDonald) spell trouble.

With no songs, no sidekicks, and no cheap ending, The Iron Giant is a refreshing change-- like an off-Broadway production compared to the glitz of Disney's annual animated extravaganzas. Director Brad Bird may have Family Dog and The Simpsons to his credit, but this film doesn't have that brand of scatological humor. As with the best family entertainments, there are gags that adults will howl at while the kids are watching something else (see Bird's interpretation of cold war propaganda). And the star is one cool piece of animated magic. Voiced by Vin Diesel (Saving Private Ryan's hulking Private Caparzo) and filled with more gadgets than a Swiss army knife, the giant is a grand thing to behold. And like another famous cinema tin man, our hero--and the movie--has heart. Superb entertainment for ages 5 and up. --Doug Thomas

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Director: Brad Bird
Genre: Animation, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
DVD Release Date: November 16, 2004
Runtime: 86 minutes
Studio: Warner Home Video
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