This is the second run I’ve taken at this film, mainly because my DVD doesn’t play nicely with the drives in my computer. But having made some hardware and software upgrades recently, I was finally able to eke out some decent screencaps. So let’s go.
Warner Brothers’ The Iron Giant was the 1999 feature directing debut of Brad Bird, who later directed The Incredibles. Based loosely on the 1968 Ted Hughes novel The Iron Man (itself previously adapted into a concept album/rock opera by Pete Townshend), The Iron Giant starts out during a storm at sea in 1957 when a man aboard a fishing boat sees a meteor and then encounters something incredible rising out of the sea.
If this seems familiar, it’s because it’s basically the same opening as the original Godzilla from 1954, which tells us a few things about the film that will follow: it will concern Cold War paranoia and nuclear terror, it will feature a giant monster, and it will be chock-full of pop culture references to keep fans like myself happy.
Next, we are introduced to Hogarth Hughes (his surname’s a tribute to the original novel’s author), a young boy living in Rockwell, Maine. He lives with his widowed mother, who works as a waitress, so Hogarth not only has no male father figure in his life, but he has lots of unsupervised time to get into trouble, such as adopting a pet squirrel. He brings the squirrel into the diner where his mother works, which is where he meets beatnik artist Dean McCoppin.
Hilarity ensues. Later that night, Hogarth is watching a scary late-night movie featuring alien brains with tentacles (the voice acting is hilariously bad to evoke a 50’s B movie, but seriously, I’d like to see the whole thing–those brains are bad-ass) when he loses reception. And it’s no wonder why; something has not only eaten the TV aerial, but also half of their tractor before crashing into the woods. Hogarth grabs his flashlight and a BB gun and goes off into the woods to find the mysterious metal eater and runs into a giant metal man attacking a power plant, which turns out badly for him.
Hogarth shuts off the power, blacking out the entire town, then flees the monster. His mother dismisses his story as nonsense. One person who doesn’t dismiss the idea as nonsense is government agent Kent Mansley, who comes to Rockwell to investigate. He doesn’t get a glimpse of the monster, but finds plenty of evidence of its existence, including his own car.
Mansley also finds a half-eaten BB gun with the words “Hog Hug” written on what’s left of the stock.
Meanwhile, Hogarth heads back out into the woods with a camera, determined to get a picture of the monster. However, when he encounters the giant again, he realizes the robot is not a monster, but instead more like a curious child. There’s a neat moment when they first meet in which the giant imitates Hogarth’s body language in an instinctive attempt to communicate.
Hogarth and the giant become tentative friends, but as the giant is following Hogarth home, he ends up getting hit by a train, which bashes him into pieces. Luckily, he has a special beacon that emerges from his head and summons his missing pieces back to him.
Hogarth takes the giant back home with him (most of him, anyway) and hides him in the barn. Meanwhile, back at the wreck, Mansley interviews two old-timer engineers from the train, who tell him about the giant. The voices and likenesses of the engineers are provided by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, two of Disney’s “Nine Old Men,” the core group of animators on the classic Disney animated features. The pair (authors of the beautiful Disney reference work The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation) also get a brief cameo near the end of Bird’s The Incredibles, when they praise Mr. Incredible and company for doin’ it “old school.”
Mansley stops in at the Hogarth household to use the phone and ends up staying for dinner, just as Hogarth is trying to hide the giant’s severed hand, which is causing mischief in the house like a naughty puppy (it even wags its severed wrist like a tail).
Mansley figures out that the “Hog Hug” from the BB gun is actually Hogarth, but doesn’t manage to get his eyes on the giant. Still, Hogarth realizes that the heat is on, so after a night spent reading comics with the giant (including the real-life Action Comics #188, featuring Superman, also owned by Warner’s), he sneaks the now-fully-reassembled giant away from the farm and tries to figure out a place to keep him, finally settling on the junkyard. It not only secluded, but also full of the metal the giant eats to keep himself going.
And of course, the junkyard just happens to be owned by beatnik Dean McCoppin, who we first met in the diner way back in the beginning. About time he showed up again.
Let’s hope he’s not a disabled veteran with a skeleton full of metal, otherwise he won’t survive into Part 2 of our recap, next week.