The Iron Giant (1999)

[9.0]

"What if a gun had a soul?" That's how director Brad Bird pitched The Iron Giant to Warner Bros. Animation. The gun in question is The Iron Giant himself, a robot of unknown origin that crash lands on Earth in 1957, at the height of the atomic scare. He dents his head and can't remember where he's from or why he exists. He befriends a boy named Hogarth, a savvy little kid raised by a single mother, whose seen enough science-fiction movies to know how the public will react to his extra-terrestrial friend. With the help of a local beatnik artist, Hogarth keeps the giant hidden from a snooping government official, all while forging a poignant relationship with the impressionable robot.

I’ve seen The Iron Giant several times now, and I’m still very moved by a scene where the Iron Giant mourns the death of a deer, prompting a discussion between boy and robot on the nature of death and the concept of souls. Hogarth tells the giant what he has learned: We are who we choose to be, and souls never die. Later, when attacked by the army, the Iron Giant has an involuntary reaction. He becomes a violent weapon, and Hogarth’s lesson is put to the test.

The Iron Giant is beautifully written and crafted, one of the finest animated films ever made. It’s at turns joyous and devastating, far more affecting than most of us would ever expect from a cartoon. The excellent voice cast includes Vin Diesel as the Giant, Harry Connick Jr as the beatnik, Christopher McDonald as the g-man, and John Mahoney as the army general. The animation is a beautiful, seamless blend of 2D and 3D elements, and the late Michael Kamen contributes one of his most rousing scores.

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