The Iron Giant is a 1999 American animated science fiction comedy-drama film using both traditional animation and computer animation, produced by Warner Bros. Animation, and based on the 1968 novel The Iron Man by Ted Hughes. The film was directed by Brad Bird, scripted by Tim McCanlies, and stars Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick, Jr., Vin Diesel, Eli Marienthal, Christopher McDonald, and John Mahoney.
The film is about a lonely boy named Hogarth Hughes raised by his mother (the widow of an Air Force pilot), who discovers an iron giant who fell from space. With the help of a beatnik artist named Dean McCoppin, they have to stop the U.S. military and a federal agent named Kent Mansley from finding and destroying the Giant. The Iron Giant takes place in October 1957 in the American state of Maine during the height of the Cold War.
The film's development phase began in 1994, though the project took root once Brad Bird signed on as director, and his hiring of Tim McCanlies to write the screenplay in 1996. The script was given approval by Ted Hughes, author of the original novel, and production struggled through difficulties (Bird even enlisted the aid of a group of students from CalArts). The Iron Giant was released by Warner Bros. in the summer of 1999 and received high critical praise. It was nominated for several awards that most notably included the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and the Nebula Award from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. The film made $31.3 million worldwide against a budget of between $50 million and $70 million.
In 1957, after the Russian satellite Sputnik is put into orbit, a giant robot from outer space crashes into the ocean near Rockwell, Maine. The robot makes it inland and wanders into the forest, and nine-year-old Hogarth Hughes soon discovers the robot one night. The robot began eating the powerlines of an electrical substation, then gets electrocuted. Hogarth shuts down the power, saving the robot, and runs away. Several days later, Hogarth makes it his mission to find the robot and take a picture. After hours of waiting, the robot surprises Hogarth, who soon befriends him. The Iron Giant, suffering amnesia, accompanies Hogarth wherever he goes. When they come to a railroad, the Giant starts eating the rails. Hearing an oncoming train, Hogarth tells the Giant to repair the tracks. As he does, the train collides, breaking him to pieces. The Giant's parts start to reassemble, and Hogarth hides the damaged robot in his house's barn, where the parts can repair themselves.
Later, after supper with his widowed mother Annie, Hogarth reads comic books to the Giant. The Giant is impressed with Superman, but discovers the comic 'Atomo the Metal Menace'. Hogarth reassures the Giant, "You are who you choose to be". A U.S. government agent, Kent Mansley, arrives, discovers possible evidence of the Giant, and decides to make several leads. Finding Hogarth's BB gun near the substation, Mansley takes a room for rent at Hogarth's home and follows the boy around hoping to learn more. Hogarth evades Mansley, and takes the Giant to beatnik artist Dean McCoppin's junkyard. Hogarth soon has to discuss "death" with the Giant after they witness hunters shoot a stag in the forest. Anxious about alien invasion, Mansley alerts the U.S. Army to the possible presence of the Giant. When he and General Shannon Rogard backed by the Army forces investigate, Dean shows the robot disguised as a work of scrap-metal art. Rogard reprimands Mansley for wasting his time and leaves. Later, Hogarth plays with the Giant using a toy gun, which automatically activates the Giant's deadly laser eyes. Dean saves Hogarth, and he commands the Giant to leave. Hogarth, believing he never meant to harm him, runs after him. Dean then realizes the Giant was only reacting defensively. He catches Hogarth with his motorbike as the Giant reaches the town.
In Rockwell, the Giant saves two boys from falling to their death, to the amazement of witnesses. The Army then sees the Giant, returns, and attacks. The Giant flees with Hogarth and flies away, but is downed by an F-86 missile. After crashing, the Giant thinks the unconscious Hogarth is dead; he activates his energy weapons and attacks the outmatched Army. Mansley lies that the robot killed Hogarth and suggests he can be destroyed out at sea with a nuclear bomb from the USS Nautilus. Hogarth wakes up, and reassures the Giant. The Giant deactivates his weapons. Dean tells Rogard the Giant never harmed anyone. Rogard sees Hogarth is alive and radios the Nautilus, but Mansley grabs the radio and orders the missile-launch. Angered, Rogard scolds Mansley, the missile currently targeted on the Giant will also kill everyone in the city. Mansley attempts to escape, but the Giant stops him, and Rogard has his men arrest Mansley. Hogarth tells the Giant about Rockwell's impending fate, and the Giant makes the decision to fly off, smiling to himself that he chooses to be Superman. The Giant collides with the missile, causing a massive explosion high in the atmosphere and saving the town.
Sometime later, Annie and Dean have become close, and Dean has built a statue in the park to honor the Giant. Hogarth receives by package a small bolt from Rogard, the only piece of the Giant ever found. That night, Hogarth hears a familiar beeping coming from the bolt, which is trying to get out the window. He opens the window to let the bolt out. Somewhere on the Langjökull Glacier in Iceland, parts of the Giant approach where his head rests, as he wakes up and smiles.
Eli Marienthal as Hogarth Hughes, an energetic and curious boy with an active imagination.,
Jennifer Aniston as Annie Hughes, a widow and Hogarth's single mother.,
Harry Connick, Jr. as Dean McCoppin, a beatnik artist and junkyard owner.,
Vin Diesel as The Iron Giant, a fifty-foot, metal-eating robot. The Giant involuntarily reacts defensively if he recognizes anything as a weapon, immediately attempting to destroy it. The specific creator of the giant is never revealed. In a deleted scene, he has a brief vision of similar robots destroying a different planet. Peter Cullen was considered to do the voice.
Christopher McDonald as Kent Mansley, an arrogant, ambitious and paranoid government agent sent to investigate sightings of the Iron Giant. The logo on his official government car says he is from the "Bureau of Unexplained Phenomena.",
John Mahoney as General Shannon Rogard, the military leader in Washington, D.C. who strongly dislikes Mansley.,
M. Emmet Walsh as Earl Stutz, a sailor and the first man to see the robot.,
James Gammon as Marv Loach, a foreman who follows the robot's trail after it destroys the power station.,
Cloris Leachman as Mrs. Tensedge, Hogarth's schoolteacher.,
Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas as the train engineers.,
Poet Ted Hughes first wrote The Iron Man for his own children. (The family in the story is named Hughes.) In 1986, rock musician Pete Townshend became interested in writing "a modern song-cycle in the manner of Tommy", and chose as his subject The Iron Man, now published and well known in England. Three years later, The Iron Man: A Musical album was released. The same year Pete Townshend produced a short film set to the album single "A Friend is a Friend" featuring The Iron Man in a mix of stop frame animation and live action directed by Matt Forrest. In 1993, a stage version was mounted at London's Old Vic. Des McAnuff, who had adapted Tommy with Townshend for the stage, believed that The Iron Man could translate to the screen, and the project was ultimately acquired by Warner Bros.
In late 1996, while developing the project on its way through, the studio saw the film as a perfect vehicle for Brad Bird, who at the time was working for Turner Feature Animation.Turner Entertainment had recently merged with Warner Bros. parent company Time Warner, and Bird was allowed to transfer to the Warner Bros. Animation studio to direct The Iron Giant. After reading the original Iron Man book by Hughes, Bird was impressed with the mythology of the story and in addition, was given an unusual amount of creative control by Warner Bros. This creative control involved introducing two new characters not present in the original book: Dean and Kent. Bird's pitch to Warner Bros. was based around the idea "What if a gun had a soul?" Bird decided to have the story set to take place in the 1950s as he felt the time period "presented a wholesome surface, yet beneath the wholesome surface was this incredible paranoia. We were all going to die in a freak-out."
The financial failure of Warner Bros.' previous animated effort, Quest for Camelot, whose cost overruns and production nightmares made the company reconsider their commitment to feature animation, helped shape The Iron Giant's production considerably. In a 2003 interview, writer Tim McCanlies recalled:
"Quest for Camelot did so badly that everybody backed away from animation and fired people. Suddenly we had no executive anymore on Iron Giant, which was great because Brad got to make his movie. Because nobody was watching."
Bird, who regarded Camelot as "trying to emulate the Disney style," attributed the creative freedom on The Iron Giant to the bad experience of Quest for Camelot, stating: "I caught them at a very strange time, and in many ways a fortuitous time." By the time The Iron Giant entered production, Warner Bros. informed the staff that there would be a smaller budget as well as time-frame to get the film completed. Although the production was watched closely, Bird commented "They did leave us alone if we kept it in control and showed them we were producing the film responsibly and getting it done on time and doing stuff that was good." Bird regarded the tradeoff as having "one-third of the money of a Disney or DreamWorks film, and half of the production schedule," but the payoff as having more creative freedom, describing the film as "fully-made by the animation team; I don't think any other studio can say that to the level that we can."
Tim McCanlies was hired to write the script, though Bird was somewhat displeased with having another writer on board, as he himself wanted to write the screenplay. He later changed his mind after reading McCanlies' unproduced screenplay for Secondhand Lions. In Bird's original story treatment, America and the USSR were at war at the end, with the Giant dying. McCanlies decided to have a brief scene displaying his survival, stating, "You can't kill E.T. and then not bring him back." McCanlies finished the script within two months, and was surprised once Bird convinced the studio not to use Townshend's songs. Townshend did not care either way, saying "Well, whatever, I got paid." McCanlies was given a three-month schedule to complete a script, and it was by way of the film's tight schedule that Warner Bros. "didn't have time to mess with us" as McCanlies said. Hughes himself was sent a copy of McCanlies' script and sent a letter back, saying how pleased he was with the version. In the letter, Hughes stated, "I want to tell you how much I like what Brad Bird has done. He's made something all of a piece, with terrific sinister gathering momentum and the ending came to me as a glorious piece of amazement. He's made a terrific dramatic situation out of the way he's developed The Iron Giant. I can't stop thinking about it."
Bird opted to produce The Iron Giant entirely in widescreen, but was warned against doing so by his advisers. Bird felt it was appropriate to use the format, as many films from the late 1950s were produced in such widescreen formats, and was eventually allowed to produce the feature in the wide 2.39:1 CinemaScope aspect ratio It was decided to animate the Giant using computer-generated imagery as the various animators working on the film found it hard "drawing a metal object in a fluid-like manner." A new computer program was created for this task, while the art of Norman Rockwell, Edward Hopper and N.C. Wyeth inspired the design. Bird brought in students from CalArts to assist in minor animation work due to the film's busy schedule. The Giant's voice was originally to be electronically modulated but the filmmakers decided they "needed a deep, resonant and expressive voice to start with", and were about to hire Peter Cullen, due to his history with voice acting robot characters, but due to Cullen's unavailability at the time, Vin Diesel was hired instead. Cullen did some voice-over work for the film's theatrical trailer. Teddy Newton, a storyboard artist, played an important role in shaping the film's story. Newton's first assignment on staff involved being asked by Bird to create a film within a film to reflect the "hygiene-type movies that everyone saw when the bomb scare was happening."
Newton came to the conclusion that a musical number would be the catchiest alternative, and the "Duck and Cover sequence" came to become one of the crew members' favorites of the film. Nicknamed "The X-Factor" by story department head Jeffery Lynch, the producers gave him artistic freedom on various pieces of the film's script.
The score for the film was composed and conducted by Michael Kamen. Bird's original temp score, "a collection of Bernard Hermann cues from 50's and 60's sci-fi films," initially scared Kamen. Believing the sound of the orchestra is important to the feeling of the film, Kamen "decided to comb eastern Europe for an "old-fashioned" sounding orchestra and went to Prague to hear Vladimir Ashkenazy conduct the Czech Philharmonic in Strauss's An Alpine Symphony." Eventually, the Czech Philharmonic was the orchestra used for the film's score, with Bird describing the symphony orchestra as "an amazing collection of musicians." The score for The Iron Giant was recorded in a rather unconventional manner, compared to most films: recorded over one week at the Rudolfinum in Prague, the music was recorded without conventional uses of syncing the music, in a method Kamen described in a 1999 interview as "being able to play the music as if it were a piece of classical repertoire." Kamen's score for The Iron Giant won the Annie Award for Music in an Animated Feature Production on November 6, 1999.
The film is set in 1957 during a period of the Cold War characterized by escalation in tension between the United States and the Soviet Union. In 1957, Sputnik was launched, raising the possibility of nuclear attack from space. Anti-communism and the potential threat of nuclear destruction cultivated an atmosphere of fear and paranoia which also led to a proliferation of films about alien invasion. In one scene, Hogarth's class is seen watching an animated film named Atomic Holocaust, based on Duck and Cover, an actual film that offered advice on how to survive if the USSR bombed the USA. The film also has an anti-gun message in it. When the Iron Giant sees a deer get killed by hunters, the Iron Giant notices two rifles discarded by the deer's body. The Iron Giant's eyes turn red showing hostility to any gun. It is repeated throughout the film, "Guns kill." and "You're not a gun." Despite the anti-war and anti-gun themes, the film avoids demonizing the military, and presents General Rogard as an essentially rational and sympathetic figure, in contrast to the power-hungry civilian Mansley. Hogarth's message to the giant, "You are who you choose to be", played a pivotal role in the film. Writer Tim McCanlies commented that "At a certain point, there are deciding moments when we pick who we want to be. And that plays out for the rest of your life." McCanlies said that movies can provide viewers with a sense of right and wrong, and expressed a wish that the movie would "make us feel like we're all part of humanity which is something we need to feel."
The Iron Giant opened on August 6, 1999 in the United States in 2,179 theaters, ranking at No. 9 accumulating $5,732,614 over its opening weekend. The film went on to gross $23,159,305 domestically and $8,174,612 internationally for a total of $31,333,917 worldwide. In an interview with IGN, Brad Bird stated that it was "a mis-marketing campaign of epic proportions at the hands of Warner Bros., they simply didn't realize what they had on their hands."Tim McCanlies said, "I wish that Warner had known how to release it."
Lorenzo di Bonaventura, president of Warner Bros. at the time, explained, "People always say to me, 'Why don't you make smarter family movies?' The lesson is, Every time you do, you get slaughtered." Stung by criticism that it mounted an ineffective marketing campaign for its theatrical release, Warner Bros. revamped its advertising strategy for the video release of the film, including tie-ins with Honey Nut Cheerios, AOL and General Motors and secured the backing of three U.S. congressmen (Ed Markey, Mark Foley and Howard Berman).
The Iron Giant received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics; based on 130 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, The Iron Giant received an overall 97% "Certified Fresh" approval rating, with an average score of 8.2/10. The consensus reads: "Engaging, endearing, affecting and charmingly retro, The Iron Giant tackles touchy subjects and complex relationships with a steady hand and beautiful animation direction from Brad Bird."Metacritic calculated an average score of 85 (out of 100) from the 27 reviews it collected, which indicates "Universal Acclaim". The film has since then gathered a cult following. The cable television network Cartoon Network showed the film annually on Thanksgiving for 24 hours straight in the early 2000s.
Roger Ebert very much liked the Cold War setting, feeling "that's the decade when science fiction seemed most preoccupied with nuclear holocaust and invaders from outer space." In addition he was impressed with parallels seen in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and wrote, "The Iron Giant is not just a cute romp but an involving story that has something to say." In response to the E.T. parallels, Bird said, "E.T. doesn't go kicking ass. He doesn't make the Army pay. Certainly you risk having your hip credentials taken away if you want to evoke anything sad or genuinely heartfelt."IGN extolled the film in a 2004 review as "the best non-Disney animated film".
Peter Stack of the San Francisco Chronicle agreed that the storytelling was far superior to other animated films, and cited the characters as plausible and noted the richness of moral themes. Jeff Millar of the Houston Chronicle agreed with the basic techniques as well, and concluded the voice cast being excelled with a great script by Tim McCanlies.
The Hugo Awards nominated The Iron Giant for Best Dramatic Presentation, while the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America honored Brad Bird and Tim McCanlies with the Nebula Award nomination. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts gave the film a Children's Award as Best Feature Film. In addition The Iron Giant won nine Annie Awards and was nominated for another six categories, with another nomination for Best Home Video Release at The Saturn Awards.IGN ranked The Iron Giant as the fifth favorite animated film of all time in a list published in 2010.
The American Film Institute nominated The Iron Giant for its Top 10 Animated Films list.
Date of ceremony
Recipients and nominees
November 6, 1999
Best Animated Feature Film
Allison Abbate, Des McAnuff, and John Walker, Warner Bros. Pictures; Warner Bros. Feature Animation
Outstanding Individual Achievement in Effects Animation
Outstanding Individual Achievement in Character Animation
Jim Van der Keyl
Outstanding Individual Achievement for Directing in an Animated Feature Production
Outstanding Individual Achievement for Music in an Animated Feature Production
Outstanding Individual Achievement for Production Design in an Animated Feature Production
Outstanding Individual Achievement in Storyboarding in an Animated Feature Production
Outstanding Individual Achievement for Voice Acting in an Animated Feature Production
For playing "Hogarth Hughes".
Outstanding Individual Achievement for Writing in an Animated Feature Production
Tim McCanlies (screenplay) and Brad Bird (story)
BAFTA Children's Award
April 9, 2000
Best Feature Film
Brad Bird, Allison Abbate, Des McAnuff, and Tim McCanlies
Florida Film Critics Circle
January 9, 2000
Best Animated Film
March 18, 2000
Best Feature Film - Animated
September 2, 2000
Best Dramatic Presentation
Brad Bird (screen story and directed by), Tim McCanlies (screenplay by), and Ted Hughes (based on the book The Iron Man by)
Las Vegas Film Critics Society
January 18, 2000
Best Animated Film
Los Angeles Film Critics Association
January 20, 2000
Best Animated Film
Motion Picture Sound Editors Awards
March 25, 2000
Best Sound Editing - Animated Feature
Best Sound Editing - Music - Animation
New York Film Critics Circle
January 10, 2000
Best Animated Film
Santa Fe Film Critics Circle Awards
January 9, 2000
Best Animated Film
June 6, 2000
Best Home Video Release
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America
May 20, 2000
Brad Bird and Tim McCanlies
Young Artist Awards
March 19, 2000
Best Family Feature Film - Animated
Best Performance in a Voice-Over (TV or Feature Film) - Young Actor
The Iron Giant was released on DVD and VHS on November 23, 1999. The Special Edition DVD was released on November 16, 2004. In 2014, Brad Bird went to Warner Bros. to talk about the possibility of releasing The Iron Giant on Blu-Ray. "WB & I have been talking. But they want a bare bones disc. I want better," Bird said on his Twitter account. He also said that fans can log on to their Twitter accounts and post a tweet on the Twitter homepage of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, demanding a Collector's Edition Blu-Ray for the film.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license