I was recently irked by the suggestion that The Iron Giant, Brad Bird’s beloved Cold War fable, was not a “deep” film. Sigh. Being the lover of The Iron Giant that I am, I cannot simply allow a claim such as this to slide without defending the film’s honor. So, if you, like me, are a fan of the underappreciated masterpiece, allow me to dive into why The Iron Giant is actually deep as fuck.
Released in August of 1999 to underwhelming box office returns (see the above “sigh” and apply it to this moment as well), The Iron Giant was co-scripted by Brad Bird and Tim McCanlies from Ted Hughes’ 1968 novel The Iron Man. Taking place during the Cold War in 1957, Bird’s directorial debut tells the story of a young boy named Hogarth Hughes who befriends a giant metallic robot that fell from space. Throughout the film, with an adult friend/father figure he meets along the way, Hogarth faces the task of stopping the United States military and a paranoid federal agent from finding and destroying his new friend.
That alone is deep by the standards of the target audience, but The Iron Giant isn’t content to only appeal to young folks. Much of the film centers around the Cold War, accurately depicting our paranoia as a country at the time – but the film goes beyond even that with a theme that unfortunately rings true still today: We fear what we don’t know or understand. It’s 2017 and we, as a human race, are so quick to judge or condemn anything that defies conventions of how things are “meant to be.” In an age that our country is particularly divided over immigration, race, sexuality, religion and basic human rights, The Iron Giant remains as timely as it’s ever been and it begs to be revisited.
Even without the depiction of our society, Bird’s film delivers the goods in multiple ways. At the heart of The Iron Giant is a superhero film. In the film, we see Hogarth reading comics to the Giant, who is particularly fond of Superman – though he feels that the villainous “Atomo the Metal Menace” paints him as a bad guy, to which Hogarth responds with seven beautiful words we’ll never forget and constantly apply to our own lives.
“You are who you choose to be.”
For the sake of spoiling the ending for anyone who hasn’t seen the film, which is a surprising amount of people, I won’t get into spoilers about the sob-inducing “Sup-er-man” moment that will take your heart, break the hell out of it, and put it back together (how’s that for deep?), but I assure you, it exists. I’m literally still crying 18 years later.
In addition to being a Cold War flick, an allegory for humanity’s fear of what we don’t understand, and a superhero flick wrapped inside a kid’s movie, The Iron Giant pays tremendous homage to classic science fiction films by establishing the popcorn-fueled Friday night tone of midnight movies, featuring films of that caliber within the actual film, and posing questions about humanity in the way that all of the great sci-fi classics do. As a lover of classic science fiction and horror, this element of The Iron Giant puts the film over the top, truly making this one of the greatest animated flicks of all time.
If you’ve never seen The Iron Giant, or if you haven’t seen it recently, I implore you to revisit Brad Bird’s film and experience the magic for yourselves. This is a family film with more to say than it’s been given credit for. It’s deep.