The Iron Giant (1999)
Wow... I'd forgotten how good this film is, having not seen it in around 5 years. Directed by Brad (The Incredibles) Bird, The Iron Giant is an animated classic (yeah, maybe it's too soon to call it that, sue me) that was largely ignored when it was first released, but has lived on and grown in stature over the years.
Based on a book called The Iron Man, The Iron Giant tells the story of a young boy, Hogarth Hughes, who befriends an amnesiac giant metal robot from space that lands near his town in the 1950s. Hogarth's mother is a single parent who works late, so he has ample opportunity to hang out with his new friend. The Giant is initially a blank slate, and Hogarth teaches him the basics of the world and of language and has a lot of fun doing so. Hogarth hides the metal eating Giant at a scrapyard belonging to a wannabe artist named Dean. Trouble brews, however, when an over-enthusiastic government agent comes to town to investigate reports about a giant monster and makes a connection between the events and Hogarth. Worse still, the Giant's memory begins to return and he realizes that he was constructed to be a weapon.
From the opening moments, you can tell this is something special - it depicts an object (the Giant) heading towards the Earth, and the animation and set up are tunning. You can see a storm taking place down on the planet - these sorts of little details occur throughout and really help separate the film from more generic fare. There's an immediacy to the opening scene that continues throughout, but it never feels rushed. The characters and setting are established economically but not superficially. There's a light hearted feel to events and plenty of humour. Hogarth's interaction and friendship with the Giant is built up with lots of gags but its still affecting. Hogarth's interactions with the annoying and dangerous Agent Mansley also make for some hilarious moments. Despite the generally light tone, the film doesn't shy away from being serious, as when it deals with themes like rabid paranoia and free will. It is quite moving at times as well, especially towards the end, but it never feels manipulative.
The animation is fantastic. There's a retro look to the designs that suit the time in which events take place. There's a lot of character in the animation - the Giant in particular is a fantastically designed and emotive creation. Michael Kamen's score feels appropriate to the era and has some rousing moments. The biggest names in the voice cast are Jennifer Aniston and Vin Diesel (pre-fame) as Hogarth's mom and the Giant respectively. Aniston is good, as is Harry Connick Jr as Dean, but the best of the humans are Christopher McDonald as Agent Mansley and Eli Marienthal as Hogarth. It's hard to say how much of Vin Diesel is in the voice of the Giant; his voice is gravelly, but not THAT gravelly. In any case, the Giant's voice is impressive in that it's mechanical but manages to convey emotion at the same time.
The Iron Giant is a terrific film. I loved Brad Bird's The Incredibles, but I think this is his best work. Every aspect of it is near flawless. It all gels together to become one of the best animated films of recent times, and while it's not as rich and textured as the work of Miyazaki, I still hold it in as high a regard.