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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Iron Giant has plenty of the kind of cartoon action that most kids love: a giant robot under attack; buildings, trains, and cars crashing; futuristic weapons firing; Hogarth, the boy hero, creeping through a dark forest looking for "trouble"; a boat caught in a storm; spooky music; and an arrogant, mean-spirited villain who threatens everyone and everything that's important. It also includes a poignant moment when a deer is shot. The filmmakers bring a point of view to the events, hoping to instruct, explain, and offer thought-provoking ideas through which kids can view the action (i.e. "guns kill," the collateral damage of paranoia, and taking responsibility for our choices). One character smokes a pipe throughout the movie, and one smokes a cigarette (accurate for the movie's '50s setting). "Hell" is said a few times, and Hogarth gives the villain a dose of laxative, which humorously results in trips to any bathroom he can find.
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What's the story?
Set in rural Maine during the late 1950s, THE IRON GIANT centers on 9-year-old Hogarth Hughes (voiced by Eli Marienthal), who lives with his waitress mother, Annie (Jennifer Aniston). One night, he discovers a huge robot in the woods, munching on whatever metal it can find, including the town's electric substation. Hogarth is frightened but takes pity when the robot is enmeshed in wires and turns off the power so that the robot can escape. The robot turns out to be the world's best playmate, whether cannon-balling into the swimming hole or acting as a sort of amusement park ride. His origins remain mysterious, but his reaction to Hogarth's toy ray gun suggests that he may have served as a weapon of some kind. Local beatnick Dean McCoppin (Harry Connick, Jr.) lets Hogarth hide the robot in his junkyard, but government investigator Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald) thinks the giant is part of a Communist plot and presses Hogarth to turn him in. Mansley calls in the army, and suddenly the robot and the surrounding community are in real danger.
Is it any good?
This wonderful film from director Brad Bird has so much humor and heart that it's one of the best family movies around. The script, based on a book by England's poet laureate, Ted Hughes, is exceptionally good. The plot has some clever twists and some sly references to the 1950s to tickle the memories of Boomer grandparents. Setting the story in the 1950s puts the government's reaction to the robot in the context of the Red Scare and Sputnik.
The Iron Giant may not have the breathtaking vistas of some of the best Disney animated films, but it's lively and heartwarming, and the characters, both human and robot, are so engaging that you might forget they aren't real. The robot, created with computer graphics, is seamlessly included with the hand-drawn actors, making the illusion even more complete.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what makes real friendships, like that between Hogarth and The Iron Giant. Do you have to have a lot in common with someone to be friends with them?
What did you think about the ending? Do you think it had to be that way? What was the alternative?
What do you know about the 1950s? How could you learn more?
- In theaters: August 6, 1999
- On DVD or streaming: September 27, 2005
- Cast: Cloris Leachman, Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Aniston, Vin Diesel
- Director: Brad Bird
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Friendship, Robots
- Character strengths: Communication, Courage, Humility
- Run time: 86 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: tension and potty humor
- Last updated: November 29, 2019
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