The Iron Giant

The Boston Phoenix

DIRECTED BY: Brad Bird

REVIEWED: 08-09-99

In a genially animated Maine autumn countryside of 1957, Hogarth (voiced by Eli Marienthal) disobeys mother Annie (Jennifer Aniston) and wanders out into the night to discover, Invaders from Mars-style, a giant robot (Vin Diesel) from outer space. Actually the big guy is just a kid himself, chomping on metal as if it were junk food, and Hogarth decides to hide his new friend with the help of village hipster Dean (Harry Connick Jr.) from their fellow Maine-iacs until he can think of a way to introduce him without causing a panic. Too late: their suspicions aroused by tractors with bites taken out of them and inexplicable train wrecks, his neighbors have called in Washington and special agent Mul . . . , er, Mansley (Christopher McDonald) to investigate.

Based on a children's book written by the late poet Ted Hughes, Brad Bird's film is of course a giant ironic allegory. A self-conscious, somewhat anachronistic version of the conflict between national innocence and Cold War paranoia dramatized in movies from The Day the Earth Stood Still to E.T., it's also a magical evocation of a special time in history and a time in everybody's life when the dream and the nightmare quotients are equally high. Adults will be moved when the colossus learns about death from a deer shot by hunters (pace Bambi) and declares, "I am not a gun." The kid in all of us, though, will be most turned on when the pissed-off giant sprouts hydra heads of weaponry and takes on the Army, Navy, and Air Force. That's irony for you.

--Peter Keough

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