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Human characters populate classic children’s film

Rama Gottumukkala | Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Before a family of “incredibles” was even a glimmer in his imagination, there was an eleven-year-old and his unlikely friendship with a benevolent iron giant.Director Brad Bird, recently anointed with an Academy Award for his work on Pixar’s “The Incredibles,” has excelled in the animation business for quite a while. He has contributed to such classic animated fare as “The Simpsons” and the Disney film “The Fox and the Hound.”Despite all his other accomplishments, Bird’s most poignant and wholly human film may still be his first feature film – “The Iron Giant.” Based on a children’s novel entitled “The Iron Man” by Ted Hughes, the film excels on many levels, exuding a childish sense of joy that is infectious and heartwarming.Produced at the Warner Bros. feature animation studio, “The Iron Giant” was a tremendous critical success despite flying beneath the radar of the general public. It quietly crashed and burned at the box office. An uninspired marketing push never sold the film to potential viewers and doomed the film on a quick path to home video.Timed to coincide with the smash success of “The Incredibles,” Warner Bros. has reissued a new special edition of “The Iron Giant,” complete with a host of new special features and a new digital video transfer. The new DVD finally delivers justice to the film and pays homage to Bird’s creative brilliance.Set in the 1950s following the launch of the Russian Sputnik satellite, the film follows the exploits of Hogarth Hughes (voiced by Eli Marienthal), an eleven-year-old with an active imagination and a pension for horror films and adventures. While alone in the house at night, Hogarth discovers the Iron Giant (voiced by Vin Diesel) in his own backyard – the thick woods of Maine. Befriending the innocent alien robot, he elicits the help of a friendly junkyard operator, Dean (voiced by Harry Connick Jr.) in hiding the 50-foot-tall giant from Kent Mansley (voiced by Christopher McDonald), a paranoid government agent.Hiding behind the veneer of an innocent children’s tale, “The Iron Giant” is populated by very real characters, as human as any seen in live-action feature films. Although it cleverly uses the 1950s Cold War setting as a backdrop to showcase that period’s mass paranoia, its message can easily be applied to the 21st century. Russian spies and atomic holocaust can easily be substituted for foreign terrorist threats and nuclear warfare. The film’s lessons are simple but at the same time firmly based in reality, rising above the conventions of the average Disney animated fare.But the film’s foundation is still set firmly upon the touching friendship between Hogarth and the Iron Giant and. Although the Giant appears to be quite benevolent and altogether harmless, there are still hints at its more sinister origins. Hogarth refuses to question the Giant’s past, preferring instead to teach his new 50-foot pal the joys of comic books, television and cannon-balling into a local lake. Through it all, Hogarth reminds the Giant that he always has a choice – to be the heroic Superman everyone adores or the arch-villain everyone fears.The special edition DVD features an excellent new digital video transfer as well as a solid surround-sound audio track. The video transfer highlights the film’s vivid color palette and is quite striking. The real heart of the special edition lies in the wealth of special features. These features include an audio commentary with key members of the creative team (including Bird himself), 18 minutes of deleted scenes and several short featurettes on the production, design and voice talent in the film. These features provide a peek at the amount of love that went into making this project, and there is nary a regret to be found for the film’s dismal box office returns.Bird infuses the project with the same sense of life and character that pervades “The Incredibles.” Beneath the simple story of boy’s friendship with an all-too-human robot lies the beating heart of an animation classic. “The Iron Giant” is a very touching story that is brought to life by a true creative genius.