The Iron Giant

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 19, 2014

Like a number of other reviews on this site, this is adapted from BYU/TMA’s previous (2002-2008) Children’s Media Review website.

The effectiveness and near inescapability of the Disney/Pixar marketing juggernaut can cause people to miss non-Mouse sources of children’s media, as well as individual productions whose appeal lies precisely in their departures from what the boys in Burbank or Emoryville would have you consider the norm. But there are alternatives out there, including well crafted and pleasing commercial ones, and it is important, for the sake of diversity and a fair shake all around, to seek them out. This is a good one.

The Iron Giant is a free adaptation of Ted Hughes’ seminal children’s book, The Iron Man (1968). The source is set in the UK, mostly. Brad Bird’s film version moves to the American east coast during the 1950s, and in addition to treating the source’s themes of friendship, free will and sacrifice, brings an agenda of its own to the table.

As might be expected from an alumnus of The Simpsons, Bird’s The Iron Giant contains plenty of social and political satire. It is especially concerned with the idea of aggression, with the proliferation of weaponry and what it does to the individuals and the communities that so proliferate. It analyzes the reasons for and dangers of xenophobia—fear of the other—and it is very good on the vulnerability and virtue of children, especially when the adults are escalating.

This is timely stuff, somewhat heady, perhaps, for a kids’ movie. And one man’s timely is another’s divisive, or offensive; some viewers will not appreciate the ideological perspectives presented here. They might note, however, that these perspectives are feelingly and openly presented, and if integrity is a matter of honourably expressing and acting on your beliefs, then this integritous work might just inspire appreciation and comprehension at the same time that it engenders ideological opposition. It certainly provides a effective entry into discussions about the cold war, the nuclear age, political blacklisting, and how history seems to repeat itself.

Lest this all sound too serious, The Iron Giant is also very funny. Its Simpsons-derived ribaldry will delight many youngsters, though it’s well to point out that their guardians may not be quite as pleased. This might be one that parents should see first. (Note particularly the film’s parental guidance level language. It seems clear that no offense is intended by this dialogue—lots of people talk this way, without thinking too much about it—but sensitive viewers may not appreciate it very much.) On the other hand, the film’s conclusion is a rich and moving sacrifice that will especially resonate with Christian viewers, who will find much to discuss, and many grateful parallels to draw in the aftermath. Perhaps this is a film that, like the wavering and wonderful people with whom we associate, and whom we love, deserves to be forgiven its trespasses, since they are so outweighed by its many merits.