The Iron Giant

The Iron Giant

Sun December 8, 2:00 PM

Muenzinger Auditorium

In the small town of Rockwell, Maine in October 1957, a giant metal machine befriends a nine-year-old boy and ultimately finds its humanity by unselfishly saving people from their own fears and prejudices.

A box-office failure at the time of release, The Iron Giant (1999) was nevertheless recognized by animation fans and professionals as one of the best films to come out of the "animation boom" of the 1990s, and deserving of space on the list of classic cartoon features from any era. Within a few years of release, general audiences discovered the film as well, embracing its well-told, simple story, its heart and its timeless quality.

The Iron Giant was the first animated feature directed by Brad Bird. Bird had been something of an animation prodigy, having submitted his first cartoon to Disney Studios at the age of 13. The studio was impressed by the effort and Bird was mentored by one of the legendary Nine Old Men of Disney animation, Milt Kahl. After going through Disney's CalArts program of studies, Bird's first major solo work was the highly regarded "Family Dog," a 1987 episode of Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories anthology series. Also for Spielberg, Bird co-scripted the live-action film *batteries not included (1987). For much of the 1990s Bird avoided theatrical animation and concentrated on the then-freer environs of Prime Time TV, becoming a consultant and occasional layout artist on The Simpsons, The Critic, and King of the Hill. By 1997 Bird was developing a feature film project with Turner Feature Animation called Ray Gunn. Turner merged with Warner Bros., however, and Bird found himself at Warner Bros. Animation with a no-go project. Given the chance to pick from other projects being looked at by the studio, Bird happened upon a drawing of a little boy with a giant robot. The project was a potential adaptation of a British book, as filtered through the sensibilities of a British rock star. The book was The Iron Man by British Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, first published in 1968. (Hughes had written the book for his two children--to help explain to them the 1963 suicide death of their mother, American poet Sylvia Plath.) In 1989 The Who frontman Pete Townshend had adapted the book into a solo concept album, also called The Iron Man. After finding its way to the stage, the property ended up in the hands of Warner Bros., brought there by Townshend as a possible animated film using the music he had written.

— John M. Miller,

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