A major surprise in a summer already crowded with fun flicks is this under-hyped animated wonder. Disney has struck gold in recent years by swiping from classic Japanese anime, so it was inevitable that Warners animation arm would get in on the act, albeit by way of an adaptation of a children’s book.
Back in the early ’60s, cartoonist Mitsuteru Yokoyama super-sized Japan’s robot craze with Iron Man 28 (to be known in the U.S. as Gigantor), a series about a little boy and his amazing flying giant robot. This gave birth to an entire new genre, with Mazinger, Johnny Sokko, Gundam, Transformers, Dynamo Joe, and scores of others following over the years.
This is a worthy tribute to those old cartoons, as well as a tribute to ’50s sci-fi features. Hogarth Hughes is your average boy of the ’50s, his imagination unbound by the rising tide of psychotronica invading pop culture. One day, all the comic-books come true for him when he discovers, and eventually befriends, a gigantic alien warrior robot who has crash-landed in Maine and lost his memory. They go through a lot of situations familiar from many old family features in which a kid adopts a gorilla or whatever and has to keep it hidden, but writer/director Brad Bird (a veteran of The Simpsons and King of the Hill) makes it all fresh with equal parts visual poetry, timing, heart, and style. Eventually, government agents led by an early X-files investigator (Christopher McDonald) are on the giant’s trail, leading to an explosive confrontation.
Though I detected a few instances of sliding backgrounds and such, the animation is delightful, making the robot pleasingly fluid and expressive without making him squooshy. It has a bright color palette and excellent character design reflecting animation styles of the period. It may seem unlikely that an animated feature could be seen as more than a corporate product these days, but Iron Giant has enough charm and character that it may come to be seen as a kind of classic.