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Review by Jay Rittenberg

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Directed by: Brad Bird
Written by: Brad Bird and Tim McCanlies, based on the book by Ted Hughes
Starring: the voices of: Jennifer Aniston, Vin Diesel, Christopher Mcdonald, and Eli Marienthal

The Iron Giant is not only one of the best (if not the best!) family films of 1999, but it is also certainly among the best overall films that the studios churned out all of last year. I don't know what surprised me more: that this animated gem had nothing to do with Disney (praise must be directed over to the suits at Warner Brothers for financing this one), that the same suits at the WB did not fork over more dead presidents to properly advertise this film (you can bet that "The Mouse" would never have let this happen!), that - despite phenomenal word of mouth - it didn't perform better at the almighty domestic box office, or just how off guard this wonderfully moving picture caught me.

I guess I'd have to say all of the above for an animated release that was unjustly bypassed during the high-octane, high-energy summer months in favor of audience pleasers such as Tarzan, and South Park. Don't get me wrong, Tarzan is an enjoyable thrill ride, and South Park is by far last year's funniest film, but where The Iron Giant lacks flair and humor, it makes it up with plenty of substance and compassion, making it one of the few films of 1999 that both parents and children will enjoy watching together - not just once but over and over. This one is a welcome addition to your own personal home video library or DVD collection.

A lot of the credit goes to the crisp screenplay by Tim McCanlies and writer/director Brad Bird, which is based on the book by Ted Hughes. In addition, the people behind this production couldn't have picked a more convincing setting than the Cold War-style hysteria of the one they chose for this picture. In a little Sleepy Hollow town in 1957, a feisty but sweet little boy named Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal) is looking for some companionship. The boy loves to use his imagination but unfortunately has to rely on it quite a bit because his loving mother Annie (Jennifer Aniston) is always working to help support them both.

One night, while his mother is working late, Hogarth decides to go out and investigate a ruckus taking place at the local power plant near his home. This is where he first discovers the Giant (Vin Diesel), a towering robot of metal. The boy quickly realizes that the Giant has fallen into danger of being electrocuted from some live wires and saves him by turning off the power switch. As time progresses, the boy and his Giant become friends, and Hogarth starts teaching him important life lessons.... And just as in magical Spielberg blockbuster E.T., The Iron Giant features paranoid types that don't completely understand - and more important, don't bother trying - and want to destroy the creature because he is "perceived" as a threat. The film's evil element is nicely handled by dependable silver screen heavy Christopher McDonald, as the devious government agent Kent Mansley. This calculating mastermind slowly closes in on Hogarth, who is desperately trying to shield this gentle Giant from harm.

You will notice a lot of similarities between The Iron Giant and E.T. - it's something of an animated equivalent. Although we (sadly) don't get to know all that much about the metal man and what he's doing here in the first place, his mysterious presence adds to the film's allure. The film does deliver solid storytelling and an unyielding message about friendship and violence. The moments between the boy and his Giant are tender and sweet, and the way in which guns are portrayed as devices of destruction is moving without delivering the usual sermon of onscreen sentimentality.

It's refreshing to see an animated film that isn't drowned out by high-gloss musical number extravaganzas and can be remembered much more for its powerful message than its lavish layout. In additoin, its story is so penetrating that you can easily forget that you're watching a cartoon. This cartoon has more to say than most live-action films and is one that the whole family should be sure to catch together.

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