One of my favorite films of all time is, 'The Iron Giant'. It's an animated film released by Warner Bros. in 1999. It flew in under the radar and 'bombed' at the box office by only pulling in $23 Million but well internationally. I didn't know about it until it had been on video for some time. I was told it was something special. It's one of the very few DVD's I kept when I sold everything because it IS truly special.
'The Iron Giant' is set in 1957 and revolves around a young boy named Hogarth and his friendship with a giant alien robot that he befriends in the forest outside his hometown. It's well animated and voice acted, but the thing that makes this film such a gem is the story. It's a story about changing your destiny and living up to your potential. It's an animated movie, sure, but it's not a children's movie. There are so many nods, references, and themes that puts this up with Shawshank Redemption for me as a favorite film. Now, when I say 'nods and references' I'm not talking about in a Shrek kind of way. This movie is now eleven years old and NOTHING falls flat. It's not pop culture. It's a slice of America.
First off, the main character is not a stupid kid. He's intelligent. He has an imagination, but he's not an exaggeration. Also, the other characters are well realized. The villain is a pompous government nobody that wants to be a somebody. He's a threat because he is desperate. In his bid to convince others that the Giant exists, you believe that he would do anything. There is a beatnik character named Dean that is a local to the small town but obviously doesn't fit in well, mirroring Hogarth's existence...but in a real way. There is a sense of realism that permeates the entire movie, actually. At one point, Hogarth runs into a tree branch and it gives him a small nosebleed. That's what happens.
There are so many small things that make me smile in this film. The horrible, stilted acting in the B/W horror film that Hogarth watches on late-night TV. The cheesy duck-and-cover Nuclear Holocaust film at the school. The picture of Hogarth's absent father (getting into a military jet) on his nightstand. The 'Red Scare' comic book on the porch. The mention of alcohol as a contributing factor to a sailor's incredible story about a giant robot in the sea. And then there's Superman.
The main theme of the film is that you can choose who you want to be. Superman is used as a parallel to the Giant's disposition and abilities, and done well. I've talked about how I'm more of a Batman than Superman kinda guy, but in the 1950s Superman was the idealized nature of humanity. Although the Giant may have been designed for more sinister purposes, he has the option to choose to be a good guy, just as Supes could've ruled the world like Zod. There are a lot of parallels to other media in this film, but it's all from the time. Lots of communism and us-vs-them conversation too.
Finally, I want to mention love. Near the end of the movie, Hogarth looks up to the Giant and says, "I love you." It's a heartbreaking moment and a rare use of the word 'love' to deal with emotions that don't involve romance. A lot of films try to communicate love in it's raw form and few succeed. I freely admit I weep like a baby at the end of this movie, and often throughout it. I highly recommend it.
Also, there's no singing. Thank God for that.