Thursday, October 8, 2015

Iron Giant: Special Edition

As some of you might have seen, Fathom Events recently screened the Iron Giant: Special Edition in select theaters. I love this movie, so we went to see it.

Short version: This may honestly be one of the best animated movies of all time. There are a few that I would put above it, but few enough that it would rank in the top ten. The animation itself is fun and very well done. The story is incredible. And the voice actors did a surprisingly solid job, given that they were, for the most part, celebrities who hadn't done much voice acting. And, above all, you can tell that this is Brad Bird's labor of love.

If you haven't seen the movie, the plot is relatively straightforward. A kid who's an outcast for being smart and weird is looking for adventure. A giant robot crashes out of the sky. The giant robot loses its memory, and the boy teaches it some important life lessons. Then the government gets involved and it all goes to hell.

Where the movie really shines, though, is in two critical areas that are so frequently overlooked, particularly in kids' movies. First, the characters are strong yet flawed, showing depth and dimension. As usual, it's tricky to put a finger on the difference between a cliche and a cliche that works. All I can say is that I felt for everyone involved in the story, even the "bad guy" Mansley.

Second, the lessons are delivered in a way that are still accessible by kids ("killing is bad", "people fear the different and unknown"). But, again, they are delivered in a style that speaks to endless complexity beneath them. Hogarth tells the Giant a simple rule. That rule is almost immediately brought into question by either being applied incorrectly or touching on an edge case. And yet, in the end, it turns out that the important rules really are simple. You get to decide what you are going to be.

I also have to admit that I really miss hand-drawn animation. I recognize that computer animation is the way of the future and all, but the hand-drawn stuff has a je nais se quoi that brings in a level of art I just don't see in computer animation. An interesting note is that the Giant was actually computer generated, to give it a more mechanical, unearthly feel. But it looked too out of place, because it was precisely perfect from frame to frame. So they had to program in a "wobble" so that its lines would shift back and forth like hand-drawn animation does.

So what makes this Special Edition so special? Well, it is re-mastered, which is nice. Really crisps up a lot of things, and the colors were deeper than I remember. (That could also be the difference between the movie screen and the TV, though.) They also added two new scenes. Honestly, I couldn't tell which scenes they were. Overhearing others at the end of the movie, one of them is where Dean goes back to the diner to apologize for freaking out over the squirrel. It was nice, because it gave a nicer kick-off to the relationship between Dean and Hogarth's mom. But I'm still not sure what the other one was. I guess that's the sign of a good addition, in that it doesn't jump out and grab you. (Lucas, take notes.)

On the upcoming Bluray release there will be documentary about the making of this movie. They had a little teaser for it after the credits of this event. It looks like your pretty typical "making of", with a strong narrative of a rag-tag team of misfits bucking the system and defying convention to build something they believe in. One of the interesting bits had Brad Bird trashing the way that Disney paced its animated features, going at rapid-fire speed to avoid boring the little kids. I hadn't ever noticed that before (though I have to admit that he's not wrong), so I wanted to check what the recent Disney movies at the time were. Iron Giant was being made just as Disney's star was fading again in the late 90s. The recent movies would have been Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, and Mulan. What I didn't realize was that Toy Story had already been out, and Bug's Life would have come out during production. (Yes, kiddies, Toy Story is going to have its 20th anniversary next month.) That's kind of interesting, given Bird's move to Pixar.

So, recommendation? See it. Definitely see it. I love everything about this movie.

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