The Iron Giant is not only a good non-Disney animated film, it is the best I’ve ever seen, and simply a good animated film, non-Disney or Disney.
First off, the giant is humongous. I love the animation for this thing. It’s obvious that Warner Bros.’ animation department took a lot of care in making sure the audience never forgot how big this thing was. From the moment the ship hits this robot, to him stomping around in a forest or cannon-balling into a lake, the visual aesthetics of this robot is simply fantastic. Not to mention, the robot hardly looks like its computer animated. I often complain that the 3D is obvious in a primarily 2D animated film, but here, that never comes to mind. The 3D is done so well that I honestly think Brad Bird, eventual director of The Incredibles, could’ve made this film better by making it entirely in 3D, because the 2D stuff is just okay.
But you know, the fact that the 2D stuff looks normal actually works with the tone of this movie because it’s not trying to be artistic. It’s not trying to put you in a different world. It’s trying to remind you that this is happening in a small American town during the Cold War. Sure, the houses look normal, the people look normal, the forest looks normal, but I think this actually works in favor for the movie. I think why The Iron Giant resonates with me is because it isn’t pretentious, and especially in a stylistic sense.
The Iron Giant carves a new path for the 2D animated film genre because it is almost a superhero movie. And as a superhero movie, it’s pretty freakin’ good. This boy who really wants a pet gets a giant robot instead, and has the giant task of teaching him what makes Superman good, what is death, and why killing is bad. And the way in which the giant learns these things never seems like it’ll ever come up again, which makes the ending only more powerful. Every interaction between the giant and the boy is believable. From the boy showing him comic books to telling him not to touch a dead deer, it’s a very fluid narrative that has the director’s explicit intentions, but whose intentions never gets revealed until the heart-felt conclusion.
The only time the narrative gets clunky is when there seems to be some forced stuff towards the end. I don’t know; the closest-thing-to-a-villain-character always seemed so harmless, and the inconsistency with his character kind of made the nuclear strike not such a believable occurrence. But this is really the only complaint I have for this movie.
There is a quote that really made an impression on me by the end of this movie. And it’s not because it’s eloquently said or anything. The protagonist says to the iron giant: “Killing is bad. Dying isn’t.” This seems so obvious, but this is the sort of movie that can make a brief exchange of dialogue that meaningful by the end. The iron giant remembers “you are who you choose to be” and chooses to be super.