The Iron Giant: An Overlooked Gem

Voices of Jennifer Aniston, Eli Marienthal, Harry Connick, Jr., Vin Diesel, Christopher McDonald. Directed by Brad Bird. Aspect ratios: 2.35:1 (anamorphic), 1.33:1 (full-frame). Dolby Digital 5.1. 99 minutes. 1999. Warner Home Video 17644. PG. $24.95.

When The Iron Giant opened in theaters last summer, it landed with a thud. Granted, non-Disney animated features are a hard sell. But the promotion for this sparkling film was lackluster, and in the flood of summer films it remained largely undiscovered by its target audience. That oversight deserves to be corrected in this video release.

The story, which takes place in the 1950s, is about the friendship that develops between a young boy and an alien automaton that crash-lands on Earth. As the plot develops, Hogarth (the boy) plays cat-and-mouse with a government investigator to keep his secret out of sight. But a 50-foot-tall metal giant is hard to hide, and that makes for much of the fun.

The story also has a serious side: It is clearly anti-gun. (I was concerned that it might turn preachy and heavy-handed, but it made its point without going that far.) The military plays a significant role, but it is ultimately that bumbling government bureaucrat who is the villain; the general commanding the troops turns out to be sympathetic.

Nearly everything else about this film is admirable. The story moves along at a brisk clip. There are no songs, which some will find a refreshing break from the animated-feature formula. To those accustomed to the Disney look, the animation is a little flat and two-dimensional, with less fluid motions. But it's a perfectly valid approach built on the look of earlier Warner animated features. The colors are vivid, and, once you've become accustomed to the style, the result is an eyeful.

The video transfer is first-rate and, when played back on a widescreen set, has that smooth, naturally crisp, unenhanced look that you see only on the best anamorphic discs. The sound is very good, though the effects were better done than the music score (which I found merely serviceable).

Extras include a "Making of" featurette, a music video, the usual menus and cast lists, and interactive DVD-ROM features.

While I can't agree with the reviewer quoted on the disc jacket, who called The Iron Giant "The best animated feature of the decade," this is nevertheless a delightful effort, and the best full-length animated film yet from Warner.