Twenty years ago this week a film was released that would change the future of modern blockbuster cinema, and no-one bothered seeing it. That film was The Iron Giant, and it’s truly magnificent.
It was based on the beloved children’s book by Ted Hughes (published as ‘The Iron Man’ or ‘The Iron Giant’ depending on which bit of the world one lived in) and was a rollicking adventure story about two unlikely friends and also an allegory about the folly of war.
The reviews were universally stellar, the artwork was praised for mixing 2-D and 3-D animation in a groundbreaking way, and it also had an all-star voice cast including Jennifer Anniston, Harry Connick Jr and a fresh-from American Pie Eli Marienthal – as well as action star Vin Diesel doing his first voice role!
And oh, what a colossal flop it was.
It made back just over a quarter of its $70 million-plus budget and led to an exodus of staff from Warner Bros. One of them, president Lorenzo di Bonaventura, was quoted as telling Variety “People always say to me, ‘Why don’t you make smarter family movies?’ The lesson is, Every time you do, you get slaughtered.”
So what made it so important? Well, that’s the happy ending.
First up, The Iron Giant was the directorial debut of Brad Bird, who would later become a key part of Pixar. He directed Ratatouille and wrote and directed the two Incredibles films, in which he also voiced the scene-stealing superhero costume designer Edna Mode.
It also was notable in that Diesel was voicing the Giant himself, a creature of remarkably few words, repeated ad infinitum.
Which might sound rather like another popular character from the Diesel filmography – a guardian, one might say, perhaps of some sort of a galaxy.
It was on Netflix until January this year, so you might need to hunt for it – but if you’ve missed it to date, now’s the time to catch up.
That’s partially because see how the mix of child-friendly animation and adult sentiment smartly predated the animated films of the 00s, and partially so seeing this gif will reduce you to a sobbing mess.