screenplay by Tim McCanlies, based on The Iron Man by Ted Hughes
directed by Brad Bird
by Walter Chaw Brad Bird's The Iron Giant, based on a children's book, The Iron Man, that British poet laureate (and Mr. Sylvia Plath) Ted Hughes wrote after his wife's suicide, is improbably transformed from the dark and Anglocentric source into a throughline pure and sweet to the rapturous Americana of Richard Donner's Superman. It captures an impossible period existing between the idealism of Rockwell and the lonely realist decompositions of Edward Hopper in a flurry of animated cels, telling the tale of a boy and his robot in the month or so when Sputnik was scaring the bejesus out of a suddenly-humbled, suddenly-Luddite United States. Accordingly, the Colour from Outer Space that was the monstrous bad guy in the book is transformed in the film into the paranoia of a country taught to fear an invisible (or barely visible) foe--marking The Iron Giant as something of a timeless picture particularly topical for a country embroiled in a war on foreign soil, a war with an invisible enemy, and the makings of a cold war with a country that has decided the only way to combat American aggression is with nuclear weapons. Tellingly, it's the appearance of nukes at the end of The Iron Giant that coaxes out the heart of the titular tin man--the last word that he has in the picture--"Superman"--whispered with something like awe that has never failed to bring a tear to my secretly-patriotic eye.