My Feature Favorites: The Iron Giant

      40 Comments on My Feature Favorites: The Iron Giant
All images © 1999 Warner Bros. Feature Animation.

Oh Iron Giant, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

If you’ve never seen The Iron Giant, go now and rent it.

Then buy it.

And love it forevermore.

This is the second film I’m going to gush over from my list of favorite animated films. You can see the whole list here.

Again, I’m not giving a summary of the story. And it’s a given that I love it for the story and the strong characters and stuff. That’s usually why I love the films I love.

Spoiler Alert: I might be giving away a few of the good bits here, so if you haven’t seen it, you’ve been warned.

Here are some of my favorite moments (and other thoughts) of The Iron Giant. With maybe a few lessons thrown in. It was really hard to pick just a few. There so were many more I could have chosen.

Here’s why I love The Iron Giant.

Brad Bird directed it. You know the Simpsons? The Incredibles? Ratatouille? Yeah. That guy. If there’s anyone I’d like to share a beer with and talk about storytelling, this would be the guy.

Nothing about the story bugs me. Really. Nothing. It’s damn near perfect. There’s virtually nothing I’d tweak or change. Wow.

Great ‘reveal’ of the Giant to Hogarth. Hogarth has gone out to the woods to investigate. He’s looking around in the night.

Then the Giant’s head swivels around in the background to reveal his glowing eyes. Our eyes go right to it. Simple, powerful (and a little creepy) at the same time.

The ‘Duck and Cover’ film. Gotta see it and understand the fifties to really appreciate it. Funny as hell and there is reference made to it near the end of the movie. It wasn’t there for nothing.

Great ‘reveal’ of a gag. When people first start storyboarding, the biggest mistake I see is the use of camera movement. They just throw them in all willy-nilly, thinking it was about time to add one.

No. Every camera movement should have a reason.

And one of those reasons is a ‘reveal’. Using a Truck-Out (pull back, zoom out, dolly out, etc) to reveal a gag is one of those times.

Here’s a great one. Kent has gone back to his car with the bitten rifle. He gets in and is about to place the rifle on the seat beside him.

Camera starts to pull out quickly…

To reveal the big bite out of his car. Too great.

Shots tell the story and so can camera movements. Use them to your advantage.

The ‘lost hand’ sequence. Such a great piece of business that doesn’t get tiring to watch. I love how the little wrist bit wags like a tail. Hogarth saying grace while the hand mucks about in the kitchen is priceless.

Then it continues when Kent shows up and Hogarth pushes the hand out the bathroom window. Then his mom opens the door and he’s on the toilet. Funny, fast, visual. Kids and adults can all get a laugh out of it.

The ‘little acting moments’. This is where it shines and feels real. Little bits of dialogue and fun little moments that add depth and flavour and all sorts of storytelling yumminess. Like when Kent is on the phone with the General.

He’s in Hogarth’s kitchen and the General is laughing at him. The camera pans to a goofy potholder (like it’s laughing at him). Kent then turns the potholder around to hide the face. So great. There’s lots of these moments in the film.

When Hogarth asks Dean if the Giant can stay at the scrap yard. Sometimes words are funny.

When the Giant does a cannonball into the lake. Again the details of Dean’s newspaper just adds to the fun.

I wish I could show the whole sequence. When Dean lands (still in his chair) in the road and keeps saying, “Yeah?!” to the guy in the truck. The deadpan look on his face. Acting. Timing. Great.

The deer sequence. Things start to get more serious here. A message starts to emerge.

Death and guns.

And we get a glimpse there may be more to this metal Giant.

It wakes the audience up.

When the Giant almost shoots Hogarth. We’ve just come out of some lighter sequences here. When they fake out the army and all that. Back to some fun when he spins Hogarth in the car. But then it gets serious again. We start to get worried.

When we see the Giant for what he really is. Like in the Lion King, this is when 3D is at its best. This would not have been nearly as awesome if the Giant was hand drawn. The details made us go “Coooooool!” even though emotionally we might have been going “Oh no!!”. Great design work here that we can really geek out over.

“You choose who you want to be. Choose.” – Hogarth to the Giant.

While the Giant was pointing his gun at him. Big moment. And the message of the whole film.

“Soooooopermaaaannnnnnn” – Giant. I challenge you not to choke up at this scene.

Go on. You can’t.

The little bolt. I won’t give away everything here. But if you’ve seen the film, you know what I’m talking about. Hope. Happiness. We know what’s happening because of an earlier sequence.

And no cheesy sequel. Please, for love of all that is well and good in the world, NO cheesy sequel.


It would spoil the perfection that is The Iron Giant.

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40 thoughts on “My Feature Favorites: The Iron Giant

  1. Pete

    Yeah great movie. I think it’s box office stats will ensure there’s no sequel 😛

    I remember when I was young this movie coming out but I didn’t really want to see it, also I didn’t really see much advertising for it or know much about it.

  2. Doodleist

    Iron Giant is my favorite animated movie. I *cannot* watch the end without getting weepy. Also, it’s just so beautiful. The character design, the environmental feel (like when the Giant arrives like a meteor), the Maine setting, the Red paranoia. So great.

    My second favorite is the Incredibles, another film that comments on a genre while surpassing other material in that genre. Brad Bird is the best guy ever.

  3. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    @ Pete – Yes, it was very ‘under-marketed’ that’s for sure. I think it picked up steam when it came out on video and DVD. I know it’s highly regarded among animation types. Just not so sure if the general public knows how great it is.

    You were young when it came out. How young? Young enough that I’d want to shoot myself? 😉

    @ Nathan – Thanks for dropping by! Yes, I got weepy screen capping it and writing “Sooooopermaaannnn” for goodness sakes! Most underrated film ever. Brad Bird is an amazing storyteller.

  4. t. sterling

    Like Pete, I was also was pretty young when this movie came out and didn’t interest me very much, so even now I can only recall certain parts like the ones you mentioned. Later, my friend sparked a newfound interest by informing me of the voice casting. I still haven’t watched it again since, but I want to even more so now… And I probably will skip the renting and just buy it. It’s funny about the little bolt, I remember it being important or significant, but I don’t remember why …yet.

  5. Friar

    That movie is a hidden gem. I loved it!

    I’m surprised it wasn’t more popular. It’s kind of like one of those “lost” cartoons that people tend to forget.

    The screw was one of my favorite parts.

    Very clever, how they ended the movie like that.

  6. Jennifer

    Great post and synopsis of the movie. I love it too. The animation and the style are just lovely. I bought the DVD years ago and still watch it every so often. Get a bit sniffly towards the end too…

  7. Friar


    Yes…PLEASE no cheezy sequel!

    (I have horrible visions of the Iron Giant trying out for the School Football Team, and “getting down” with the students to crappy Rock’n Roll Music! )

  8. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    @ T – You’ll remember about the bolt pretty early on. Remember when the Giant gets hit by the train? Yeah, that’s it. It’s a great storytelling film…for animators or live action folks.

    @ Friar – It’s a great storytelling technique of introducing something earlier on and it *really* paying of in the end. It was the giddiness of knowing what was happening before we even saw it.

    And your sequel version sounds like a nightmare! In the wrong hands, that stupidity could happen…eek! 🙂

    @ Jennifer – Thanks! It’s hard not to get sniffly. There’s a few movies that no matter how many times I see it, I still choke up. There’s a moment in Finding Nemo where I do the same (to be discussed in that post!). 🙂

  9. Pete

    @Karen – I would have been about 13, I would have been thinking I was too cool and trying to sneak into the southpark movie 😛

  10. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    @ Friar – Don’t think I’ve ever seen the whole thing…cause I know what happens! Can’t bring myself to watch it. Waa!

    @ Pete – Yup. Young enough that I want to shoot myself. *sigh*
    Yeah, only cool kids watch South Park (right Friar?) 🙂

  11. steph

    Okay, I made it to the first picture and quickly scrolled down here. That’s it, I am going to buy it. When you said how much you loved it and that it was directed by the guy who did three of my favourites, well. SOLD! (We just watched The Incredibles for the gazillionth time last weekend…)

    I was scared to read the rest of the post after that. I will have to read it after I’ve seen it, because you mentioned your post might have spoilers, and I didn’t want to spoil it! I won’t even read the comments, yet. But I AM excited!

  12. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    Hey Steph,
    Looking back, I probably haven’t spoiled the story for anyone. But there are some good visual bits that are better seen first-hand. I think my review is more fun to read when you’re ‘in on it’ anyway.
    That’s why I prefer to write them like you’ve already seen the film.

    I think you’ll really enjoy it. 🙂

  13. Debi

    I remember this one! I had totally forgotten about it for a while. Thanks for the recap, it made me want to go see it again…and again…and again…
    Think there is a movie addict support group?

  14. Chris.K

    I am moving this movie up on my netflix queue right this minute! for sure, one of those amazingly under appreciated films out there… i just might even get the poster now too ;P

  15. t. sterling

    @Chris.k, I did that yesterday too. I really need to watch and return the DVDs I have now so I can get Iran Giant and a couple others I badly want to see. I almost added Lion King, but I have a friend who will let me borrow it until I can buy my own.

  16. fred

    like lion king was for you, THIS was the movie that made me decide to switch careers and become a storyboard artist

  17. Evelyn Lim

    Your pictures got me really interested. I’ve not watched this movie before. I’d have to check if it is available for rental from here. I’m from Singapore, by the way!

  18. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    @ Fred – Very cool. Never underestimate the power of a good movie/story. They *can* change lives, huh? 🙂

    @ Evelyn – Thanks and welcome. (I’m curious how you found me…Twitter?) I’ll be checking out more of your site too. If you find the movie, you’ll surely enjoy it. Hello Singapore! 🙂

  19. kasana

    Beautiful operation of ‘Iron Giant.’
    Brad Bird is exceptional Story-Teller. Everytime there something new to learn from his movie.
    And I love this movie more as its very difficult to Identify ( As Human ) us with Robots. But he did a superb job.
    And I feel Wall-E did this again.

  20. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    Hi Kasana,
    Yes, it’s amazing the emotion they were able to convey in the Giant and Wall-E. That is where good acting comes in. If we can ‘feel’ for robots, then they did it right. 🙂

  21. Joel

    Wow, I’m glad so many other people agree that Iron Giant is amazing!
    At one point I had watched it so many times that I could replay the entire film in my head – probably a sign of good storytelling! 😀
    I loved the bit where Hogarth is staying up late watching that ‘scary movie’ (eeeeh’s gonna get yooouuu!), the picture suddenly cuts off, so he goes onto the roof with his torch to fix the antenna. We see that the antenna’s been completely torn off, then he shines his torch onto the ground where we see a half eaten tractor and a giant hole in the fence. Then the awesome line: [whispered] ‘Invaders from MARS!’.

    Anyway thanks for this great series of posts!

  22. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    Hi Joel and welcome!

    I love all those nighttime shots. I wanted to include one where the flashlight shines on the backgrounds because it was so well done…but only so much room!

    There’s so many great moments. The Frank and Ollie cameo deserves a mention too. 🙂

  23. Franko

    First day of first year animation school and we were introduced to the giant. Yes, it is in the personal library next to ‘The Incredibles’ and ‘The Aristocats’. My filing is pretty messy.

    It is great to see the film through a storyboard artiste’s eyes.

    Such a good post I had to link to it from our blog. 😀

  24. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    Hi Franko,

    Well, they all start with “The” so you’re filing system is just fine. 🙂

    What an awesome choice for the first day of animation school! It goes to show how respected it is among industry types. Most agree it’s at the top of the list.

    Thanks for the link too. Your blog is a great resource that I’ll be including in my link list very soon. Go click on Franco’s link people!

  25. Chris.K

    so the DVD came in the mail and i keep watching it over and over and scouring the the special features for gems… i may not get a new netflix video coming to replace this one for a while~
    so good! but now i realize i may have subconsciously been ripping off the giant’s design in all of my robots for years now…!

  26. t.sterling

    Wow, Chris and I almost got it at the same time. It just came in the mail for me today, and I just finished watching it. After re-reading your review, it’s definately spot on to everything you said. Especially the little bits of acting. It gave me some really good laughs. I may run to Wal-Mart tomorrow and buy this for the criminal price of $7.50. I feel bad when awesome movies are so cheap because I think they are worth so much more… but times are hard and I can afford to skip ordering out or something just to add this to my collection.

    Anyway, thanks for shining a fresh light on this. I actually was feeling a little weepy near the end too, and a bit nostalgic from when I first saw it years ago when I was wee.

    I could go on gushing, but I’ll save it for my own blog another day.

  27. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    Hey T,

    That makes me all warm and fuzzy inside. You won’t regret owning it. It’s one that should be owned.

    Glad you enjoyed the post just as much the second time around. It’s probably more fun when you’re in on it, you know? 🙂

    And “soooooopermaaaannnn” will get you every time.
    (how do you like the new digs?)

  28. t.sterling

    Last time I had the warm and fuzzies, it was because I ate something moldy. I jest.

    Honestly, I watched the movie and was reading the parts you pointed out at the same time as well as picking up on the little things you mentioned. I couldn’t help it, everytime Giant smiled, I smiled too. And I’m still impressed with Vin Diesel being Giant’s voice.

    When I do watch it again, I’ll put the commentary track on. I think I’m possible 1 of 8 people that use commentary tracks. I usually only watch them if I really like the movie and I have a few more hours to kill, or I’m bored and there’s nothing else on, or it’s recommended to do so. Furthermore, I like when it’s more than one person… I enjoy banter.

  29. Franko

    OK, I’m feeling the love.

    What a groundswell of appreciation. It’s got that ‘slow food’ tempo that is so delicious.

    This year at our end of year screening (of student’s work) we will be inaugurating (sp?) some awards.

    The one for best student narrative film was lacking a name.

    Berlin has a “Golden Bear”, Hollywood as “Oscar”. Is their an animation award and statuette called “Iron Giant”? “This year’s Iron Giant goes to…”

    Anyhow that’s what it’s going to be called for our animation student awards (until I get a letter from a lawyer). 🙂

  30. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    @ T – I usually try to listen to the commentary track at least once for every movie that I buy (especially the animated ones). I like the that behind the scenes stuff. Does that make me a nerd?

    When it’s good, I love it. When it’s just some people having a conversation with each other, it’s kind of irritating. Ever listen to Seinfeld commentaries? They’re just laughing at themselves! Not very interesting to the rest of us. Add something! (rant complete)

    @ Franko – Yeah, I feel it too. Lots of warm and fuzzies in these breakdown posts. Love it. And glad I did them.

    I won’t tell anyone about the award name. (It’s not like it’s Disney…they’d sue you your butt for sure!)

    But you need a little Iron Giant statue to go with the award. Get sculpting!

  31. t.sterling

    I’ve embraced my nerdom… or geekiness…. depending on what’s going on at the time. But by watching all those special features is how I learn how a lot of things work. I occasionally watch some special features on movies I don’t like, just to see what in the world were they thinking (like The Happening).

    You’re right, Seinfeld doesn’t have good commentaries. I hate it when they are saying things like “Oh look at that! That was funny.” I thought Men In Black had a good commentary with the Barry Sonnifield and Tommy Lee Jones and one of those John Madden pens. It was insightful and amusing. One of my favorite TV shows “Psych” has good commentaries too, which sometimes ends up being a completely different show because the stars talk about something completely different. Someone compared it to listening to a radio show and not watching the TV at all. And Leonard Maltin has a great commentary for the Marx Bros Night at the Opera. Do I get nerd points for any of that?

  32. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    @ T – LOTS of nerd points my friend. 🙂

    @ Victor – Well, don’t kill yourself on the translating thing! I’m satisfied with these just fine. If something grabs you in the future, just let me know. Thanks for hard work.
    Glad you love the movie like the rest of us. 🙂

  33. Victor Luo

    Hi, Karen, I hope you don’t misunderstood me. I just enjoy the movie, enjoy the post and translation. Iron Giant is like a bible that it worth being seen many times in my opinion. I found some points and like to share with others. Not that much, I described exaggeratively. :0)

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