Wednesday, April 16, 2008

My NETFLIX PICK OF THE MONTH

As a kid I used to love animated movies. Of course, in those days that primarily meant Disney… with the occasional full-length Mr. Magoo. That all changed when I had kids. After THE LITTLE MERMAID seemed to revive the genre there was a glut of animated features and I schlepped my kids to see many a RAINBOW BRIGHT and LAST UNICORN. They better not say bad things about me to their therapists EVER!!

Now it takes Pixar, great reviews, or the assurance that Jerry Seinfeld will not be involved to get me in to see a ninety-minute cartoon.

There is one animated film I always heard was great but never got around to seeing. (Okay, I’ll be honest, I never made the effort.) Recently “Ken’s Damn Friend” was praising it, even offering to lend me the DVD. I noticed it was on HBO this week so I set my Tivo. All I can say is “Wow!”

If you haven’t seen THE IRON GIANT you’ve got to check it out. Released in 1999 by Warner Brothers, it was directed by Brad Bird (of THE INCREDIBLES and RATATOUILLE fame) and is as smart, funny, and poignant as his other brilliant features.

Set in 1957 at the height of the Cold War, paranoia, and bad black-and-white science fiction movie craze (scaring the shit out of kids for a total budget of $11.95 per film), THE IRON GIANT tells the deceptively simple story of a giant robot that lands on earth from outer space and is befriended by a little boy. It’s ET, meets SUPERMAN RETURNS meets THE TRANSFORMERS but without the treacle of the first, the Jesus theme of the second, and Michael Bay of the third. Along the way there are the usual great little Brad Bird attention-to-detail touches (like “Duck and Cover” films, the old Maypo cereal commercial, and the kid even looks like Howdy Doody).

You may be saying, “Well, if it’s so good why wasn’t it a big hit?” Because there’s something more frightening than Commies or aliens – the Warner Brothers marketing department. Instead of promoting this gem of a film, the WB marketing idiots put all their time, effort, and money into launching WILD WILD WEST (and we all know how terrific THAT film was).

THE IRON GIANT received a lot of awards, great reviews, even greater exit polls and quickly disappeared. Fortunately Brad Bird has been able to find other work.

So this is my NETFLIX PICK OF THE MONTH (a new feature I just decided to start as I’m typing this) – IRON GIANT. It brings new meaning to “heavy metal”.

39 comments:

Dave said...

You couldn't be more right. Warners so missed the boat on this one that I don't know how the execs in charge kept their jobs. Bird is the kind of guy who should be given the keys to the Superman franchise ASAP. He gets the concepts in a way few others could. The Iron Giant is perfect in every aspect, from casting to the use of the period-perfect Superman and Spirit comics. Probably the third-best "comic book" movie ever made.

Anonymous said...

i remember reading an interviewwith a director who was pitching to the producer ofWild Wild West, and the producer kept asking if there could be giant robot spiders in the pitch. one year later, out comes wild wild west...

This anecdote works better when told by someone who can actually remember names..

Phil H. said...

Spot on. This is one of my favorite films of all time. As Dave said, every aspect is so well done and the Giant is such a great and cool creation, either as the Giant or the Gun. I have taken great care to ensure that my kids (age 7, 5, and 2) see this film and explore what it is at their own level. The payoff being that the 5 year old runs around the house playing Iron Giant all the time. This movie still can make me cheer and tear up, and I have seen it more than 20 times (remember, I have a 5 year old that would rather watch this than Pokemon).

Bitter Animator said...

Fantastic choice. It's one of my favourite animated films. I can't fault it (and I can fault most things). It's such a lovely film.

Anonymous, I think that was Kevin Smith's story about his involvement with Superman.

Carlo Conda said...

It brings new meaning to “heavy metal”."

That was corny as hell and you know it.

ish said...

Even though I don't have the kids as an excuse, like you Ken I tend to avoid animated features. I can't even really give a good reason as to why, since most of the ones I end up seeing are excellent (Toy Story, Incredibles, and even Shrek). But there's some block in my brain that activates my apathy receptors whenever someone tells me how great an animated feature is.

And most of the time, I don't feel like I'm missing that much. Even the one's I've seen that were good (mentioned above) weren't a lot *more* than good. Just well made films that were a fun way to pass the time. "The Iron Giant" remains to me the one example that breaks this mold, a movie I watched expecting to be mildly amused but not have much impact, which genuinely surprised me with its greatness.

So anyway, short version: Me too.

Earl Newton said...

Ken -

Have enjoyed your blog, but don't often post. But Iron Giant is worth a comment.

Brad Byrd is a great example - a very clear example - of what a great director does. He takes simple stories and puts us in their heart. The fact that animation is his medium only makes his talent more obvious: he builds his characters, his worlds, and his frames from the ground up. If it's in the frame, it's because it had to be there.

I highly enjoy his work. Great pick.

Steve said...

Great pick, Ken. It's a marvelous film. In the same vein of kid's films that disappeared because of indifferent marketing, you might want to check out Disney's Sky High. It's nowhere near as great as the Iron Giant but fun and sweet and worth a look.
Now if only George Lucas' Twice Upon a Time would come out on DVD.

Sebastian said...

You know Ken, the problem is that as a four year old, "Last Unicorn" gave me nightmares. Serious ones.

That movie isn't for kids under the age of 12 if you ask me.

Sebastian said...

Damn it I hit return.

Of course "Iron Giant" is a great movie! How come you didn't notice it before?

But just as "Last Unicorn", it isn't for kids under 12, because it tackles a very problematic topic (you know, that cold war stuff). It's not that directly, but it is there.

I hope you already saw all Don Bluth Movies (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0089940/ )

"Titan A.E." is a movie that falls directly into the "Iron Giant" category.

topnet_vip_world said...

thanks
www.worldgames1.com

Howard Chaykin said...

My wife and I saw IRON GIANT the weekend it opened. We were the only adults in a theater full of moms and dads with kids--and both loved the movie.

Our first grandchild was born in 2000, and we made certain she saw it as soon as she could get it, and she in turn showed it to her sister.

Brad Bird is a wonderful writer and director, who makes everything he touches better. He's said it every interview with him I've ever read--that animation isn't a children's medium, regardless of the public's perception.

Unfortunately, this is only half true-since the majority of non Pixar animated films are simply pop culture reference filled smirky junk.

I felt that THE INCREDIBLES deserved and Academy Award nomination as best picture of the year, as opposed to simply best animated feature--and RATATOUILLE is one of the best movies about an artist and his work I've ever seen.

Brad Bird is a genuine hero.

Anonymous said...

This was one of our favorite movies when our son was little. We watched it over and over. Hogarth.........

Lee said...

Watched this with my kids multiple times. Watched it without my kids a few times :)

When people ask me or my wife to recommend a good movie for kids (my wife and I are 'the movie people') we always suggest The Iron Giant.

jwj170104 said...

A wonderful movie that makes me cry each and every time I watch it. It has one of the best Superman homages ever! And I love the message that "we are who we choose to be." You have to love a movie that has that strong of a message yet wraps it in such a wonderful package. Mr. Bird is 3 for 3 in his movies!

Alto2 said...

I don't have Netflix, but I do have three boys. They will love this film. Time to see if the library has it. Thanks for the suggestion.

Grant said...

Now I need to see THE INCREDIBLES and RATATOUILLE. Pixar movies stopped working for me after TOY STORY, so I gave up on them. If I would've known they were from the director of THE IRON GIANT I would have given them a shot.

Another great, can't recommend it enough, animated feature is HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE. It doesn't have the jokes of a Disney or Pixar film, but it really is a great movie. And don't worry, there is an english language version, you don't need to read subtitles.

Anonymous said...

I love "The Iron Giant," but I still can't get over the fact that the giant is voiced by Vin Diesel. Probably the best acting he's ever done!

Hawise Gadarn said...

Welcome to the world of grown-up animation that still works for kids.

Long Time Lurker said...

Great pick Ken! I've loved this movie as an adult (well, as a 35 year old boy, at least) since it first came out on DVD. I have no kids, but I've shown this movie 5 or 6 times to actual adults who were always amazed.

Another 'kids' movie I've done the same thing with is "Searching For Bobby Fischer". I highly recommend that film as well. Maybe next month's Netflix Pick?

Annie said...

Yes! I agree with Ken, and I never agree with him. Great flick even though I went expecting another painful kiddie sharp-stick-in-the-eye. Probably too subtle for the producers (eyeroll). Cartoon Network shows it from time to time.

Now, about "Shakes the Clown"....

Annie said...

Oh my god...

The Iron Giant turned us into pussies.

My husband couldn't even do the throat-clear, manly-man, surreptitious fake-stoic touches to the eye; nah.

Sobbing like little bitches, we were. Big hiccupy gasps and everything.

Great movie. Especially if you have trouble "getting in touch with your feelings". Oh this one will do that for you, easy.

SK said...

Just please tell me that they didn't transplant it to America.

Emily said...

I stll love The Lion King.

Oh, and it brings new meaning to "heavy fur."

Van said...

Wait, was that a response from legendary comic book writer and artist Howard Chaykin? Wow.

That aside, your post made me realize we need a new word added to the Internet dictionary:

"Nitflex" -- Can be used in noun, verb or modifier form. It means: to go on and on about the amazing movies you're watching on Netflix.

Sarah said...

When I interned for WB Animation one of the employees told me the story of how Brad Bird told WB Home Video they could do whatever they want with the packaging as long as they didn't show the robot flying. So what did they emblazon the cover with? The robot flying.

cpo snarky said...

Hogarth's "coffee" scene is, by itself, more entertaining than a lot of movies in their entirety.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Similary, Cat's Don't Dance is the only cartoon Randy Newman wrote some really great songs for... unrecognized because the cartoon itself (though not as good as The Iron Giant) was undercut by a bad publicity effort.

Blame Jim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Blame Jim said...

Being a kid of the 80's (born in 74 & aware of pop culture by 81) I'd have to say that Animated films started its up swing with Non-Disney films produced in that decade. Secret of Nihm, Twice Upon a Time, and I'd even place The Dark Crystal in that grouping. Sure its not a CARTOON but it puppeteering is just a great of art form as cell animation.

These films showed that a childrens movie didn't have to be just pretty girl in trouble, singing to animals until a prince came to save her.

It began an era of film making that seemed unthought before. The impossible IS possible in an animated world.

So let it be said, praise Don Bluth! Father of the modern Animated Film!

Megalion said...

@Anonymous

The Director you're thinking of is Kevin Smith.

There's a mention of it on Kevin's wiki page but I was unable to find the blog post by Kevin where he tells the story in detail.

Blame Jim said...

Megalion & Anonymous, Its from An Evening With Kevin Smith 1. At the end of the first disc. Hillarious story!!! If Kevin wasn't a film maker he may have been a stand up comic. By the way...

Do you know anything about spiders? They are the most feirce killers in the insect kingdom!!! (wink)

Sebastian said...

Here's Kevin Smith telling the story:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vgYhLIThTvk

Anonymous said...

The voices were great in this movie. Jennifer Aniston was very good as the mom.

Geoduck said...

Iron Giant is great, but I had to offer a comment about Wild Wild West. If you hunt around, you can find posted online an early draft script of that flick, evidently written before Will Smith got involved. It's everything the movie wasn't. Funny, fast-paced, respectful to the original series. And, in a final note of bitter irony, the only thing in it that made it to the final cut was, yes, a giant mechanical spider.

Steely Dan said...

I officially lost my faith in humanity in August of 1999 when Warner Bros. released this perfect film and nobody could be bothered to go out and see it. This is an amazing film that I never tire of watching.

Jon Sherman said...

Great movie -- glad I saw it in the theatre, to add to its $1.57 gross box office receipts.

And don't forget the most fun part: it's based on the Ted Hughes story he wrote to help his kids cope with the suicide of his wife, Sylvia Plath. Wheeee!

Roger Green said...

Iron (sob) Giant. Damn, that was good.

Anonymous said...

You should check out "Grave of the Fireflies". Japanese animation.. perfect for the kids (kidding, seriously, don't let children under 25 watch it).