The Iron Giant: A Tribute to the Nuclear Era

It seems like I’ve been in an animation mood these past couple of days so the streak continues. However, to simply label The Iron Giant as an animated movie is to do it a great disservice. See, whether you think about it or not, there is a reputation that precedes animated movies. Most people think of them as children’s movies, which can be true but isn’t always. Others tend to think of the characters as flat and unmotivated.

The Iron Giant shows none of these faults that most are able to find with animated movies. It’s a beautifully told story with crisp animation that is reminiscent of the decade that it’s portraying, but that’s a point that I’ll get back to later. The characters of the movie, sure there are some juvenile pranks to make the kids laugh, but by and large, the characters are deeply complex. However, rather than just have complex characters, there’s also a certain reasoning to the movie. For the most part, we are given an idea of why these characters do what they do. That can’t be said of all animated movies, or even all movies for that matter, but it just adds to the emotional involvement that I personally felt as I watched the movie.

These character nuances tell a great deal about the people’s lives on the screen, but it also helps in establishing a different type of character. While not physically so, the time period (specifically the 1950s) also plays a major role in the way that the story unfolds. So much so that it would be unfair to deny its presence as a character. Like I said before, the animation style is reminiscent of the 1950s comic book stylings. Not only that, but we see the decade referenced in every possible way through subtle revelations throughout the movie. One of my favorite moments is the animated Duck and Cover sequence. It’s a look at the old educational films about what to do in case of a nuclear attack. If that isn’t the most 1950s thing fora “children’s movie” then I honestly don;t know what is.

Furthermore, the story as well as the character’s fears stem from a 1950s consciousness. There is this fear of the unknown which, although it still exists today, it was arguably at its height in the 1950s. The fact that the giant comes from outer space harks back to old 1950s films as well. This preoccupation with space and its limitless possibilities, as well as fear of it, is very much a part of that culture.

There are a variety of things that help to create a beautiful homage to the nuclear era. Too many for me to even list, but it’s that commitment to detail that makes The Iron Giant stand out among the other animated films. The commitment to the characters and their complexity shows an understanding of the potential for the animated movie that is unparalleled. Furthermore, the story itself is emotional and compelling like few other “kid’s movies” I’ve seen. Finally, the commitment to detail even in the animation style is truly mesmerizing. All of these factors combine to make The Iron Giant a richly rewarding, emotional, and enjoyable movie-watching experience.


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