The Iron Giant

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Iron Giant Little.jpg

Directed by Brad Bird (who was one of the original writers of The Simpsons and would later move on to work for Pixar), The Iron Giant is a critically-acclaimed animated film from Warner Bros, based on Ted Hughes' novel The Iron Man (not to be confused with that one). It is about a giant robot (the eponymous Giant) who falls to Earth in 1957, and a boy named Hogarth who befriends him. Hogarth tries to hide the Giant from the public (particularly due to Cold War-era paranoia), especially a persistent government agent named Kent Mansley. But the Giant has a very mysterious past of his own, and if things get out, the Cold War may just go hot...

Despite the immense critical praise given to it, the movie was a dud at the box office, thanks mostly to the disastrous marketing of the film by Warner Bros. The studio later did a 180 and gave it a marketing blitz on home video instead, and the movie's gathered a large cult following since then. Much of its following also comes from Cartoon Network, which used to run the film in annual all-day marathons on Thanksgiving.

The movie was produced by Pete Townshend, who loved the original story and had previously done a Rock Opera based on it.

Tropes used in The Iron Giant include:
  • Absent Aliens: A planned scene (that was ultimately scrapped) seems to confirm that the Giant was, in fact, built by aliens. But said aliens are never actually seen or mentioned, with the action focusing on the Giant's adventures on Earth.
  • Adorably Precocious Child: Hogarth.
  • Adored by the Network: Cartoon Network was rather infamous for their annual 24-hour marathons of this movie in the early 2000s, which led to the movie gaining a cult following. The Hub quite likes to air it, too (coincidentally, this film and one of The Hub's most popular shows both have an animator in common).
    • Not to mention the guys who work on the other super-popular show state it was an influence on the friendship between the Autobots and the humans.
  • Aliens in Cardiff: The Giant landed in Maine, a state not known for Humongous Mecha.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: That educational film shown in Hogarth's class, telling people that they can survive a nuclear blast by ducking and covering their heads, is based on a real thing.
  • Alliterative Name: Hogarth Hughes.
  • Amnesiac Dissonance: The Giant is implied to have this, as he is capable of incredible destruction. A deleted scene implied that he probably had destroyed entire planets before his crash landing on Earth, well in contrast to his childlike and innocent persona in the film proper.
  • Amusing Injuries: At one point, Mansley is rear-ended in his car and slams his face into the windshield, making visible cracks. There isn't a mark on his face, and he comes out of the car screaming a couple of seconds later.
    • Also, when Annie and Mansley walk in on Hogarth "using the bathroom", Annie slams the door shut very quickly in embarrassment, smashing Mansley's face in between the frame and the door.
  • An Aesop: "You are who you choose to be."
    • Also "unchecked paranoia is bad."
    • Also, "It's bad to kill. Guns kill."
  • Anti-Anti-Christ: A deleted scene in the film, as well as the nature of the Iron Giant's weapons, heavily implies that the Iron Giant was originally created to destroy planets, and that either he was just one out of a huge line of robots who were created for this purpose or had managed to destroy quite a large amount of planets prior to arriving on Earth. However, the Iron Giant eventually manages to reject going down/continuing down this path.
  • Arm Cannon: Among the Giant's plethora of weapons, also the first one he deploys when he goes ape-shit on the Army.
  • Artistic License Military: Several times Mansley barks orders at soldiers with the General present and the soldiers just follow those orders without checking with the superior officer; the most heinous of these mistakes is launching a nuclear warhead without the proper codes from the proper authority. Yet the General never steps in and says he's in charge of the military aspects of the mission until it's too late. There is one point when the Giant is coming into the town (for once not shooting at anyone) and the soldiers ask him whether they shoot or not.
  • Ascended Extra: Hogarth Hughes only had a small role in the original book.
  • Astonishingly Appropriate Interruption
  • B-Movie: Hogarth watches a particularly hammy movie about killer brains. They even replicated the rather questionable acting abilities of the performers that typically appeared in such films.
  • Bad Bad Acting: In the B-Movie Hogarth was watching.
  • Badass Adorable: Despite being 50 feet tall and possibly even sent to pulverize Earth, the Giant's childlike naivety about the world makes him an endearing hero.
  • Bambification: The film takes a rather jarring transition from a lighthearted A Boy and His X story to an anti-weapons moral after Hogarth and the Giant discover the deer.
  • Batman in My Basement: Hogarth has a giant robot in his barn.
  • Beatnik: Dean, though he's portrayed better than actual films of the 1950s would have shown him.
  • Berserk Button: Never EVER point a gun at the Giant. It's also a somewhat bad idea to kill Hogarth. He might decide to knock off the pacifism and just start tearing your military a new asshole.
    • While the Giant does hate guns, it's not entirely his choice. He has a built-in defense mechanism where he attacks anything pointing a weapon at him, even if it just looks like one. When Hogarth points a toy gun at him during a game, the Giant (and everyone else) is terrified when he nearly kills Hogarth unconsciously.
      • In other words, the "Berserk Button" is fairly literal in this case.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: The ultimate example of why you should NEVER, EVER piss off the Gentle Giant.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Despite the deer taking a lethal bullet wound, nary a drop of blood is seen.
  • Book Ends: The movie begins and ends with beeps. At the beginning, the beeps are courtesy of Sputnik. They were heard again later on at the very end, but it turns out they're coming from the Giant as he reassembles himself in Iceland.
  • A Boy and His X: Hogarth and the Giant.
  • Brick Joke: A dark example: At one point, while Hogarth was preparing to photograph the Iron Giant, he accidentially takes a picture of himself after cleaning and adjusting the camera perfectly. That picture ironically turned out to be the incriminating evidence to the Iron Giant's existence, as the Giant was right behind him without his knowledge at that time, which Mansley managed to find after finding the camera as well as developing the photos.
  • Brought to You by The Letter "S": At one point, the Giant declares "I Superman!" and adorns his chest with a giant S. A minute later, he showcases the bad side of the Man of Steel with a case of Red Eyes, Take Warning.
  • The Cameo: Former Disney animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston appear as railroad workers early in the film, telling Mansley about the giant. Brad Bird even got Frank and Ollie themselves to voice their inksuit cameos!
  • Cassandra Truth: Earlier in the film, Hogarth's mother doesn't believe him when he tries to tell her about the robot. He later chooses to keep it a secret.
    • Mansley gets blown off by the general when he tries to phone him about the Giant's existence. Later, when he is finally capable of producing evidence, Hogarth gets the one-up on him by disguising the Giant as one of Dean's pieces of metal art. Though Mansley is vindicated when, after being fired by the general for his supposed incompetence, the Giant appears in public in full view of the military convoy.
  • Check, Please!: Invoked by Dean at the start of the film after he unleashes a squirrel on the diner.
  • Chest Blaster: A straight example.
  • Cold War: The entire film is couched in the paranoia and fear of the Cold War.
  • Conspicuous CGI: Very notably averted; The necessity of cost-effectively and realistically portraying a metal man led to the Giant being rendered in 3D. The animators went out of their way to add slight irregularities to the lines while rendering the Giant to make it fit in more with spectacular results.
  • Covers Always Lie: The VHS and DVD cover [dead link] for the film had Hogarth (in the Giant's hand) wearing a powder blue sweater, which he doesn't wear in the actual movie (he just wears a red-and-blue-striped sweater for most of the movie).
    • Averted with the 2004 Special Edition DVD, which has a completely different cover where more emphasis is placed on the Giant and Hogarth is depicted in the form of a silhouette.
  • Curb Stomp Battle: The giant's Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • Cute Giant: The iron giant himself.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Dean
  • Did Not Do the Research: Electric power stations don't have master on/off switches. Probably justified by Rule of Drama--Hogarth and the Giant have to meet and bond, after all.
  • Die or Fly: The Giant has this in spades.
  • Dirty Coward: Mansley, after dooming everyone in the town thanks to his own paranoia, tries to bolt out of town and leave his fellow citizens to die in favor of saving his own skin. He doesn't get far.
  • Disappeared Dad: The picture of Hogarth's father in a plane is intended to imply that his father was shot down in the Air Force while fighting in the Korean War.
  • Disaster Dominoes: "I wanna apologize to everyone in advance for this..."
  • Disney Death: One of the few times it was pulled off well.
  • Diving Save: Dean does this to protect Hogarth from the Giant who automatically responds to Hogarth's toy gun with Eye Beams.
  • Do Androids Dream?
  • Dodge by Braking
  • Doesn't Like Guns: the Giant, who is also quick to show that he isn't one. Despite the fact that he is "made of them".
  • Do Not Do This Cool Thing: Okay, everybody will admit that the Giant transforming into a killing machine with crazy alien weapons is totally badass, but you know... killing machine.
  • Double Take: Mansley pulls this off when, while remarking that Hogarth is an embarrassing name, he has a sudden realization that the words "Hog... Hug..." on the shattered B.B. Gun stood for "Hogarth Hughes."
  • Empathic Environment: The film's mood becomes darker as the season makes the jump from Fall to Winter.
  • Enforced Method Acting: Director Brad Bird made Eli Marienthal (the voice of Hogarth) run laps around the studio in order to sound realistically out-of-breath for one scene (he did this again later with Spencer Fox [the voice of Dash] in The Incredibles).
  • Eureka Moment: After stopping by Hogarth's house, Mansley drives away while commenting on his name. This leads him to realize who owned the mangled "Hog Hug" BB gun found at the wrecked power plant: Hogarth Hughes.
  • Everythings Nuttier With Squirrels: The variety that like to crawl up people's pants.
  • Extreme Omnivore: The Giant thrives on a diet entirely of metal. A lot of it. Why Hogarth decides to hide him at a junkyard.
  • Eye Beams: The Giant has these, though they're only shown in one scene. It's when he automatically acts in self-defense from Hogarth's toy gun.
  • The Fifties
  • Foil: Dean is very unconventional and hip, while Mansley portrays the ideal manly man of the time - a hard-boiled detective type with a steel jaw. Dean is also a LOT faster on the uptake and more flexible than Mansley. Although he does make the mistake of trusting Mansley to do the right thing...
  • Foreshadowing: If you pay attention to Hogarth's Atomo comic, you'll notice that it bears a somewhat eerie resemblance to the Giant's combat mode in his Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
    • Also, in the scene where the Giant discovers the dead deer, and notices the gun, he briefly gains red eyes while his "irises" narrow before snapping out of it. This is the first sign that the giant was actually a weapon.
    • And the part where Hogarth watches the movie with killer brains in it (see B-Movie above), towards the end the army are forced to defend against The Iron Giant which has become a monster with 3 brain like objects (along with other weapons) on it.
    • While on the phone with Mansley, General Rogard mentions that if he somehow got a photo of the Giant, then he could get some troops over. Guess what happens later in the film...
  • Four-Fingered Hands: The Giant only. But then, he IS an alien (and a robot).
  • General Ripper: Subverted with General Rogard. He has the appearance and mannerisms of your standard Cold War psychotic, but turns out to be a Reasonable Authority Figure who quite clearly distrusts Mansley and calls off the attack when it is finally revealed that the Giant only attacks defensively.
  • Gentle Giant: The Movie
  • Giant Hands of Doom: Sort of: After the Giant's first on-screen repair function is displayed, it is later revealed that he didn't quite take into account all of his body parts. It turns out that the left hand sneaked into Hogarth's house, forcing the boy to create a lot of distractions to keep his mother and Mansley from seeing it before it can rejoin the Giant.
  • Giant Robot
  • Giant Robot Hands Save Lives: Possibly Justified - you see the hand move directly after it catches them, and appears to still have been several feet off the ground when it did.
  • Giant Wall of Watery Doom: The Giant creates one when he does a cannonball into a lake, though it's mostly for laughs as no one is seriously harmed.
  • Go Out with a Smile
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck: Surprisingly averted. Then again, this isn't strictly a kid's movie.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: The Giant does this to save Hogarth's entire town from a missile.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Mansley
    • Subverted in that he barely did any actual fighting against the benign Giant, and when he did, he nearly killed them all.
  • He's a Friend: "His name is Dean; we like Dean"
  • Hey, It's That Voice!: Vin Diesel as the Giant, Rachel as Hogarth's mom, Leo as Dean, Martin Crane as the General, and Stifler's brother as Hogarth.
  • Hot Mom: Annie. As Mansley notes. Repeatedly.
  • Humongous Mecha: The Giant being a sentient, non-piloted version.
  • I Am Not a Gun: Trope Namer
  • In Name Only: The film has little-to-no resemblance with the original novel.
  • Ink Suit Actor: Dean is just an animated version of Harry Connick Jr. Seriously, there's no difference at all.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Hogarth and Dean.
  • Intelligence Equals Isolation: Hogarth's grades are high enough to skip a grade; he mention before he gets bullied for it.
  • Interrupted Cooldown Hug
  • Invisible Advertising: For the theatrical release; it got much better treatment on home video.
  • Jerkass: Mansley
  • The Juggernaut: Tank shells, battleship guns, and even a nuclear missile can't destroy the Giant completely. All but the last are nothing but a The Worf Barrage. If he had stuck to his original programming, he would be completely unstoppable. A nuclear missile would have only slowed him down.
  • Kid Hero: Hogarth, though he's a very likable variation in that while he acts like a normal kid (mischievous and fun-loving), he possesses a surprising level of emotional maturity.
  • Kids Shouldn't Watch Horror Films: "The Brain That Wouldn't Die!"
  • Large Ham: Mansley again.
  • Laxative Prank: "Landslide. It's new. Very new."
  • A Light in the Distance: In the Giant's first scene, a fisher mistakes the lights of its eyes for a lighthouse. It's actually kind of spooky.
  • Lock and Load Montage: When Hogarth prepares his hunt for "invaders from Mars" at night.
  • Male Gaze: Kent's first meeting Annie happens with him staring right at her hips and chest, due to her opening the front door fully, with him leaning on it.
  • Meaningful Echo: "You...stay. I...go. No following."
    • "You are...who you choose to be."
  • Meaningful Name: The town of Rockwell named after the idealistic artist of the period, the beatnik Dean looking slightly like James Dean, and the ever-so-manly Kent Mansley.
  • The Men in Black: Mansley. Originally portrayed as some faceless, bumbling bureaucrat with a poor worker-boss relationship. Later on, he turns into a very dangerous Man in Black with the power to disappear anyone at any time with no repercussions. Or so he would have Hogarth believe.
  • Misguided Missile
  • More Dakka: The Giant.
  • Motor Mouth: Hogarth, twice - once in the scene where he has an espresso and the other when the Giant's hand flushes the toilet upstairs and he says: "Gottausethebathroom".

"So she says, 'No, you need a challenge.' Well, I'm challenged, all right; I'm challenged to hold on to my lunch money because of all the big mooses who wanna pound me because I am a shrimpy dork who thinks he's smarter than them. But I DON'T think I'm smarter--I just do the stinkin' homework! If everyone just did the stinkin' homework, theycouldmoveupagradeandgetpoundedtooyougotanymorecoffee?"

  • Mr. Fanservice: Dean, the handsome artistically inclined beatnik with the voice of Harry Connick Jr.
  • Never Say "Die": Very bluntly averted, almost defied.

Mansley: You mean... we're all going...
Rogard: To die, Mansley. For our country.

  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: From a certain point of view since Mansely did have good intentions. But he panics and nearly brings nuclear death on the area. Rogard puts its bluntly...

Rogard: That missile is targeted to the giant's current position! Where's the giant, Mansley?!

  • Nobody Poops: Averted to great effect, though still tastefully, when Hogarth gives Mansley a large dose of laxative.
  • Noodle Incident: "Do you remember the raccoon, Hogarth? (shudder) I remember the raccoon."
  • A Nuclear Error: The film's climax features the USS Nautilus launching a nuclear-armed ballistic missile; the real Nautilus was incapable of doing so since it was a normal attack submarine (albeit the first powered by a nuclear reactor), and the United States Navy did not have any ballistic missile submarines at all until the USS George Washington entered service in 1959, two years after the film is set. While the sub would NEVER launch on ANY target (let alone the mainland United States) in response to someone who was just screaming into the radio to fire, after seeing the giant nearly take out a battleship we can reasonably assume extremely poor judgment by the sub commander.
    • While the first part is true, the second part might not be an error. Mansley had already suggested that they lure the Giant away from the town, then nuke it, so it's entirely possible that the General already cleared the nuke for firing, and they were just waiting for the general to give the order when the Giant was in the right place. When the Giant was revealed as harmless when he wasn't being shot at, Rogard was about to tell the Sub to cancel the launch, when Mansley grabbed the radio and yelled at them to launch it.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Sort of. In a very brief scene after the giant is found out, two high-ranking officers enter the Oval Office, and address a man, who sits behind the president's desk to request authorization to make use of Navy and Air Force (you can take a look at it here). The man is sitting with the back towards the the camera, but has a visible bald patch on his oval-shaped head. Therefore it is very obviously President Ike Eisenhower, who actually was president during the time the film is set (1957), albeit the fact this movie is a clear case of Alternate History. He is the only real person in the whole movie.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Mansley.
  • Oh Crap: Hogarth witnessing the Giant chewing up some metal towers, then reaching for the live ones...
    • Mansley, upon realizing that he's doomed himself and the town of Rockwell to a nuclear incineration.
      • Even before that when Mansley sees the Giant staring at him and not looking very happy.
    • Also, Dean's reaction when he discovers the Giant pigging out just as he was about to enter back into his house.
  • Papa Wolf: Thinking of harming Hogarth within Giant's eyesight? You're in for it.
    • Dean's no slouch, either. His first reaction to seeing the Giant is to protect the kid. He also chews out the Giant after nearly vaporizing Hogarth by accident.
  • Parental Obliviousness: Annie does not seem to have the faintest clue that Hogarth unabashedly despises Mansley, and has been desperate to avoid him since he moved in. She goes so far to suggest Hogarth take Mansley around and show him the sights. Whether this is true obliviousness or just Annie wanting her son to accept they have to rent the spare room for money is not completely obvious. As he starts to show his true colors, she quickly dislikes him.
  • Perma-Stubble: Dean
  • Planet Killer: The deleted Dream Scene shows that the giant is supposed to be this. Even without the scene, the film itself, especially during the giant's rampage, heavily implies that this was what he really was.
  • Properly Paranoid: Mansley intends to track down and destroy the Iron Giant since he believes it to be a threat to America. He's ultimately right, as the Iron Giant is eventually revealed to be what is heavily implied to be a Planet Killer, although his folly was that he let it become genuine paranoia.
  • Pulling Themselves Together: The Giant does this at the end after he is apparently destroyed, though it was foreshadowed earlier in the film when he re-assembles himself.
  • Quizzical Tilt: Giant does this a few times.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: General Rogard.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: Played terrifyingly straight.
  • The Renaissance Age of Animation: This film came out at the tail end of it.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: After the army begins attacking him, the Giant flees with Hogarth and tries to avoid giving in to his programming, but he gets shot down, and it looks like Hogarth has been killed. While grieving, the Giant gets shot again, and he snaps - willingly and fully giving in to his programming. He even roars when he transforms.
  • Rule of Symbolism: After the giant's saving of the town, the nuclear blast looks a lot like the star of Bethlehem.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: What Mansley says near the end of the film, learning that the nuke that he just launched at the Giant is also going to wipe him out along with everyone in the town.
  • Shout-Out: The movie contains at least one nod to The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming - the two boys with the binoculars falling off the balcony is straight from the movie.
    • There are also numerous references to Superman.
    • Hogarth also mentions The Spirit as one of his comic books. Brad Bird is a huge Spirit fan (he also referenced the Spirit in The Incredibles).
    • "Hogarth? That's an embarrassing name. She might as well have called him Zeppo or something."
    • The Western that General Rogard was watching when Mansley was contacting him was the exact same one the Dalmatian puppies were watching in Disney's One Hundred and One Dalmatians.
    • The "scary movie" that Hogarth was watching was a shout out to the cheesy sci-fi movies of the fifties (more specifically, The Brain from Planet Arous).

"No. Augh. Aaaaaaah."

    • Likewise, one of the weapons on the Iron Giant when he goes berserk in vengeance for the apparent death of Hogarth heavily resembles the cannons utilized by the Martians in The War of the Worlds.
  • Shown Their Work: Especially regarding cars, architecture, pop culture, and clothing styles of the 1950's.
    • Hogarth's comic covers are all genuine (save for Atomo, who was made up for the film).
  • The Last Horse Crosses the Finish Line: See the Eureka Moment example listed above.
  • The Spook: Arguably, the Giant, we never find out where he is from.
  • Squirrels in My Pants: By name, and preceded the official Trope Namer.
  • Stealth Pun: Dean directs the Giant to make a mobile (hanging children's toy) out of cars.
  • Suddenly Shouting: "What you currently have IN YOUR MOUTH IS ART!"
  • That Poor Car: Invoked on-screen: Hogarth discovers Dean's junkyard, and decides the Iron Giant can have some food there. Unfortunately, one of the cars the Giant tries to eat hadn't had its alarm system removed yet, resulting in it going off when the Giant tries to eat it, and several failed attempts to silence it before the Giant eventually chucked it at the house as a last resort.
    • In some trailer spots, they make it seem as though the reason why Dean was getting Hogarth to flee is because the Iron Giant was about to unknowingly eat the alarm-rigged car.
  • There's No B in Movie: Hogarth watches one inspired by The Brain From Planet Arous. It was the 50s...
  • Technology Porn: When the Giant repairs itself, and when it is attacked by the Army and deploys its weapons.
  • Telescoping Robot: One of the straighter, and more haunting, examples.
  • Three Star Badass: General Rogard stays absolutely in control during the battle with the Giant, at one point shooting at him with his pistol. Compare this to some of his more panicky subordinates, and especially Mansley.
  • Time Compression Montage: While Hogarth is in the forest trying to get a picture of the Giant.
  • Trailers Always Lie: The trailers make it seem as though Dean discovered the Giant, and tried to get Hogarth away from the Giant when he was about to eat an alarm-live car. In actuality, the Giant eating the alarm-live car occurred before Dean discovered the Giant, and even then it wasn't from the live alarm.
  • Trans-Atlantic Equivalent: The original novel was set in Britain. For The Iron Giant, the setting was transplanted to Maine.
  • Unstoppable Rage: Hogarth seemingly dies. Ladies and gentlemen, the Berserk Button has been pressed.
  • Up, Up, and Away: The Giant doesn't have to do this to fly, but Hogarth insists on it.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Mansley, who gets more and more freaked out as the situation develops, finally culminating in ordering the town to be nuked, then trying to run away.
  • What Could Have Been: The first choice to voice the giant was Peter Cullen. That's right, Optimus Effing Prime would have been the voice of the Iron Giant.
    • Also, the movie itself was originally going to be a musical with songs by Pete Townshend, but the songs were dropped when Warner Bros. approached Brad Bird to direct the project.
    • There was originally going to be a brief flashback in which the audience would see a few vague details about the Giant's origins, but it was ultimately scrapped. The idea was to have a scene where he dreams about the alien factory where he was built, and to have the dream transmitted electronically to Dean's television for the audience to see. The scene was never animated, but some of the sketches for it can be seen here.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Hogarth and the Giant question whether he has a soul.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Kent Mansley with this line: "Hogarth? What an embarrasing name. Might as well call him Zeppo or something. What kind of sick person would name a kid Hoga- "
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Subverted, the Giant easily could be if he was not so docile.
  • You Just Told Me: How Annie tricks Dean into telling her Hogarth sneaks off to his junkyard every night.