From the movie poster.


Original Medium: Prose fiction
Released as animation by: Warner Bros.
First Appeared: 1968
Creator: Ted Hughes
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It was originally a 1968 children's novel published in England, titled The Iron Man, tho it had nothing to do with the comic book character of that name. But before it could be printed in America, not only did the title have to be changed to avoid violating Marvel Comics' trademark on the name — all of its references to the character himself had to …

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… be changed to the legally-neutral term "The Iron Giant." The author was Ted Hughes, whose other works include Wolfwatching and Crow (little or no relation). It was illustrated by Andrew Davidson, who has also helped visualize the writings of early 20th century American author Jack London.

By the time Warner Bros. Animation made its feature film, the story had already been done twice in the performing media. In 1986, it was read aloud on BBC, by actor Tom Baker (Dr. Who). Three years later, Pete Townsend of The Who adapted it into The Iron Man: A Musical, which was first released in LP recorded form in 1989, then performed live in London in 1993. It was the stage production that led Warner to option it for what eventually became the 1999 animated version.

As animated, the story was very different from what it had been before. Most obviously, it was moved across the Atlantic. It began the day Sputnik was launched, October 4, 1957, with the robot's arrival on Earth. Another difference from the original book is that there, nobody knew where the metal man originally came from. The next day, it ate a TV antenna at the home of young Hogarth Hughes, a 9-year-old who tracked it into the nearby woods, and subsequently became its friend, teaching him proper behavior among humans by explaining he's not to emulate the villains in his comic books about Superman and The Spirit.

Enter Kent Mansley, an agent of the U.S. government hanging around the area to investigate early damage caused by The Iron Giant. Government agents are widely known for fearing the unknown and responding violently, especially in this sort of fiction. Suspecting Hogarth of helping the Giant, Kent rents a room from Hogarth's mom, and eventually brings in the U.S. Army, which threatens to nuke the town as the only way it can destroy the mechanical creature. The Iron Giant is destroyed saving the town from being nuked. Or, as we see at the end, is he really gone?

The most important way the movie differs from the book is that originally, it was an extraterrestrial menace that convinced the world The Iron Giant was actually a hero. Here, the menace providing conflict was the most fearsome the real world can offer.

Voice talent in this film was provided by face actors, not known for other voice work. Only minor characters used talent like Rodger Bumpass (Squidward), Mary Kay Bergman (the original Timmy) and Ollie Johnston (the Disney man known more for animation than voice work). An exception was Hogarth, played by Eli Marienthal (Robin in Static Shock).

Hogarth's mom was Jennifer Aniston. Kent was Christopher McDonald, who later voiced Superman. The Iron Giant himself was Vin Diesel.

The film was released on August 6, 1999 — the 54th anniversary of the first time a town full of innocent people was destroyed by a nuclear bomb.


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Text ©2009 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Warner Bros.