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The Iron Giant
Finally, someone has crafted an animated feature with the humour, the drama, the stunning visuals and the universal appeal to challenge the Disney monopoly. And it seems somehow fitting that the late Ted Hughes's fairy-tale The Iron Man, which has enchanted British children for more than 30 years, should be the book to provide Hollywood film-makers with the inspiration they so desperately needed. Transplanting the action across the Atlantic to a sleepy American town in the '50s, just after the launch of Sputnik, The Iron Giant centres on sci-fi obsessed young tyke Hogarth Hughes (voiced by Eli Marienthal) whose mom (Jennifer Aniston) works as a waitress in the local diner. Something of a loner, Hogarth is astonished and delighted when he stumbles upon a gargantuan metal creature from outer space who has landed in the woods near his home. Both the boy and the giant are wary of one another to begin with, but very slowly, they learn to trust one another, restricting their meetings to the woodland where Hogarth can be sure the giant is hidden. Inevitably, the visitor gets the urge to explore the surrounding area and takes up residence firstly in Hogarth's barn and later at the local scrap yard run by aspiring sculptor Dean (Harry Connick Jr), where the mountains of unwanted metal provide the giant with as much food as he needs. Against his better judgement, Dean agrees to keep Hogarth's secret, at least until the boy can find somewhere safer to conceal his mountainous friend. Despite all of Hogarth's best efforts, paranoid government agent Mansley (Christopher McDonald) tracks down the giant and calls in the army, mistakenly believing that the visitor is an instrument of destruction sent to exterminate the human race. With guns and missiles aimed at the metallic behemoth, the fate for Hogarth's new friend seems extremely gloomy, but strange and wonderful things sometimes happen even when all hope seems lost. With its sophisticated screenplay, alluding to the fear of nuclear attack which gripped the era, and beautifully sketched characters, The Iron Giant is one of the most impressive and intelligent animated features released by any major studio. The relationship between the boy and the giant is developed naturally and fully, creating a plausible and moving bond that is intentionally more desirable than any of the human relationships in the film. The voice performances are energetic and perfectly suited to their characters: Marienthal's interpretation of Hogarth is extremely appealing, and moves through the full range of emotions especially during the tense finale. Haunting, moving and ultimately life-affirming.