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The Iron Giant

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Adapted from the late British poet laureate Ted Hughes' much-loved children's story The Iron Man, the animated feature The Iron Giant concerns the adventures of a boy (voiced by Eli Marienthal) who, at the height of '50s Cold War paranoia, befriends a giant friendly robot (Vin Diesel) with mysterious origins and an insatiable appetite for metal. Trusting only a friendly beatnik junkman/artist (Harry Connick Jr.) with his secret, Marienthal is forced to hide his new friend from a government investigator (Christopher McDonald) who is sure that the robot is intent on destruction, or at least sure enough to justify his own sadistic impulses. Previously turned into a rock opera by Pete Townshend (who serves as an executive producer here), The Iron Giant is directed by Simpsons veteran Brad Bird, who gets it just right. The giant, for one, is a creation that would make both Disney and anime directors proud: He's both a deeply endearing character and a splendidly inspired bit of imaginary machinery. Bird also finds the perfect tone, accommodating the young hero's gee-whizzery but also not shying away from the story's darker, less cuddly overtones. Viewers with an awareness of the Cold War—and The Iron Giant should prove equally enjoyable to children and older audiences—will appreciate the film's feel for the time, but it's not necessary to know the first thing about the Eisenhower era to appreciate its timeless message about the perils of xenophobia and the importance of choosing one's own fate. It's worth repeating the old complaint that animation isn't treated seriously enough, if only to point out what a shame it would be for The Iron Giant, one of the year's best films, to go overlooked.