The Iron Giant is a killer robot from outer space, but he’s also the best friend a lonely boy could ask for. To young Hogarth Hughes, he’s E.T., Superman, King Kong, R2-D2, and his absent father, rolled into one. (Voiced by Vin Diesel, the automaton may be the most soulful, heartfelt performance the Fast & Furious actor has ever given.) Of course, it’s hard to keep a massive flying robot under wraps. The movie is set in the 1950s, so there’s a beatnik (voiced by jazzbo Harry Connick Jr.) who reacts with mild irritation – and a military force that responds with atomic/Sputnik-era paranoia and fear.
Not that kids unfamiliar with the period need to grasp those details in order to understand the film. As in his other animated features (The Incredibles, Ratatouille), director Brad Bird is skilled at telling stories about exceptional creatures whose extraordinary gifts generally meet with responses of horror and mistrust. Here, however, the monster shares in that sense of horror, since he’s as shocked as anyone to discover that he was built and programmed to be a weapon of mass destruction. No one counted on this hollow hunk of iron developing a soul.