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The Iron Giant

Year: 1999
Studio: Warner Bros
Director: Brad Bird
Writer: Tim McCanlies/Brad Bird
Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr, Vin Diesel, Christopher McDonald, Cloris Leachman, John Mahoney, M Emmet Walsh

When JJ Abrams made Super 8, his intentions to homage his creative progenitor Steven Spielberg couldn't have been clearer.

Whether Brad Bird was conscious of doing so with The Iron Giant or not, the comparisons are unavoidable – a loving but stressed single mother, a kid of middle class means who yearns for adventure, a wooded, small-town landscape, a shadowy government agency antagonist and the discovery of something incredible and otherworldly.

It's the dawn of the atomic age as Sputnik flies overhead and young Hogarth lives with his diner waitress mother (Jennifer Aniston), getting up to the kind of tomfoolery suburban movie kids are known for, his sensibilities and tastes informed by comic books and matinee serials.

A meteor has crashed into the woods near town, and one night while his mother's at work and he's up watching TV and eating junk food despite having promised her to eat his healthy dinner and go to bed, the power goes out.

Hogarth goes off to investigate, and when he comes across the power station in the middle of the forest, he sees what really crashed to Earth – a giant robot, as childlike and curious as Hogarth is.

With no apparent knowledge of where it came from or what its purpose is – apart from a pre-programmed response to threats by turning into a weapon – the robot becomes Hogarth's best friend.

But it isn't easy hiding a giant creature with a constant hunger for metal, so he falls in with local beatnik artist Dean (Harry Connick Jr) who happens to own a scrap metal yard out of town.

But the government agent who's rented the spare room in Hogarth and his mother's house, Kent (Christopher McDonald) is there to find out the truth, and he knows Hogarth knows more than he's letting on.

It all comes to a head in a stand-off in town, the military primed to destroy Giant while Hogarth tries to convince it to show everybody it means no harm.

You can probably tell from the synopsis of the plot that its owes the biggest debt to ET: The Extra Terrestrial, but it has all the tone and charm of the movies that came out of those classic Spielberg years like Gremlins and Poltergeist .

There's also a sense of movement and scope that's really appropriate to the medium – where a lot of televisual animation is about foreground action behind static back plates, Bird and his animators make the entire scene move as the virtual camera wheels around the environment.

It's also another movie with a beloved following that's inversely proportionate to its initial cinematic bow, not even making back half its budget in theatres.

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