1957. Rockwell, Maine. A nice little American town, home to Hogarth Hughes (voiced by Eli Marienthal), a bright kid who, like countless others, devours comic books, B-movies and whatever stimulates his imagination. Hogarth’s got a mom who loves him (Jennifer Aniston) and he’s doing good in school, yet it can be a hassle being so young and having to wait so long for your life to start. So Hogarth makes up stories and adventures, wandering the woods with his helmet and toy gun… And one night, adventure comes to him in the form of a 60 ft. heavy metal robot (Vin Diesel)! Scared at first, Hogarth gradually befriends this metal-eating giant who’s as clueless as a child but learns fast. But a lot of people assume what’s different has gotta be a threat, and before long an arrogant government agent (Christopher McDonald) is calling up the army to destroy this “monster”, and it’s up to Hogarth and his scrap dealer/modern artist friend Dean (Harry Connick Jr.) to convince their peers that the iron giant isn’t a menace.

Simply put, “The Iron Giant” might be the best animated film ever made. Don’t deprive yourself from seeing this wonderful movie because it looks like a kiddy flick. Yes, your little nephews and nieces will be delighted by the comical mishaps and flashy pursuits, but the film has much more to offer to audiences of all ages. I might have overlooked the movie myself if it wasn’t for Ain’t-it-Cool-News’ Harry Knowles, who’s been praising the film for months. Harry best described how special the film is by writing that it has “honestly learned everything you should take from E.T. but then improved on every single point”.

The film, as directed by Brad Bird, is an unforgettable fable, simple but effective and perfect in tone and in execution. It is not only extremely entertaing, but it also knows a thing or two about life, which is always a good thing. Like “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial”, “The Iron Giant” is a right-on depiction of childhood and the importance of friendship. But while Spielberg’s timeless film stopped with little Elliot teaching his alien buddy a few words and a few cute thingies, Bird’s film goes further and has Hogarth transmitting ideals and values to his big robot. The giant by the way is a marvelous creation, and he felt to me more real than a lot of the cardboard characters in live action flicks.

The film has a surprisingly strong anti-war message, as well as a simple but worthy moral: you are what you choose to be. But don’t think this is a preachy movie, far from it. All these “messages” come up naturally through this very fun story of a boy and his robot. Their adventures are exciting and often very funny, and the colorful and inventive animation has little to envy to the Disney features, and there are no musical numbers or wimpy animal sidekicks. I also love how Bird sets his film in the late ’50s, a comfortable time obscured by the shadow of the Cold War, which is wickedly satirized. The Army guys are overtook by paranoia, and the nuclear scare is hilariously lampooned. I really dig the Dean (Moriarty!?!) character too, a jazz-listening, motorcycle-riding beatnik right out of Kerouac. But most of all, what makes this instant classic so endearing is how heartfelt and sincere it is. I’m telling you, I was so into it that I cried at the end. Brad Bird oughta be proud of himself, for he made a film insightful, touching and full of invention. “The Iron Giant” is one of the best pictures of 1999.