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The Best Summer Movie Ever is ‘The Iron Giant’

A film with the innocence of a child, but the heart of a (mechanical) giant.
Fsr Bestsummermovies Irongiant
By  · Published on April 25th, 2018

A film with the innocence of a child, but the heart of a (mechanical) giant.

It’s Debate Week. This article is one of sixteen arguments competing for the prize of being named ‘Best Summer Movie Ever.’ Read the rest throughout the week here.

For this round of “Debate Week” at Film School Rejects, I was pretty excited to be included in the best summer movie ever. There’s a lot to unpack in determining the best summer movie. What criteria can you use? Go with pure spectacle or thought-provoking commentary? I decided to go with both, and a dash of nostalgia to boot.

Despite it’s cold, metal-clad exterior, The Iron Giant is an underrated, high-quality film for summer viewing. Obviously, it’s not the quintessential summer flick. In fact, many might not realize it was released during the summer or just have forgotten the film’s existence altogether. But The Iron Giant has so much to offer audiences seeking an escape from the summer sun. Upon reflection, the film has aged well. A movie for adults and kids to both enjoy and brimming with callbacks of a nostalgic time fueled by commentary that is as relevant then as it is now.

Since the dawn of time (in cinematic terms, at least), Disney has run the gambit on animation. The 90s were an especially great year for the multi-media company with a slew of animated features that met success at the box office and critical venues. Essentially, if you weren’t a Disney animated feature there was little hope. Enter Warner Brothers with a 1960s science fiction cartoon called The Iron Giant. It’s a completely different film from another 1999 animated feature, Tarzan. The film doesn’t have song and dance numbers, and it definitely doesn’t have the lyrical stylings of Phil Collins.

Frankly, in the realm of summer movies, The Iron Giant has, what I would argue, something that other movies don’t but recent features have been reaping the benefits from. What makes The Iron Giant the best summer movie is its integration of theme, spectacle, and nostalgia, for one unique, entertaining experience. Right from the start of the film, the animation is immersive.  As a fireball zooms across the black, celestial sky, dotted with stars, you can feel the burn of the flames. Falling through the eye of a hurricane, off the coast of Rockwell, something emerges from the violent sea to halt a small, one-man boat about to capsize. In comparison to the towering figure, we too feel small (and just imagine that on a movie theatre’s screen). From there, it only gets better.

Having watched the film recently, The Iron Giant gave off vibes of some fairly mature contemporary features. Reminded of the kids from Stranger Things, Hogarth is a protagonist that’s easy to get behind. He’s imaginative, spastic, intelligent, and extremely empathetic. His relationship with the Iron Giant is one of parent and friend, caretaker and rabble-rouser. By the half-hour mark, you too will want your own Iron Giant. But this unique bond goes further.

Hogarth teaches everyone in the film, and audience, that we don’t have to fear what we don’t understand. By contemporary standards, we’ve seen this commentary a lot, but through the lens of a child and especially by way of an animated feature film, it pulls our heartstrings more and makes the grownups think deeper due to its honesty and childlike simplicity. Some of the most teachable moments that Hogarth has reminded us that, as he says, “We are what we choose to be,” and if we so choose, we can be Superman.

Which brings in a different appeal to the film. It’s ripe with nostalgia. From Mansley telling Hogarth to wear his hat in order to “feel like a gangster,” the black and white TV, the Cold War, and the 1960s vibes in general, it’s an animated feature meant to be enjoyed by kids and adults. Here we have a summer movie where the parents don’t have to feel dragged to the theater by their spawn and kids don’t have to stay home with a babysitter who we all know would rather be out on a summer night. Just with the mature content, the film is imbued with a blast from the past. It never really calls attention to itself, until the talk of Sputnik and the Russians come into play. Viewers remain as crash-landed in the coastal town of Rockwell as the Iron Giant.

Upon the film’s release, The Iron Giant received huge critical acclaim but didn’t fare so well at the box office. It’s a shame, too. The movie has aged so well and if audiences thought about it more, they’d see why it is one of the critical darlings of animation and one of the best-reviewed summer movies. But I digress.

For me, there’s no question, The Iron Giant is the best summer movie. Having unpacked it’s beautiful and technically superb animation, it’s mature themes through the eyes of a kid, and the ever-returning nostalgia factor, this is really the only choice for me. Sure, the film may seem like it’s just for kids, but this tale of the gentle giant is moving and emotional. Any devotee can note that when someone whispers “Superman” in a low, Vin Diesel-esque voice, they will immediately get teary-eyed. Even in the heightened moments of the film’s climax, snow falls on the cartoon characters, but we’re ultimately left with the warmth of a beating, mechanical heart that just feels like summer.

The artwork for #DebateWeek was created by the wonderful Eileen Steinbach, whose work can be found on her website and on Twitter @sg_posters.

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An entertainment writer, with work featured in multiple places. Loves movies and television almost as much as her cat.