This was animation maestro Brad Bird's feature length directorial debut, and, I must say, it is easily one of the best example of how to do an intelligent and thoughtful animated film for kids, and do it very, very well.
Set in a small Maine town in the 1950s, this is the story of Hogarth Hughes- an imaginative 9 year-old who stumbles upon a massive alien robot who crashes lands near his town. Finding himself bonding with this strange, yet fantastical metal behemoth, Hogarth finds that his growing extraterrestrial friendship is tested when pesky government agents come to investigate reports of something potentially dangerous lurking in the area.
Taking cues from E.T. and The Day The Earth Stood Still, this is a magnificent film about friendship, extraordinary circumstances, and tolerance. It's also a very slick and sly satire of 50s culture, with special attention paid to paranoia, McCarthyism, Cold War suspicions, and the sci-fi craze.
Hogarth is a likable kid, and his relationship with the titular character is finely developed. Hogarth's single mom and his friend Dean- a local beatnik artist/junkyard owner are also really good characters, and are more than just one-dimensional cardboard cutouts. The pesky and relentless government investigator is admittedly somewhat less developed compared to the others, but he still comes across as a tad more than a caricature.
As for the voice acting, it's really good. Eli Marienthal is a lot of fun as Hogarth, Jennifer Aniston is surprisingly believable as Hogarth's mom,Harry Connick Jr. is delightful as Dean, and, while it's a case of more typecasting, Christopher McDonald is fun as Kent Manley the government agent. He doesn't have too many lines, but Vin Diesel is also quite good as the Iron Giant, providing an appropriate amount of roboticness, but also managing to bring in some humanity, as the character evolves.
This is a great film for all ages, but especially kids, as it does a wonderful job at addressing some important issues in a clever and creative way. The animation and look are wonderful, the film has a nice mix of humor, heart, and action, and is extremely well paced and balanced. It's quite moving, and I will admit to getting teary at the end, but I feel like it was earned.
My only real gripe is that the film's message, while nice, is perhaps a bit too narrow minded and preachy.
All in all, this is some dynamite stuff. I really wish more entertainment for kids would aspire to the heights of greatness that this film does. Definitely go see it.