‘The Iron Giant’: Brad Bird’s Anti-Gun Violence Movie Gains Poignant Power in New Documentary
Art and Experience: “What if a gun had a soul and didn’t want to be a gun?”
This was the question Brad Bird posed when he first encountered “The Iron Giant,” and that was the pitch to Warner Bros. that landed the student of animation his first feature directing gig.
Though the film flopped upon release in 1999, “The Iron Giant” has gained a second life (and a third, fourth, fifth…) in the years following thanks to avid critical and fan support. And on Friday morning at Comic-Con, a newdocumentary premiered highlighting the rich history of a once-forgotten film — that’s all the more meaningful today.
Bird introduced “The Giant’s Dream: The Making of The Iron Giant,” noting, “It’s easy to forget what it was like to make […] because this was a moment in time that was very unique.”
Tracking Bird’s lifelong journey from a kid fascinated with animation — who landed a nonexistent internship at Disney — to why “The Iron Giant” struggled to find an audience upon its theatrical release, director Anthony Giacchino’s documentary highlights the unique circumstances that led to the film’s existence in the first place, all framed by Bird’s dual quests: to change the perception of animation, and to advocate against gun-related violence.
“I think the medium can do a lot more then it’s doing,” Bird said in a post-screening Q&A. “I’m not someone who thinks [animated and live-action movies] are radically different things. You’re still trying to keep the audience emotionally connected to the characters. You’re still juggling timing, movement and music.”
It was this belief that led Bird to push for an animated film preaching the dangers of guns in the first place. When Bird’s sister was killed because of gun violence, the animator was further motivated to push the boundaries of what his chosen art form could do.
The documentary spends a good deal of time examining how “The Iron Giant” succeeded in making a moving, human story about a robot and a small boy contemplating the meaning of life. Citing “the best test scores” Warner Bros. had seen since the mid-’80s and widespread support from critics, “The Giant’s Dream” successfully balances the good and bad of the film; and deftly explains how a film quickly seen as a flop could develop into a relevant tale for modern audiences, especially in light of recent gun-related tragedies.
Insights abound throughout the feature-length documentary — soon to be available on a new Blu-ray edition of “The Iron Giant” — and it’s notable the feature includes no talking heads. Voiceover accompanies original animation, behind-the-scenes footage and a few interviews conducted during the film’s original release. It’s a perceptive, appreciative and beautiful piece filled with the same heart that’s helped make “The Iron Giant” a classic, even if earning the title was more difficult than Bird had hoped.
“I would’ve loved to have another year and another $20 million,” Bird said, when asked what he would’ve changed about the production. “There’s a tendency in the press to portray Warner Bros. as bunglers, but that’s just one tiny fragment of the story. The headline is that they made the movie. So I salute them. I have nothing but gratitude toward Warner Bros.”
Luckily, Bird’s been given the chance to rewrite history, as Warner Bros. recently supported revisiting the film for an upcoming Blu-ray release of “The Iron Giant.”
“There were some small little scenes I wanted to do, and we did them,” Bird said. “Warner Bros. paid for them. We got together some old crew members that worked on the original. There is about a minute-and-a-half of new stuff. Small scenes, but cool additions. Did we have to have the scenes? No. I fully support the version that we made, but these are interesting additions.”
Bird is currently working on a sequel to “The Incredibles,” but he said he’d “love to do another hand-drawn film” — just not a sequel to “The Iron Giant.”
“You’ll never hear that talk from me,” Bird said when asked about the possibility of a sequel. “This is the story that was told, and there isn’t necessarily a story afterward.”
“The Giant’s Dream: The Making of The Iron Giant” will be available on “The Iron Giant: Signature Edition,” a special Blu-ray release featuring the original cut of the film as well as the new expanded edition and set to be released Sept. 6.