Our continuing series of blog posts in which we take a look at odd movie coincidences – scenes, jokes, dialogue, even specific camera shots shared between two (or more) seemingly unrelated films. Anyone who's sat through a particular scene in a movie and thought, "Gee, haven't I seen someone so this somewhere before?" will know exactly what I’m talking about.
One of the most underrated animated films of the last twenty years, Brad Bird's The Iron Giant (1999) tells the gentle story of a nine-year-old boy who befriends a sentient robot from outer space. It was based on a children's book, The Iron Man, written by Ted Hughes and published in 1968 (then later adapted as a rock musical by The Who's Pete Townshend). The movie was adored by critics but largely (some would say criminally) ignored by audiences, thanks to a half-hearted marketing push by Warner Bros, who apparently couldn't make heads or tails of it. Since then, it's grown in stature not just as a classic of animation but as a classic American film - as much for its rich 50s period setting as its wicked sense of humor, showcased already by Bird during his stint on The Simpsons (1989-1998) and again during The Incredibles (2004) and Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011).
The comparisons to E.T. - The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) are apt, if a bit off the mark. Sure, some of the plot points may be the same - lonely, fatherless boy, wayward alien being, shadowy government types who perceive said alien as a threat - and even some of the shot selections seem like they're torn directly from Spielberg's timeless classic.
The Iron Giant, however, stands proud and apart. The 2D design of the film is striking yet refreshingly retro (released at a time when CG animation was still in its relative infancy). Characters are well-defined and realistic. And its tone and (somewhat shocking) anti-gun stance never once panders to the audience. (The line, "It's bad to kill. Guns kill. And you don't have to be a gun," never fails to bring tears to my eyes.) Ingeniously, Bird set the film at the height of the Cold War, when the majority of Americans believed they were under threat of nuclear holocaust. Signs of impending doom are everywhere - in newspapers, in school PSAs, in the comic books Hogarth reads at home (one of which is titled, simply, Red Menace). Then in strolls the Giant, and teaches everyone the true meaning of acceptance and love - and that everything alien need not be feared.
Hogarth teaches him something in return: that the thing you are built for doesn't necessarily reflect the person you become. (The Giant seems especially enamored with Hogarth's Superman comics, as opposed to the ones about gigantic metal monsters.) When a nuclear missile is inadvertently launched towards Earth at the end of the film, the Giant selflessly decides to sacrifice himself rather than allow his friends fall victim to the ravages of war. As Hogarth's words ring true in his head, the Giant's final epiphany is both heart-wrenching and heroic:
While the notion of sacrificing oneself for the greater good is certainly nothing new to film (or to storytelling, for that matter), the ending to The Iron Giant has reverberated in multiple films since then, most recently during Disney's Big Hero 6 (2014). A variation of this also pops up during Wreck-It Ralph (2012), when our titular hero brandishes a similar line of (repeated) dialogue as his mantra for self-sacrifice:
"I'm bad, and that's good! I will never be
good, and that's not bad!"
"There's no one I'd rather be... than me."
Even high-profile live-action blockbusters like The Dark Knight Rises (2012) ape The Iron Giant to an extent. At the end of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy capper, Batman/Bruce Wayne hauls a nuclear bomb out over Gotham City Bay in his trusty Bat plane. As the device explodes, the city reacts in awe to the Caped Crusader's final act of heroism. Note the similar use of shots:
Different, yet somehow oddly the same. Might the influence of The Iron Giant be far more prevalent than we initially thought?