(1999)4Derek ArmstrongThe Iron Giant is a wondrous animated fairy tale of post-Sputnik paranoia and the related fears of "otherness" that carries with it warm messages about friendship and non-violence. What should have been an unqualified hit, however, managed a scant $23 million at the box office due to an infamously indifferent advertising campaign by Warner Bros., which demonstrated that its animation competitors (Disney and Dreamworks) are far more comfortable with this end of the business. After all, the materials are all first-rate, from the incredibly cool-looking gentle giant, to the enthusiastic vocal talent, to the tight adaptation of Ted Hughes' book by directors Brad Bird and Tim McCanlies. What might seem on the surface like a simple "boy and his robot" tale is secretly a wicked parody of the 1950s, targeting not only hair-trigger government agents, but also pulp monster movies and laid-back beatniks. What provides the spine-tingling emotional core is the tender characterization of the childlike giant, whose swirling circular eyes and gravelly voice (thank you, Vin Diesel) convey heart-breaking empathy. Watching him innocently chomp junked cars and farm equipment is also oodles of fun. The struggle between this benevolent soul and his battle droid pre-programming, which appears in a flashy display of inventive artillery near the end, also sends a crystalline message to children that guns are bad -- an idea rarely communicated to them in so entertaining a fashion. It's a real shame that Hughes died during production, meaning he never got to see this glorious realization of his work.