10 Towering Facts About The Iron Giant

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

When Brad Bird's feature directorial debut hit theaters on August 6, 1999, the film was a critical success. But due to misdirected marketing from Warner Bros., that positive reception didn't carry over into the box office. The Iron Giant would have to wait until the next millennium to achieve its cult status as a modern animated classic. Here are 10 facts worth knowing about the beloved cartoon.

1. IT’S BASED ON A TED HUGHES NOVEL.

Nine-year-old Hogarth Hughes—and his mother, Annie Hughes—both share a name with the British Poet Laureate who wrote the children’s book the film is based on. Published in 1968, Ted Hughes penned The Iron Man to comfort his children after the suicide of his wife, Sylvia Plath. 

The novel tells the story of a mysterious metal monster who befriends a young boy and becomes the world’s most unlikely hero, but its similarities to the film end there. When Hogarth first encounters the Iron Man in the book, he tricks him by leading him to a covered pit and burying him alive. The robot remains buried for months, eventually digging himself out in time to save the planet from an extraterrestrial invader dubbed the "Space-Bat-Angel-Dragon." The alien later reveals that it had been drawn to the planet by the warfare it witnessed there. The Iron Giant’s anti-war sentiments are slightly more straightforward, with the Giant (spoiler) protecting the world from a nuclear bomb instead of an interstellar dragon.

2. THE SCRIPT RECEIVED PRAISE FROM THE AUTHOR.

Sadly, Hughes passed away a year before the movie was released. He did, however, live long enough to read the script. Despite its departure from the source material, Hughes was impressed. He expressed his approval in a letter to the studio: "I want to tell you how much I like what Brad Bird has done … He’s made a terrific dramatic situation out of the way he’s developed The Iron Giant. I can’t stop thinking about it."

3. IT WAS ORIGINALLY MEANT TO BE A PETE TOWNSHEND MUSICAL.

Before The Iron Man was reimagined as an animated children’s film, it was adapted by The Who guitarist Pete Townshend into a solo concept album of the same name. The 1989 rock opera feature such tracks as "Man Machines," "A Friend Is A Friend," and "I Eat Heavy Metal." In the early '90s, Townshend relaunched his musical concept as an onstage production. This attracted the attention of Warner Bros., and the studio secured the rights with the intention of turning it into an animated musical. 

But Townshend’s rock opera vision never did make it onto the big screen. After Bird signed on to direct, he scrapped the musical numbers and reworked the script, further removing the story from both the rock album and the children’s book it was based on. Townshend remained credited as an executive producer, and after seeing the movie he reportedly commented, "Well, whatever, I got paid."

4. IT WAS BRAD BIRD’S FIRST FEATURE.

As the director of two beloved Pixar films, The Incredibles (2004) and Ratatouille (2007), Bird—a two-time Oscar winner—is considered one of the most respected figures in the animation biz. But it was The Iron Giant that proved his directing chops and instinct for story to John Lasseter and the rest of the Pixar team. 

Before directing his first feature for Warner Bros. animation, Bird got his start at Disney. He sent an animated short to the studio and Disney legend Milt Kahl was so impressed that he took on a teenaged Bird as his protégé. His first animation job was working on The Fox and the Hound (1981), and a few years later he was offered his first shot at writing and directing for the Steven Spielberg series Amazing Stories. Bird really began to receive recognition in the industry after joining The Simpsons. He directed the classic episode “Krusty Gets Busted," which paved the way for him to direct his first feature. For a while that was shaping up to be Ray Gunn, a retro-futuristic film noir inspired by a misunderstanding of a B-52s lyric. He was developing the script for Turner when the studio merged with Warner Bros., and they transferred him to work on an in-development project called The Iron Giant instead.

5. THE TITLE CHARACTER WAS COMPUTER GENERATED.

Despite being considered one of America’s last great traditionally animated films, The Iron Giant’s title character was created entirely with a computer. The creators took careful steps to make sure the Giant blended in seamlessly with the hand-drawn world. They even went so far as to develop a computer program to make the character’s lines wobble slightly, producing a crude, hand-drawn effect. 

6. IT FEATURES A PRE-FAST AND FURIOUS VIN DIESEL.

Before making a name for himself as an action star, Vin Diesel provided his voice to the towering robot in The Iron Giant. Not counting groans and grunts, the Giant utters a grand total of 53 words in the entire film. When Diesel returned to feature voice acting 15 years later for Guardians of the Galaxy, he played Groot, a character whose vocabulary is even more severely limited. 

7. THE DESIGN WAS INSPIRED BY THE ART OF NORMAN ROCKWELL.

The Iron Giant takes place in an idyllic Maine town in the 1950s—a perfect contrast to the themes of McCarthy-era paranoia the film explores. To give the setting more of a wholesome, Americana look, the creators drew inspiration from the art of Edward Hopper, N.C. Wyeth, and Norman Rockwell. Even the fictional town’s name—Rockwell—is a nod to the iconic American artist. 

8. BRAD BIRD REJECTED THE COMPARISONS TO E.T.

It’s easy to see how a movie about a misunderstood boy who befriends a visitor from outer space, hides him from the government, then says a tearful goodbye following a climactic aerial chase scene would draw comparisons to E.T. CNN’s review mentions the "charming E.T.-like friendship between the boy and the intimidating but apparently benign metal giant," while Roger Ebert said, "Imagine E.T. as a towering metal man, and you have some of the appeal of The Iron Giant." While these comments aren’t exactly negative, Bird apparently didn’t find the comparisons too flattering. He told Salon, "E.T. doesn't go kicking ass. He doesn't make the Army pay. Certainly you risk having your hip credentials taken away if you want to evoke anything sad or genuinely heartfelt."

9. IT INCLUDES CAMEOS FROM TWO DISNEY ANIMATORS.

Though the film was produced by Disney’s historic rival Warner Bros., Bird managed to slip in cameos from two of the studio’s greatest animators. The train workers Kent interviews at the train crash scene are voiced by and modeled after Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, two of Bird’s mentors during his early years at Disney. They also make an appearance at the end of The Incredibles.

10. IT GAINED A CULT FOLLOWING AFTER IT LEFT THEATERS. 

By the time Warner Bros. realized they had something special on their hands with The Iron Giant, it already was too late. The film was criminally under-marketed and performed poorly at the box office as a result. The studio had learned its lesson when it came time to promote the movie’s home video release. They partnered with big-name brands like General Motors, Honey Nut Cheerios, and AOL, and even distributed $2 off coupons at screenings of Pokémon: The First Movie. Then in 2000, the rights to the film were sold to Cartoon Network and TNT. Cartoon Network started airing Iron Giant marathons on Independence Day and Thanksgiving, and as more children (and adults) were introduced to the film it eventually gained a devoted fanbase.

21 Things You Didn't Know About The Nightmare Before Christmas

Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures

Christmas is a time for donning festive garb, singing holiday songs, festooning your home in decorations, and giving thoughtful gifts. Of course, all those tasks turn out a bit more twisted when assigned to the denizens of Halloween Town. The Nightmare Before Christmas, which arrived in theaters 25 years ago, mixes light and dark with jolly and macabre with great success. Even if this Halloween/Christmas movie mash-up movie is part of your regular holiday tradition, we'd roll Oogie Boogie's dice that you don't know all of these secrets from behind the scenes.

1. TIM BURTON DID NOT DIRECT THE MOVIE.

It is a common misconception spurred by the film's alternate title: Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas. Burton was busy with Batman Returns and handed this hefty responsibility to his old Disney Animation colleague Henry Selick, who made his feature directorial debut here. Burton's name goes above the title for serving as producer, creating the story, and coming up with the look and the characters for The Nightmare Before Christmas. It probably doesn't hurt that his name was much bigger than Selick's at the time, thanks to the success of Pee-wee's Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, and Batman.

2. JACK SKELLINGTON RESURFACED IN HENRY SELICK'S LATER FILMS.

1996 saw the release of Selick's follow-up, a stop-motion/live-action adaptation of Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach. It also saw the resurrection of The Nightmare Before Christmas's bare bones protagonist, who appears in one spooky scene as a skeletal pirate captain. He's much harder to spot in Selick's 2009 translation of Neil Gaiman's Coraline, but if you look closely as the Other Mother makes breakfast, you'll see Jack's smiling skull hidden in the yolk of a cracked egg.

3. THE PLOT WAS INSPIRED BY THE RECURRING COLLISION OF HOLIDAY STORE DECORATIONS.

In the film's DVD commentary, Burton explains that his childhood in ever-sunny Burbank, California was not marked by seasonal changes, so holiday decorations were an especially important factor in the year's progression. When it came to fall and winter, there was a melding of Halloween and Christmas in stores eager to make the most of both shopping seasons. This, he claimed, planted the seed for his tale of the king of Halloween intruding on Christmas.

4. A BURTON POEM PREDATED THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS.

While Burton was working as an animator at Disney on productions like The Fox and the Hound and The Black Cauldron, he began toying with cartoon projects of his own. This eventually led to animated shorts like "Vincent," as well as the penning of a poem called "The Nightmare Before Christmas." A sort of parody of Clement Clarke Moore's "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (also known as "The Night Before Christmas"), this poem focused on Jack Skellington's inescapable ennui and featured his ghost dog Zero as well as Santa.

5. RANKIN/BASS WAS THE INSPIRATION FOR THE STOP-MOTION APPROACH.


Walt Disney Pictures

In the same DVD commentary, Burton admits the animated Christmas specials from Rankin/Bass Productions were hugely influential.

6. BURTON ORIGINALLY IMAGINED THE FILM AS A TELEVISION SPECIAL.

Like Rankin/Bass's Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer or Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town, Burton envisioned his take on Christmas could play well on television annually. This turned out to be true, but in a way he had not expected. He initially pitched the animated effort to TV studios. When that failed, he tried book publishers. No one bit until he pitched it as a full-length feature film. On the commentary track, Burton estimates that roughly 20 years passed between the project's earliest inception and its theatrical debut on October 29th, 1993.

7. RONALD SEARLE AND EDWARD GOREY WERE ALSO INFLUENTIAL.

In a behind-the-scenes video about The Nightmare Before Christmas's backbreaking creation, a narrator notes that the production design team took a page from the pen and ink drawings of these two memorable artists, aiming to create in the physical set designs the kinds of cross-hatching and textures found within their works. Selick explains that they'd smear sets in plaster or clay, then scratch lines into this material "to give it that sort of etched texture or feel to make it look like a living illustration."

8. SHOOTING BEGAN BEFORE THE SCRIPT WAS COMPLETED.

Stop-motion demands a great deal of time, so when Danny Elfman had mastered most of the film's songs, Selick plus a team of 13 specially trained animators and an army of prop makers, set builders, and camera operators got to work without a final screenplay. Animators began by crafting Jack's big moment of discovery with "What's This?" Shooting 24 frames per second meant the animators had to create unique motions for 110,000 frames total. One minute of the movie took about a week to shoot, and The Nightmare Before Christmas took 3 years to complete.

9. SELICK IS RESPONSIBLE FOR JACK'S SIGNATURE SUIT.

In Burton's original sketches, Jack was dressed all in black. It is revealed in the film's commentary track that it was director Selick who gave Jack a marvelous makeover that added white stripes to his slim-fit suit. More than a smart sartorial choice, the addition of the pinstripes was needed to help Jack pop. In early camera tests, it became a major concern when Jack's flat black suit blended in to the dark backdrops of Halloween Town.

10. DISNEY FOUGHT FOR JACK TO HAVE EYES.

Because of the dark and deeply weird nature of Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas, Walt Disney Studios decided it was too off-brand to be released under their banner. So the film was made through their branch Touchstone Pictures. But this didn't keep Disney from dropping some serious studio notes, including the insistence that Jack Skellington's empty sockets be filled with a pair of friendly eyes. A common guideline in animation and puppet-creation is that eyes are crucial to having an audience connect to a character, but Selick and Burton wouldn't budge, and ultimately proved their anti-hero didn't need oculars to connect.

11. THE MOST DIFFICULT SHOT WAS OPENING A DOOR.


Walt Disney Pictures

Because of the filmmakers' dedication to be as true to shooting like live-action as possible, one Nightmare Before Christmas shot proved especially challenging. When Jack discovers the part of the forest with pathways to other holiday worlds, he looks longingly at the Christmas tree door. A close-up of its shiny golden knob reflects this mournful skeleton as well as the trees behind him as he advances to open it. Getting the reflection just right took a great deal of time, care, and attention.

12. VINCENT PRICE WAS NEARLY NIGHTMARE'S SANTA.

Burton had previously worked with the renowned horror icon on Edward Scissorhands and "Vincent." From there, Price had agreed to give voice to the plump and flustered Santa who is kidnapped by treacherous trick 'r treaters Lock, Shock, and Barrel. However, this plan was derailed when Price's wife Coral Browne passed in 1991. Selick explained in the commentary track that the actor was so grief-stricken that the director felt he sounded too sad for Santa. Edward Ivory was then brought in to replace him.

13. PATRICK STEWART WAS CUT FROM THE FILM.

Early on, The Nightmare Before Christmas planned to rely heavily on its poetic inspiration. As such, Star Trek: The Next Generation star Patrick Stewart was called in to read poetry that was intended for the film's opening and closing narration. The lengthy monologues were eventually pared down to a few lines, and those were reassigned to the film's Santa, Edward Ivory. However, Stewart's version can be found in full on the film's soundtrack.

14. TIM BURTON WAS SUPPOSED TO HAVE A CAMEO.

Unearthed in cut footage is an alternate version of the vampires playing hockey. In the theatrical and all subsequent releases, the ice-skating vampires swat a jack-o-lantern. However, the original version of this scene had them batting about a recognizable decapitated head. With its ghostly pallor, black spiky hair, angular shape, and deep bags under its eyes, the creepy creation is clearly Burton. But this seems to have been deemed too grisly for a kids' movie.

15. THERE ARE SOME HIDDEN MICKEYS.


Walt Disney Pictures

Since the film became a success, Disney has become less shy about their association with Nightmare Before Christmas. But the commentary track reveals that, despite their reluctance, Disney allowed Selick and Burton to include a hidden Mickey in the form of a menacing toy. In the scene where Jack's Christmas gifts attack, there's a flying stuffed animal with a sharp-toothed grin that's meant to be the Burton version of Mickey Mouse. Also, the girl it attacks is wearing a Mickey print nightgown, while her brother's pajamas are covered in Donald Duck faces.

16. THERE'S A HIDDEN ED WOOD REFERENCE.

While The Nightmare Before Christmas was in production, Burton not only completed Batman Returns but also dug into pre-production on Ed Wood, a biopic about the notoriously untalented filmmaker. A nod to Wood's works is found tucked into the fearsome folk of Halloween Town—the burly, bald Behemoth is a sweet-natured brute who bears a striking resemblance—down to the scars on his face—to Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson as seen in Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space.

17. THERE'S A HIDDEN DANNY ELFMAN CAMEO.

The former Oingo Boingo front man began collaborating with Burton back in the early 1980s when he composed the score for Burton's feature directorial debut, Pee-wee's Big Adventure. The pair reteamed for Beetlejuice, Batman and Edward Scissorhands before Elfman was called to write the music and lyrics for The Nightmare Before Christmas. He also lent his singing voice to Jack Skellington, and for all this he gets the dubious distinction of a cameo as the redheaded corpse tucked away in the upright bass of the ghastly Halloween Town band.

18. BURTON CALLED ON OTHER PAST COLLABORATORS TO BE HEARD.

Aside from Jack's singing voice, Elfman also lent his pipes to mischievous Barrel as well as the menacing clown with the tear-away face. Filling out the trio of trick 'r treaters was Pee-Wee's Big Adventure star Paul Reubens as Lock, and Beetlejuice's Catherine O'Hara as Shock. O'Hara also voiced the stitched up and besotted Sally, while her former co-star Glenn Shadix played the two-faced mayor of Halloween Town.

19. DELETED SCENES INCLUDED BEHEMOTH'S SOLO AND AN ALTERNATE OOGIE BOOGIE REVEAL.

On the DVD, storyboard presentations reveal deleted scenes that never made it to production. One of these has Behemoth belting beautifully about "pretty" presents during "Making Christmas." Another shows an abandoned concept of Oogie Boogie boogeying with the bugs that fill his stitched up form, and a third clip displays a very different finale. Instead of Boogie being torn up and reduced to bugs, he's unmasked to be evil scientist Dr. Finkelstein in disguise! In this version, his whole scheme was revenge-fueled because Sally loved Jack, even though Finkelstein made her to be his mate.

20. THE SET WAS BUILT WITH SECRET PASSAGES FOR ANIMATORS.

Reminiscent of the cut-out pathways used by Muppeteers, the animators behind and beneath The Nightmare Before Christmas had special trapdoors cut into the 19 sound stages worth of 230 model sets so they could more easily reach in and manipulate their peculiar puppets. From these vantage points, they can move the armatures hidden within the creatures or swap their faces out for one of hundreds made to allow for a wide range of emotion. Jack Skellington alone had more than 400 heads.

21. BURTON REJECTED A CGI SEQUEL.

Though Disney has found success pumping out straight-to-DVD sequels of their animated hits, Burton has no interest in making The Nightmare Before Christmas 2. He told MTV, “I was always very protective of [Nightmare Before Christmas], not to do sequels or things of that kind. You know, ‘Jack visits Thanksgiving world’ or other kinds of things, just because I felt the movie had a purity to it and the people that like it. Because it’s not a mass-market kind of thing, it was important to kind of keep that purity of it. I try to respect people and keep the purity of the project as much as possible.”

Star Wars: Episode IX Leak Claims Rey Will Have a 'Family Reunion'

Lucasfilm Ltd.
Lucasfilm Ltd.

Fans have been itching to find out everything possible about ​Star Wars: Episode IX, and a recent alleged leak suggests that in the final installment of the Skywalker saga, Daisy Ridley's Rey will have a (biological) family reunion.

A quick recap: In Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Rey experienced a major revelation about her parents, though it wasn't really relevant to the rest of the film. However, ​according to We Got This Covered, The Daily Express claims to have learned about a scene being filmed for Episode IX involving a young boy who believed to be either Rey's son or brother.

The Express reports:

"A description dubbed ‘Family Reunion’ has Rey in a black vest white tunic and grey pants. Next to her is a young adult male that has a striking resemblance to Rey. He has longish brown hair similar to Obi-Wan’s from Attack of the Clones ... He wears a beige robe with brown gloves. The pants are coloured white with a black belt and dark brown cape. Rey’s hand rests on his shoulder.

"Behind then is an older man with a ponytail and to the left of Rey is a woman with dirty blonde hair and a white outfit. In front of them all is a young boy with black hair. They all stand on a cliff with a sunset background."

We recommend taking this alleged leak with a grain of salt, because we don't know whether there's any real truth behind it or not. One thing is for sure, though: we'll learn all of the secrets of ​Star Wars: Episode IX when it premieres in December 2019.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER