Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Giant's Dream [dir. Anthony Giacchino]

What if a gun had a soul and didn’t want to be a gun?

It's rare that making of's or special features content for movies feature anything truly insightful, but The Giant's Dream, an approximately hour-long documentary included on Warner's blu-ray of Brad Bird's underappreciated animation classic The Iron Giant is wonderful in its own right. It starts off with charting Brad's life right from when he was a prodigy kid keenly interested in animation who got invited to visit Disney's animation studio after they saw a rough demo reel of his version of The Tortoise and the Hare and was enrolled into arts school on an animation scholarship. It covers his discontented early stint at Disney where he was constantly at loggerheads with the play-safe management to the point of quitting his childhood dream workplace (Later he was invited by Pixar's John Lassetter and went on to do The Incredibles).

Biding his time with TV's The Simpsons and other projects Brad got his next shot at feature animation, ironically after the success of 90's Disney animated ventures, which goaded other studios like Warner to get into the game. Eschewing the trend of child-oriented musicals, Brad concocted (apparently without consulting his team) the tale of the bond between a kid and a hulking robot with massive capacity for destruction. Somewhere behind his take on Ted Hughes' source story was the death of his sister killed in a gun violence incident by her husband.

The Iron Giant had only a fraction of the budget and prep time awarded to the typical Disney feature and the team included a lot of novices or retired animators, since the cream of the crop headed to Disney. The docu looks frankly at the often troubled production, with tight resource crunch and disinterest from the studio (they wanted to get out of the animation business after the failure of their previous venture Quest for Camelot) leading to protracted conflict between Brad and his producer Allison Abbate (who says diffidently in the docu that she would not want to work with him again). While the project was allowed to be completed (in one way the disinterest was a boon as there was no interference as well), Warner had neglected laying out any significant advance publicity for the film, none of the tie-ups and merchandising that garner the public's attention. So while the film did well with critics, it was a commercial bomb, which only later gained second wind as an undermined classic.

The documentary charts all this history superbly with tons of archival video and the use of still and semi-animated illustrations in Brad Bird's style depicting the significant events related to his life and the making of the film. What could have been just a series of talking head interviews is put forth in a terrific visual language that pays tribute to its subject's creativity.

The Iron Giant is a true American classic of animation and The Giant's Dream is an incisive and emotional journey into its creation.

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