10 Facts About The Iron Giant for Its 20th Anniversary

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

When Brad Bird's feature directorial debut arrived in 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. The Iron Giant is 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 alert*) protecting the world from a nuclear bomb instead of an interstellar dragon.

2. Hughes praised The Iron Giant's screenplay.

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. The Iron Giant 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 1990s, 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 upon which it was based. Townshend remained credited as an executive producer, and after seeing the movie he reportedly commented, "Well, whatever, I got paid."

4. The Iron Giant marked Brad Bird's feature directorial debut.

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 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 Iron Giant's 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. The Iron Giant 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 Iron Giant's design was inspired by the art of Normal 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 Steven Spielberg's 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. The Iron Giant 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. The Iron Giant 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 fan base.

Mifflin Madness: Who Is the Greatest Character on The Office? It's Time to Vote

Steve Carell, as Michael Scott, hands out a well-deserved Dundie Award on The Office.
Steve Carell, as Michael Scott, hands out a well-deserved Dundie Award on The Office.
NBC

Your years of watching (and re-watching) The Office, which just celebrated its 15th anniversary, have all led up to this moment. Welcome to Mifflin Madness—Mental Floss's cutthroat competition to determine The Office's greatest character. Is Michael Scott the boss you most love to hate? Or did Kevin Malone suck you in with his giant pot of chili?

You have 24 hours to cast your vote for each round on Twitter before the bracket is updated and half of the chosen characters are eliminated.

The full bracket is below, followed by the round one and round two winners. You can cast your round three vote(s) here. Be sure to check back on Monday at 4 p.m. ET to see if your favorite Dunder Mifflin employee has advanced to the next round. 

Round One


Round Two


Round Three


The Office Planned to Break Up Jim and Pam in the Final Season—Then (Smartly) Thought Better of It

Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski star in The Office.
Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski star in The Office.
NBCUniversal Media, LLC

Jim Halpert and Pam Beesly's relationship in The Office was truly a romance for the ages. Fans were delighted when, in Season 3—after years of flirting—John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer’s characters finally got together. But an alternative plan for the show’s ninth and final season saw the couple going their separate ways.

Season 9 saw one of the most stressful storylines the show had to offer when Jim took a job in Philadelphia and Pam struggled to take care of their children on her own back in Scranton, putting intense strain on their otherwise seemingly perfect relationship. In one unforgettable scene, a particularly tense phone call between the couple ends with Pam in tears. Fischer’s character then turns to someone off camera named Brian for advice.

As Collider reports, Pam and Jim's relationship could have taken a turn for worse in the final season—and the writers had planned it that way. As recounted in Andy Greene's new book, The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s, series creator Greg Daniels sat down with each of the show's stars before starting the final season to discuss where their characters would go. John Krasinski, who played Jim, pitched the idea of putting Jim and Pam’s relationship on thin ice. According to Krasinski:

"My whole pitch to Greg was that we’ve done so much with Jim and Pam, and now, after marriage and kids, there was a bit of a lull there, I think, for them about what they wanted to do … And I said to Greg, ‘It would be really interesting to see how that split will affect two people that you know so well.'"

Several writers weighed in with ideas about how they might handle a split between Jim and Pam from a narrative standpoint—though not everyone was on the same page.

Warren Lieberstein, a writer on the series, remembered when the idea of bringing Brian—the documentary crew's boom operator—into the mix. “[This] was something that came up in Season 5, I think," Lieberstein said. "What if that character had been secretly there the entire time and predated the relationship with Jim and had been a shoulder that she cried on for years?’ It just seemed very intriguing." Apparently, the writers thought breaking the fourth wall would jeopardize the show, so they saved it for the last season.

Writer Owen Ellickson said there was even some talk of Pam and Brian “maybe hooking up a little bit," but the negative response to the storyline led the writers to "pull the ripcord on [Pam and Jim's separation] because it was so painful to fans of the show." Ellickson said that they backtracked so quickly, they even had to re-edit certain episodes that had already been shot to nix the idea of Jim and Pam splitting up. Which is something the show's millions of fans will be forever grateful for.

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