But, as Bruce Fretts bemoans, the cartoon's box office take was tragically tiny

”The Iron Giant” wins over kids and adults alike

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m no animation fan. I can intellectually appreciate the artistry of a Disney flick like ”The Lion King” or the clever pop-culture references of a TV ‘toon like ”The Simpsons.” But I have long thought that I was born without the gene that would allow me to be emotionally drawn in by drawings.

That is, until I saw ”The Iron Giant.” Based on poet Ted Hughes’ book, this funny, wise gem tells the instantly timeless tale of Hogarth Hughes, a 1957 Maine boy who befriends a towering robot and protects him from the trigger-happy military-industrial complex.

The movie works on many levels. At my local theater, the wee ones giggled at a gag in which a squirrel gets loose in a guy’s pants (is that a rodent in your pocket or are you just happy to see us?) while their boomer parents chuckled nostalgically at the Cold War paranoia (Hogarth’s class screens a ”Duck and Cover” film about how to survive a nuclear holocaust).

Director Brad Bird’s visuals are intoxicatingly lush, and his voice cast adds deep, rich colors. As Hogarth’s weary waitress single mom, Jennifer Aniston seems more three-dimensional than Christina Applegate does in a similar, live-action role on the NBC sitcom ”Jesse.” Harry Connick Jr. nicely underplays the jazzbo junk sculptor who helps Hogarth hide the Big Guy. And the aptly monikered Vin Diesel (a ”Saving Private Ryan” vet) provides just the right endearingly guttural grunts as the robot.

Sadly, ”The Iron Giant” had a minuscule opening weekend, grossing only $5.7 million for a ninth-place finish. Without a tune-packed soundtrack or a Happy Meal tie-in, Warner Bros.’ latest animated film couldn’t measure up to Disney’s ”Tarzan”-size dollars.

Yet the movie scored an A with Cinemascore audiences, so perhaps word of mouth will keep it afloat in the crowded cinematic seas. It would be a gigantic shame if the clanking mechanical spider of the monstrous ”Wild Wild West” crushed the lovable ”Iron Giant” in the summer box office roundup.

The Iron Giant
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