‘The Iron Giant,’ Based on the Book That Inspired Pete Townshend’s Musical, Returns to Theaters
More than 15 years after a disappointing box-office run seemed likely to doom it to obscurity, The Iron Giant is returning to theaters for a special theatrical engagement.
An early animated effort from director Brad Bird -- whose future credits would include The Incredibles, Ratatouille and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol -- The Iron Giant was inspired by Ted Hughes' classic novel, which arrived in U.K. bookstores in 1968 as The Iron Man. Hughes, searching for a way to comfort his children after the death of their mother, poet Sylvia Plath, penned a simple yet moving tale about the unlikely friendship between a boy and a hulking robot -- a story that resonated deeply with Pete Townshend.
As further outlined in Ultimate Classic Rock's anniversary piece on the album, Townshend met Hughes while working as an editor for the publishing house Faber and Faber during the '80s. Inspired by the book all over again, he was seized with the idea of turning it into a rock musical; as he later wrote, "Ted’s book connected with me at many levels. It was a post-war book, attending to the futility of the nuclear age: when a single bomb can wipe out an entire country. ... By putting a young boy at the center of his tale, I was always working with the system I knew best: The problems of growing into manhood at such a time."
Released in 1989 as The Iron Man: The Musical by Pete Townshend, the album incorporated appearances by a wide variety of guest musicians, including Townshend's Who bandmates, renowned vocalist-pianist Nina Simone and blues legend John Lee Hooker, who played the Iron Man. Despite its star-studded liner notes, the record languished on the charts, partly because Townshend — who spent a fair portion of the year on a reunion tour with the Who — wasn't really able to promote it.
The idea lingered, however, and in the early '90s, Townshend mounted a stage production, which in turn led to Warner Bros. developing a film version that — while deviating from the book and bearing an even more tenuous connection to the musical — included Townshend as a producer. Featuring a voice cast that included Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick, Jr. and Vin Diesel as the title character, The Iron Giant debuted in theaters on Aug. 6, 1999.
Though box office receipts fell short of expectations, the film acquired a cult following on home video, where it's flourished into an acknowledged animated classic over the ensuing years — and in advance of a long-awaited Blu-ray release, Warners is sending a remastered version of the film, complete with new scenes, back to the big screen for a special limited engagement this month. Check out the trailer above, and visit the Fathom Events website to determine when and where it's playing at a theater near you.
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