In the nearly 25 years since the release of Brad Bird’s The Iron Giant, the film’s history has become legend. Though it’s now considered a classic, when it came out the film bombed at the box office largely because the studio releasing it, Warner Bros., didn’t quite know what it had. That narrative has changed in subsequent years, especially as Bird himself has gone on to make even more animated masterpieces like Ratatouille and The Incredibles. But, before that, it could’ve been a very different movie.
This weekend, Bird attended Beyond Fest in Los Angeles, CA to talk about The Iron Giant and revealed even more about the making of the film. Things such as actors the studio wanted in the film, huge changes he had to fight about in the story, and more. Here’s the rundown of all Bird revealed.
The Iron Giant could’ve been a musical with a different title
The Iron Giant is based on a book called The Iron Man by Ted Hughes, which was released in 1968. That book became so famous, Pete Townsend of the Who created a musical concept album based on it which then became a live stage production. That’s the version that Warner Bros. originally thought it was getting—but not with that title, for a reason that’ll become very obvious.
“They were making a decision based on Disney succeeding doing musicals of familiar stories,” Bird said. “And Pete Townsend of the Who had done a musical theater version of this in England. This story is actually very well known in England. It’s called The Iron Man. But they didn’t call it ‘The Iron Man’ here because of ‘Iron Man.’ Marvel.”
Bird also revealed that early development of the movie as a musical impacted the design of the title character. “Earlier versions, test versions that they had done when it was a musical, the Iron Giant had a tongue and kind of lips,” he said.
The Iron Giant could’ve had a much less hopeful ending
In the final film, after the Iron Giant sacrifices himself to save the town, he begins to put himself back together at the very end. But that wasn’t Bird’s first instinct.
“I like the thought that there’s something after this—but, in my first, earliest version, I didn’t have him come back at the end,” Bird said. “He made his sacrifice and that was the end. And I was like, ‘No, that’s going to be it.’ And Tim McCanlies, who’s the screenwriter who did the first draft of this story… he argued very strongly that you can’t kill E.T. And I went, ‘Oh, okay, all right.’”
The Iron Giant could’ve had even more mega-star voice talent
In 1999, having Friends star Jennifer Aniston as the voice of Hogarth’s mom, Annie, was a big deal. She was a massive name and Bird said the studio wanted more massive names as voices in the film. He liked the idea of Aniston, but he didn’t like some of the studio’s other suggestions, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger as the evil FBI guy Kent (eventually voiced by Christopher McDonald) or John Travolta as Dean, the hip local artist (eventually voiced by Harry Connick Jr.). However, it was what the studio wanted so Bird was forced to meet with and ask those people to be in his movie.
“Warner Brothers was not considered the top animation place at the time,” Bird said. “So people were kind of like, ‘I don’t want to do something for an [also-ran].’ So we went out to them and we had to wait for a ‘No’ from them, but the ‘No’ came. [They just said], like, ‘I’m not interested in doing animation.’ And then I finally got to go out to the people that day that I [wanted].”
The Iron Giant could’ve been set in a whole different era
Part of what makes The Iron Giant special is that it’s set in the 1950s—a very specific time in history when the world was especially scared of technology because of the invention of nuclear bombs. However, if Warner Bros. had its way that would’ve been changed, among several other things.
“They wanted to set it present-day and have rap music in it,” Bird said. “Hogarth skateboards and has a little sister and all this stuff. And I had to fight them one at a time.” And, luckily, he did. Even though The Iron Giant was not a hit upon its release, decisions like those have stood the test of time and made the film into a modern animated classic.
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