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

Brad Bird’s pitch to Warner Brothers Studios

Brad Bird’s brilliant, touching, animated fairy tale of a boy and his found robot friend from outer space, his directorial debut, landed without much of a splash in 1999, despite (or perhaps on account of?) dealing artfully and movingly with some rather profound questions about love, loyalty, xenophobia, violence, the price of non-comformity, the permanence of death, every conscious being’s capacity for both good and evil, and an individual’s inherent right to self-determination. The huge amnesiac machine that little Hogarth Hughes stumbles across in the woods one night is in fact a terrifying extra-terrestrial weapon, programmed originally to mete out apocalyptic doses of high-tech destruction under combat conditions, but which, in its post-crash, rebooted state, no longer knows where it came from or what it really is. Child-like and innocent, the Giant learns about the world around him with the little boy as his guide, and along the way discovers what he wants to be, which is no sort of doomsday machine – having learned some painful lessons about what guns do, and what it means to kill and die, he very much prefers to be the hero, the guy who saves the day, like the Superman character in the comic books Hogarth reads. I not gun, he insists at one point, even though by design that’s exactly what he is. In the climactic scene above, having been pushed to the wall by a U.S. military that’s discovered his presence, and means to destroy him, he rejects his programming and chooses his own path.

And oh boy, when the Giant realizes what he has to do, and instructs Hogarth no following – a command he’s received himself from the child, who’s struggled all along to keep the metal monster’s existence secret – there ain’t a dry eye in the house.

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