With the summer movie season approaching, the big movies that people will be talking about the most will be the superhero ones. Next week brings the beginning of Marvel’s Phase Two with Iron Man 3. Next month brings Man of Steel, a new interpretation of the Superman myth. July brings The Wolverine, the latest X-Men-related film featuring a returning Hugh Jackman in a Japanese setting this time around. Then in August there’s Kick-Ass 2, a sequel to 2010’s sleeper hit Kick-Ass, both adapted from the graphic novels by Mark Miller. For this installment of Animation Corner, I’ll be looking at two theatrically-released animated superhero films, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (now celebrating its 20th anniversary) and The Iron Giant (technically not a superhero film, but its title character is told about and significantly inspired by the character of Superman).
Co-directed by Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski, 1993’s Batman: Mask of the Phantasm centers on the masked vigilante Batman, who is wrongly implicated in a number of mob boss murders committed by a new vigilante known as the Phantasm. Featuring the voices of Kevin Conroy, Dana Delany, Mark Hamill, Hart Bochner, Stacy Keach, Abe Vigoda, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Dick Miller, and Bob Hastings, this critically acclaimed film was given a Christmas release but due to poor marketing it only grossed $5.6 million domestically on a $6 million budget (various home video releases have made the film a financial success). The film was originally intended as a straight-to-video release, but Warner Bros. decided to give it a theatrical release, which gave the filmmakers a shorter schedule to finish the film. Based on the D.C. Comics character, as well as TV’s Batman: The Animated Series (with some inspiration from the graphic novels Batman: Year One and Batman Year Two), the film deals with the themes of love and loss, which play a significant role in leading Bruce Wayne to becoming Batman in one of the film’s flashbacks. Shirley Walker, who had composed music for the TV series, was brought aboard and wrote an excellent score. Among the film’s accolades is an Annie Award nod for Best Animated Film.
Directed by Brad Bird, 1999’s The Iron Giant centers on a lonely boy who, in Cold War-era 1957 Maine, discovers an iron giant who fell from space and, with the help of his friend Dean, tries to stop the U.S. military and a federal agent from finding and destroying the giant. Featuring the voices of Eli Marienthal, Vin Diesel, Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr., Christopher McDonald, John Mahoney, M. Emmett Walsh, James Gammon, and Cloris Leachman, this critically acclaimed film cost $48 million but only grossed $23 million domestically due to poor marketing by Warner Bros. The film, which was based on the novel The Iron Man by Ted Hughes, was made after the failure of 1998’s Quest For Camelot. The failure of that film led to a number of firings, which resulted in a reduced budget and time-frame for The Iron Giant and no executive being available to supervise the production (giving Bird a great amount of creative freedom). The film was made in a widescreen CinemaScope format (2.39:1), which Bird felt was appropriate due to the time period the film was set in. One of the most important aspects of the film was Michael Kamen’s terrific score. Among the film’s accolades are nine Annie Award wins (including Best Score, Best Director, and Best Animated Film), a Saturn Award nod for Best Home Video Release, a Hugo Award nod for Best Dramatic Presentation, and a BAFTA Children’s Award win for Best Feature Film.