Brad Bird. Either you're like me, and you know him from his work on The Simpsons (back when The Simpsons was good), or you're like most other people, and you know him from his work with Pixar. Which is generally pretty excellent, by the way (see for instance: The Incredibles). Yet there was a period of time when Bird wasn't working on The Simpsons, and he wasn't part of Pixar. Quite a large period of time, actually. And this is when he directed The Iron Giant, which I just watched for the first time last night, and which is now one of my favorite kids movies of all time.
When I was trying to figure out why I hadn't seen it already, I realized that when the film came out (1999), I was 15 years old. Actually, to be more precise, it came out on my 15th birthday. Unfortunately for me, Past-Keith was a surly bastard of a 15 year old, and was far too busy acting cool and watching A Clockwork Orange and Akira over and over again to take 90 minutes out of his life to enjoy a really excellent kids film. Past-Keith can be such a cunt sometimes.
In any case, The Iron Giant takes place in Maine in 1957. Cold war style. The main character is a 9 year old boy named Hogarth Hughes (best name ever?) who finds a giant robot and proceeds to (more or less) make it his pet. In terms of narrative, the film won't really shock, or even surprise. It's your basic "kid meets robot, kid loves robot, kid teaches robot significance of life, kid loses robot" kind of story, which we're all familiar with at this point. (My favorite example of this is of course Terminator 2. There's no way you will ever beat Terminator 2, Iron Giant, but I still love you.)
But the writing is sharp, the characters are solid, the animation is gorgeous, and dammit... it's just a fun movie to watch. Really took me by surprise. Shit, even the voice acting is decent. Jennifer Aniston doesn't embarrass as Hogarth's mom, Harry Connick Jr. is a passable beatnik, Chritopher McDonald is as slimy as can be as the vile antagonistic government agent. (Even though I swore he was actually Hank Azaria the entire time I was watching the movie.) Oh yeah, and a pre-Pitch Black/post-Private Ryan Vin Diesel plays the voice of the robot, which is kind of a hoot. (Don't worry, he doesn't really "talk" as such. And when he does it's electronically manipulated.)
I tried to hunt down some decent clips on YouTube to help convince any skeptics of the movie's worth, but all I could find were terrible Iron Giant themed music videos. I guess that shouldn't surprise me. I don't think there's a decent piece of animation in this world that hasn't been set to Korn at some point. This is a phenomenon we all just have to learn to accept, I guess, and we can move on with our lives. So don't search YouTube. And if you do (but you shouldn't), don't let the wreckage you find there ruin the movie for you.
Also, just as a warning: I'm a little biased toward movies about kids who have their own robots, so keep that in mind. The reason being of course that robots are completely fucking awesome, and even as a jaded 20-something I would still love nothing more than to gallop around on my own clanking subservient killing machine. I can hardly be blamed for that.