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Brad Bird tells the backstory to 'The Iron Giant,' with a new version screening next week

Warner Bros. Pictures

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16 years after its release, it remains one of the most beloved animated features of recent decades, although it flopped at the box office. But like the title character at the end of the film, "The Iron Giant" is coming back!

Director Brad Bird, who has since won Oscars for "The Incredibles" and "Ratatouille," and directed "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol," has created an expanded version of his first feature for Blu-ray release, and Warner Bros. has scheduled special screenings across the country on Wed. Sept. 30 and Sun. Oct. 4. Check out the audio of our interview with him and animation historian Charles Solomon.

The original 1999 trailer for "The Iron Giant"

Bird told us that back in the 1990s, Warner Bros. let him look over all the  projects they had going. "The one that really struck me was Iron Giant," he said, but: "I have a very different direction I want to go with it. I said, 'What if a gun had a soul and didn't want to be a gun?' and Warner Brothers was taken by that and we were off to the races."

When it was released in 1999, "The Iron Giant" delighted critics, animators, parents, and kids with its powerful story, complex characters, and imaginative blending of drawn and computer animation. Joe Morgenstern called it “an instant classic;” Kenneth Turan praised its “refreshing spirit of bemused, non-aggressive hipness that is completely, and delightfully, its own.” Charles Solomon wrote, “Audiences haven’t had animated characters they could care this deeply about since Beauty and the Beast.”

"The Iron Giant" broke fans’ hearts when Warner Bros. botched the release, and the film failed to find the audience it deserved. Bird remembered, "When we test screened the film, and we were basically almost done by the time we finally got an opportunity to test screen it, it got the highest scores [Warner Bros.] had gotten in like 15 or 20 years. And they themselves said 'Jeez, we were not ready for this, and we have not laid the groundwork on it,'" meaning PR, merchandise deals, etc. "The math that was done at the time was that if we opened at $8m that was just enough that word of mouth would've carried us, but we opened to $5m, which was not enough," Bird said.

In retrospect, Bird says he was impatient to release the film, and pushed for a release date even though they weren't ready. But then again, who knows how long Warners would have let it languish on the shelf?

Had there been an Academy Award for Animated Feature then, "The Iron Giant" would have been the odds-on favorite — even against "Toy Story 2."

Find tickets here, and check out the new trailer:

The Iron Giant is back