In 1999, something extraordinary happened when a studio took a chance on an original animated movie helmed by a first-time director. Though the The Iron Giant flopped at the box office, it went on to find an appreciative audience as it hit home entertainment and television reruns. And director Brad Bird went on to win commercial success and acclaim with The Incredibles and Ratatouille. But a viral tweet has drawn attention to this amazing and boldly political kids movie’s tragic origin.
I don't know how I can work today knowing that Brad Bird pitched his Iron Giant story because his sister was killed by gun violence and he wanted to tell a story about a gun that didn't want to be one.— Mark Oliver Stack, Jr. (@MarkOStack) May 14, 2018
Stack was sharing his reaction to the latest episode of Blank Check with Griffin and David, a movie review podcast in which the pair discuss auteurs’ passion projects. But it was the 2016 documentary The Giant’s Dream: The Making Of The Iron Giant that first revealed how Bird’s family tragedy inspired this tender-hearted movie with a clear anti-gun message.
In The Giant’s Dream, Bird shares, “My sister Susan, who I love very much and was very close to, died of gun violence. Pointlessly, she was killed by her husband. I was devastated. When you shoot somebody, you’re not just killing that person. You’re killing a part of all the people that love that person.”
His grief swallowed Bird for a time. He focused on his work as a consultant on The Simpsons, but remembers little else about this mournful era. As animation boomed in the ’90s, Bird had a shot to pitch a dream project to Warner Bros. He did not throw away his shot. He went in with a simple but challenging pitch: “What if a gun had a soul and didn’t want to be a gun?”
And so The Iron Giant was born.