This was supposed to be Stanley Kubrick's last movie. He dreamed it up probably 30 years before and sat on the idea until film technology made his vision of a population of robots of varying degrees of life-likeness possible. By the time he got to make it, he was already in ill health and asked Spielberg to finish it for him.
It's an inverted fairy tale full of deep passionate belief in transformative magic in a world that has none. While the movie explicitly follows the story line of Pinocchio, the other story it implicitly alludes to is Frankenstein. This time, the monster is played by adorable child actor Haley Joel Ozment instead of by big scary Boris Karloff. And this time, it is the mob of villagers who menaces the clumsy yet innocent monster.
Stanley Kubrick was a deeply misanthropic man, and this is one of his most misanthropic movies. All the humans in this movie are venal, frightened, self-serving, and duplicitous. Their world is coming to an end all around them because of their own greed and stupidity. The robots are all pure in heart, and actually miss their human creators after they are gone. Spielberg played up the fairy tale aspect of the movie without softening its misanthropy. What are we to make of the idea that love is something that can be programmed into a hard drive? What are we to think of a woman who wants a perpetual child who will never grow up, to love her and her alone? And yet, Spielberg gives that scene where she programs him to fall in love with her the richness of a magic spell. That we invest all our sympathy into a machine that can be programmed to love us is the meanest trick of all. And yet the spell really works. It's impossible to watch the last scene added by Spielberg with dry eyes. Our robot hero's wish finally comes true, sorta, but only for a day. The movie ends with him lying down next to his beloved "mommy" who is dying all over again in a world that is literally cold and empty.