The Brave Little Toaster is a 1987 animated adventure film adapted from the 1980 novella by Thomas M. Disch (his first book for children; it also first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction of August 1980). It was directed by Jerry Rees and the titles were created at Walt Disney Pictures. It is set in a world where household appliances and other electronics have the ability to speak and move, but pretend to be lifeless in the presence of humans. The story focuses on five appliances ― a toaster, a desk lamp, an electric blanket, a vacuum tube antique radio, and a vacuum cleaner ― who altogether go on a quest to search for their original owner.
The film was produced by Hyperion Pictures along with Kushner-Locke Company. Many of the original members of P•I•X•A•R were involved with it, including John Lasseter and Joe Ranft. While it debuted mainstream on Disney Channel and was released theatrically on July 10, 1987, it was popular on home video and managed to garner two direct-to-video sequels a decade later (The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars and The Brave Little Toaster to the Rescue).
A toaster named "Toaster", an electric blanket named "Blanky", a goose neck lamp named "Lampy", an antique radio named "Radio", and a vacuum cleaner named "Kirby" awaken in a cottage in the woods, carrying out their daily routine of work and play. They hear a car outside and excitedly think it might be their Master who's coming back. When Blanky looks out the attic window he at first really does believe the Master is coming and has a daydream; but then he realizes that the car passed by, and is obviously not the Master's. Disappointed and weepy, he goes to get a picture of the Master and begins to cry, much to Kirby's annoyance. Kirby tries to grab it from him, causing ruckus among the gang, and eventually causing the picture frame and glass to break. The picture itself is still intact. The gang soon comes face-to-face with an Air Conditioner, who acts sarcastic and cynical, and informs them that the Master is not returning, despite their delusions that he is.
But when Toaster suspects that the Air Conditioner is acting in this manner because the Master never played with him like he did with themselves, he responds by ranting furiously and overheating, destroying himself in the process. Soon the gang hears another car approaching, but when they look out the living room window together, they discover that it is only a realtor putting up a "For Sale" sign. Now they know that the Master is gone for good. After an intervention of hopeless depression among the gang, Toaster (refusing to believe the Master would deliberately abandon them) aggressively decides that they should go to the city and find the Master. The others are initially hesitant, but then agree that together, they can succeed. After coming up with some strange methods of transportation, Toaster uses an office chair for Kirby to pull, and a car battery named the Junko to provide power for himself and the others as they travel.
That night, after journeying a while across the countryside, the gang camps in a clearing of thick brush, not before arguing amongst one another first. Blanky tries to snuggle up with someone but no one will let him do so, so he eventually goes to sleep by his lonesome self. The next day, the gang comes to a flowery meadow and a lake where they meet a bunch of animals, some of which are fascinated by their reflections in Toaster's chrome. They then put on a show when trying to capture a meager worm. Afterward, Toaster becomes so overwhelmed by the animals ogling themselves in him that he runs off into a field of tall flowers.
He loses them but soon encounters a lone yellow flower. It mistakes its reflection in Toaster as another one of its own kind, and despite his explanation that it is only a reflection, it hugs him. Alarmed and confused, he runs away from it, only later to discover it shedding a petal in sadness. He leaves, feeling guilty. Meanwhile, the animals are frolicking around the other appliances, and Toaster returns. A group of mice, at first seeming to befriend Blanky, try to pull him down into a hole, and try to eat his picture of the Master. Toaster yanks him out of the hole and retrieves the picture. Shortly afterwards the gang says goodbye to the animals and continues their journey, soon traveling into a dark forest.
When they seek to find shelter, Blanky warmly provides a tent for them. Later in the night, Toaster thanks him for letting them all camp underneath him, and he snuggles with him too. This leads Lampy to have a talk with Toaster about what warm feelings are. He is reminded of the time his bulb burned out and the Master replaced it, leaving him with a "glowing" feeling. When he and Toaster finally go to sleep, the latter dreams of his memories spent with the Master, only for them to be immediately destroyed when an evil clown attacks him with knives and water.
Toaster then falls into a bathtub of water, one of his worst fears. Just as he is electrocuted, he wakes up in fear and a dangerous violent thunderstorm wakes up the others. Blanky gets blown away by the wind up into the trees, and the gang can't see him in the darkness. Lampy tries shining his light, but his bulb goes out. He tries to reenergize himself with the Junko, but it has gone dead, leaving the gang without a power source. To recharge it, Lampy acts as a lightning rod and allows a bolt of lightning to strike him, thus recharging it. But he ends up getting seriously damaged, and his bulb breaks (much to the horror of Toaster, Radio, and Kirby).
The next day, the gang continues to search for Blanky. They find him up in a tall tree nearby. Kirby devises a plan and rescues him, but not without explaining that he only did it so everyone could keep moving. As they continue their journey, they come across a waterfall in their path. Kirby loses his nerve at the sight of it, but the others calm him down using "carpet-sweeping therapy". He refuses to admit he needed help, however, and instead of offering his thanks he offers insults. When the gang tries to cross the waterfall's gorge by having Kirby swing the others and the office chair on his cord, Toaster fails to hold up its far end after experiencing vertigo, and he lets everyone fall.
They all fall off the cord, and Kirby looks down in shock. All alone, he eventually musters up the courage to jump in after them. One by one, he saves them all. When he brings them ashore, Toaster walks away sadly because he thinks it's his fault for getting them lost. He stares at his reflection in a pond and splashes it away. He comes back to help pull Kirby along after losing the office chair and the Junko. But as they struggle, Kirby bumps into a root, falls into a mud hole, and starts to sink. He goes under, as do Toaster, Blanky, and Lampy. Just before Radio is about to do so, he plays a song as an S.O.S. signal to call for help. A man named Elmo St. Peters hears it, pulls the gang out, and throws them in the back of his big, red Monster Truck. He drives them out of the swamp and takes them to his Parts Shop, where they glimpse the gutted parts of all kinds of appliances before being dropped off in the back room.
Once there, they meet a hanging lamp who gives Lampy a new light bulb to replace his burned out one, after he pretends to agree to Radio and tell him that Elmo is quite an amusing fellow and he tells Lampy to use his light bulb in good health, (while he still can). Later, the gang watches in horror as Elmo takes a blender apart and sells its motor to a man named Zeke. When the Hanging Lamp pretends to tell the gang that they never quite know what Elmo is going to do (and that he is so spontaneous), they desperately want to know how to escape, but until they are able to do so, they remain in the shop forever. Just as the worn-out appliances are about to haunt Toaster, a ding from a bell from Zeke returning makes them go back to their places, leaving the gang behind. Elmo comes back and tries to take Radio apart to sell his tubes to Zeke, after he requested for them. Using one of Lampy's sudden ideas, the gang manages to scare Elmo and knock him out cold. As they get Radio back, a blowhorn calls out a jailbreak as another refrigerator breaks down the door, tosses aside Elmo's dog, Quadruped, and escapes the shop with the other worn-out appliances. Quadruped quickly climbs up Elmo's Monster Truck and drives away, as the worn-out appliances gleefully return to their masters' home. Eventually, Elmo wakes up and finds his shop a mess, as Zeke peeks into the back room, telling him that he was just wondering if he got the radio tubes. Now the gang is riding their way to the city in a baby carriage they obtained in the shop. They see a skyline of twinkling lights at night, and ride toward it.
Meanwhile, Rob McGroarty, the Master, is living in an apartment in the city with his mother, and is packing his things to go away to college. His girlfriend, Chris, comes by to take him to his old summer cottage and pick up the gang so he can use them in his dorm. Shortly afterwards, they arrive at the apartment, but after entering, they find that the Master is not there. So, they decide to wait for him. They also meet up with their old friend, a black and white television named "T.V.", who left the cottage long ago, possibly along with Plugsy, a purple ginger jar lamp. He and the Cutting-Edge Appliances who let them inside are jealous of the Master's choosing the gang over them. After trying to tell them what "(on the) Cutting Edge of Technology" means by singing their song, they toss them into a dumpster outside, hoping the Master will take them to his dorm instead.
At the cottage, the Master is unable to find the gang anywhere and begins to think that they have been stolen. However, he manages to repair Air Conditioner, who returns to life happily. He and Chris sadly return to the apartment; meanwhile the gang is being carted away in a garbage truck. At Ernie's Disposal, a junkyard, they are dumped off, and watch in horror as a giant magnet picks up old cars and drops them on a conveyor belt headed for a compactor that crushes them to pieces. At the apartment, the Master sees a commercial for Ernie's Disposal, advertised as "Ernie's Amazing Emporium of Total Bargain Madness", on T.V., and has Chris drive him over there.
Once there, the Master finds the picture of himself that Blanky had dropped. The gang then sees him as they are hanging from the Magnet, and they are determined to escape from it, annoying it. After a few times of running from it and just missing the Master, who eventually finds Radio, Kirby, Blanky, and Lampy. But just as he is picking them up, the Magnet picks them all up and drops them onto the conveyor belt. He screams for Chris, who can hear him but not see him. But Toaster can. Just as the compactor is about to crush the Master, Toaster jumps into its gears and manages to disable them. Later, Chris tells Rob he scared her to death, and she carries away some junkyard parts. Back at the apartment, Rob fixes Toaster, despite Chris' suggestion that to simply replace it. He puts the gang in Chris' car, and they head off to college. The gang is happy that they have completed their mission and found the Master, and they can't wait to have more adventures at his dorm.
- Deanna Oliver as Toaster, a gallant toaster and inspiring leader of the five appliances.
- Timothy E. Day as Blanky, an electric blanket with an innocent, childlike demeanor.
- Timothy Stack as Lampy, an easily-impressed yet slightly irascible goose neck desktop lamp, and Zeke, a customer wanting the blender's motor and Radio's tubes from the appliance shop.
- Jon Lovitz as Radio, a vacuum tube-based dial-meter alarm antique radio whose picked up personality parodies from loudly pretentious radio singers and announcers, including the unseen radio announcer named Walter Winchell (voiced by Jerry Rees).
- Thurl Ravenscroft as Kirby, a very low-pitched, individualistic upright Kirby vacuum cleaner who dons a cynical, cantankerous attitude towards the other appliances.
- Wayne Kaatz (Timothy E. Day, young) as Rob McGroarty ("the Master"), the original human owner of the five appliances. Rob appears as a child in flashbacks for the first half of the film, but it is revealed that he has reached late adolescence and is departing for college. He has his own car named "the Sedan".
- Phil Hartman as the sarcastic, Jack Nicholson-inspired Air Conditioner, who resides in the cottage with the gang. He loses his temper in an argument with them and explodes, and is revived by Rob near the end of the film. Hartman also voiced the Peter Lorre-inspired Hanging Lamp, a pendant lamp who lives in the parts shop, who doesn't believe in Toaster's optimism, after years of having been terrified to watch not only the mutilations, especially those of the countlessly disabled Junkshop Appliances, including the Joan Rivers-inspired Mish-mash (voiced by Judy Toll), but also the deaths, especially one from the Blender, whose motor was brought from Elmo to Zeke.
- Joe Ranft as Elmo St. Peters, one of the major antagonists of the film. He owns a parts shop, where he disassembles broken machines and sells the pieces. He has his own Monster Truck and a dog named Quadruped.
- Colette Savage as Chris ("the Mistress"), Rob's tomboyish girlfriend.
- Jim Jackman as Plugsy, a ginger jar lamp who possibly once lived in the cottage with Toaster, Radio, Lampy, Blanky, Kirby, the Air Conditioner, and T.V., but now he is ally to Mr. Tandy (voiced by Randy Bennett), a Tandy-styled computer who is the leader of the Cutting-Edge Appliances, who reside in Rob's apartment. While they were benevolent in the original novel, in the film, they are sometimes mischievous to the gang.
- Jonathan Benair as T.V., a black and white television who once lived in the cottage with Toaster, Radio, Lampy, Blanky, Kirby, the Air Conditioner, and possibly Plugsy, but now he's moved to Rob's apartment and he is an old friend of the five appliances.
- The Giant Magnet, the T.C., and the Crusher are the voiceless villains, who live at Ernie’s Disposal. They make a career of sending the worn-out Junkyard Cars to their demise. The Giant Magnet and the T.C. pursue the gang, and the Crusher attempts to eat them.
The film rights to The Brave Little Toaster, the original novel, were purchased by the Disney Studios in 1982, two years after its appearance in print. After John Lasseter and Glen Keane had finished a short 2D/3D test film based on the book Where the Wild Things Are, Lasseter and Thomas L. Wilhite decided they wanted to make a whole feature this way. The story they chose was The Brave Little Toaster, but in their enthusiasm, they ran into issues pitching the idea to two high level Disney executives, animation administrator Ed Hansen, and head of Disney studios Ron W. Miller. During Lasseter and Wilhite's pitch, the film was rejected due to the costs of having traditionally animated characters inside expensive computer-generated backgrounds. A few minutes after the meeting, Lasseter received a phone call from Hansen and was asked to come down to his office, where Lasseter was told that his job had been terminated. The development was then transferred to the new Hyperion Pictures, the creation of former Disney employees Wilhite and Willard Carroll, who took the production along with them.
With Disney backing the project, the film soon turned into an independent effort; the electronics company TDK and video distributor CBS-Fox soon joined in. In 1986, Hyperion began to work on the story and characters, with Taiwan's Wang Film Productions for the overseas unit. The cost was reduced to $2.3 million as production began. Jerry Rees, a crew member on two previous Disney films, The Fox and the Hound and Tron, and a friend of Lasseter, was chosen to direct the film, and was also a writer on the screenplay along with Joe Ranft. Rees' inspiration for voice casting came from the Groundlings improvisational group, some of whose members (Jon Lovitz, Phil Hartman, Timothy Stack, and Mindy Sterling) voiced characters in the film. Lovitz and Hartman were stars of Saturday Night Live at the time. The color stylist was veteran Disney animator Ken O'Connor, a member of Disney's feature animation department from its establishment.
Halfway through the film, Donald Kushner thought that the nightmare scene should be cut from the film, due to the clown being extremely frightening to younger children. He also stated that the junkyard scene "Worthless" should be cut from the film as well, due to the Pickup driving into the Crusher on purpose, using a suicide reference. For unknown reasons, however, both scenes remained in the film.
Release and Reception
The film premiered in 1987 at the Los Angeles International Animation Celebration. The following year, it was shown at the 1988 Sundance Film Festival, garnering a Grand Jury Prize nomination. Though the prize went to Rob Nilsson's Heat and Sunlight, before the awards ceremony, Rees was informed by several of the judges that they considered this one the best film but they could not give the award to a cartoon as they considered people wouldn't take the festival seriously afterwards. Coincidentally, Heat and Sunlight, unlike it, would be forgotten in later years.
Despite being a favorite with festival audiences, the film failed to find a distributor. Disney, who held the video and television rights, withdrew its official theatrical distribution, and elected to showcase it on their new premium cable service instead. It premiered on there on February 27, 1988. The buzz it generated at Sundance dissipated, and it only received limited theatrical airings through Hyperion, mainly at arthouse facilities across the U.S., and most notably at the Film Forum in New York City, in May 1989.
In July 1991, Disney finally released the film to home video by Walt Disney Home Video. Throughout the '90s onward, it enjoyed popularity as a rental amongst children as well as a Parent's Choice Award win. The VHS was re-issued in March 1994 in the traditional Disney white clamshell packaging, followed by another VHS release in May 1998. A DVD was released in September 2003, to tie in with the film's 15th anniversary. The DVD features an edit made to a frame of the TV holding a picture of a topless woman in his hand; the stars that were originally over her chest are replaced with a bra to avoid female controversy. Disney has currently made no official statement on a future Blu-ray release of the film.
The film has garnered a 75% rating on the reviews website, Rotten Tomatoes. The Washington Post called it "a kid's film made without condescension", while the staff of Halliwell's Film Guide called it an "odd fantasy of pots and pans with no more than adequate animation".
The film received an Emmy nomination for Best Animated Program in 1988. It was followed by two sequels, The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars (1998), also a novella written by Disch, and The Brave Little Toaster to the Rescue (1999), in which Disch took no part. They were released out of chronological order; To the Rescue takes place before Goes to Mars.
The film was scored and conducted by David Newman and performed by New Japan Philharmonic. The film contains four of the original songs ("City of Lights", "It's a 'B' Movie", "Cutting Edge", and "Worthless") that were written by Van Dyke Parks. Newman's score for it was one of his earlier works and apparently one that he felt very close to. He did not view it as a cheerful one, and decided to give it a dramatic score to reinforce the serious nature of many of the film's themes.
Frightful and violent scenes
As was becoming the trend of animated films at the time, it has many dark tones. The junkyard scene contains a depressing song about wrecked cars meeting their fate at the hands of a trash compactor. It nearly kills Rob but is stopped by Toaster wedging himself in its gears.
Another example is the thunderstorm which causes Blanky to be blown away.
Near the beginning of the film, the Air Conditioner becomes so angry that he overheats, blows up, and dies, but is then repaired by Rob near the end.
Toaster has a dream where he is being chased by an evil clown, a popular horror film character. The clown is a firefighter, trapping Toaster near a bathtub and throwing metal forks at him, things which are fatal to toasters including electrocution.
Another frightening scene includes Elmo disassembling the blender—much to the horror of the appliances.
In one scene, a flower mistakes its reflection on Toaster's face for another one. He tries explaining to it that it's just a reflection and leaves. Upon looking back at it, he notices it drooping its head in depression and shedding a petal as if shedding a tear.
The appliances nearly drown in a mudhole but are saved by Elmo.
Home media release
- Main article: The Brave Little Toaster (video)
- This film is G rated by the MPAA.
- Disney only owns the home video rights to this film in Region 1, ITC Entertainment was the initial distributor for the film in the UK, while Prism Leisure released the film on home video.
- The DVD by Disney is a direct port over from the LaserDisc, while Prism Leisure used a remaster version of the film.
- Jon Lovitz, the voice of Radio, and Phil Hartman, the voice of Air Conditioner, both starred on Saturday Night Live during the making of this film.
- "A113", the number that appeared on the Master's Door at his apartment was the number of John Lasseter's room at CAL Arts College.
- It has since appeared in every Pixar film as a reference to the same studio room.
Differences from the novel
- In the novel, the appliances refer to themselves as "its", instead of genders.
- In the novel, the character of Air Conditioner is only mentioned in passing as having died when it passed its expiration date, while in the film he dies from overheating, and is later repaired and revived.
- Blanky was originally rescued from the tree by two squirrels.
- The vacuum's name was changed from "Hoover" to "Kirby", and was the original leader of the group, but then, the Toaster takes his place.
- The Cutting-Edge Appliances are sometimes mischievous in the film.
- The gang originally encounters a river, and they use a the Boat to cross it, while in the film, they, along with Junko, encounter a waterfall, and they form into a chain in an attempt to cross it, with the office chair.
- Aside from Ernie and the City Machines, the other characters that were planned to be in the film but never appeared include Harold, Marjorie, the Ballerina, the Telephone, the (other) Blender, the Fox, the Elevator Doors, the Compact Car, the Boat, and five more Cutting-Edge Appliances.
- The original ending was notably different from the film: the appliances find a new owner, the Ballerina, rather than Rob, to live with.
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