Archive for May, 2009


Just let it happen, Blanket. It won't hurt.

Just let it happen, Blanket. It won't hurt. Much.


Director: Jerry Ress
Starring: Deanna Oliver, Jon Lovitz, Timothy Stack, Timothy E. Day, Thurl Ravenscroft
Screenplay by: Thomas M. Disch

How do you pitch a movie like this? “So, there’s this toaster, who breaks out of a cabin, and she (it’s a she, did I mention that?) and her appliance-companions go on a wild adventure to find their master. It’s for kids, but we’ll make it just creepy and awkward enough to freak them out.”


It’s a weird movie, in idea and in execution; a stretch so far out there that the movie had failed to find a distributor after its release. It lacks the “Disney” charm that the company is known for, and the animation itself is a little unrefined, something you usually don’t get out of Disney animated films of the early 80s and 90s.

That being said, this movie is amazing.

NOSTALGIC LENS: I always would catch this movie on the Disney Channel at some random point in the middle of it. I never watched it all the way through, so I had trouble following the story. Something about the animation, I recall, seemed to bother me as well. I got a “half-assed” vibe from it; akin to the strange feeling you get while watching the “Squiggle-vision” of “Dr. Katz” and “Home Movies”. I do remembered enjoying the music from it, though.

DOES IT HOLD UP: Watching it now, it’s a whole new experience.

There’s something sad about this movie, almost hopeless, even with its uplifting ending. Despite the straight-forward plot – the Toaster (Deanna Oliver) convinces the Lamp (Timothy Stack), the Radio (Jon Lovitz), the Blanket (Timothy E. Day) and the Vacuum, AKA Kirby (Thurl Ravenscroft) to travel to “the city” to find their master – there’s so much richness in the subtle, quiet moments that it’s easy for children, and even most adults, to miss or ignore. The movie isn’t concerned about the story or logistics so much as it seems more concerned about the moments, the themes, the attitudes and atmosphere. Everything is geared towards this, including the voice work, the animation, the music and score, the dialogue and the plot itself – which may explain my awkward sense in watching this film at a young age.

For example, there’s very little indication of the time period. The Radio constantly refers to Teddy Roosevelt, but plays “Tutti-Frutti” and “Mammy” on his broadcasts. Early sights of cars imply the 70s, but later in the movie we get a lot of (more modern) appliances which suggest the 80s… hell, even the 90s! One could argue this takes the movie out of a specific setting and into a “timeless” world, one separate from any recognizable temporal or physical location.

This allows for a specific focus on the characters, and it is just adorable, almost in a Romantic kind of way. No one over-does his or her line readings, which is excellent; even Lovitz stays under control, who we all know can really ham it up. Blanket may be considered the most annoying character, with his constant whining for his master, but he’s really just a child who wants to see his mom again. (I especially love the soft implications that Blanket would indeed have the most affection for the master, since he was designed to cuddle – numerous scenes display this, showcasing his need beyond desire and into function). Lamp and Radio have a delightful play between each other, and Kirby’s gruff attitude is more a front than anything—we learn this early on, when he secretly dances to “Tutti-Frutti.” So it’s not a stretch when we see him jump off a cliff to save his friends.

Sacrifice is an important theme here, and we see a lot of it, from Lamp’s reach towards lighting to power the battery, to Blanket’s makeshift tent, to Toaster’s final leap to save the master. Toaster, specifically, is an interesting case. She seems to be stuck in a moral quandary for a good part of the movie, bouncing between the collective hazing of Blanket’s crying and helping him out. She resembles a student whose joins the mean crowd to feel belonged, but also eager to help the losers when they need it. She’s a burgeoning leader (getting the appliances to clean the cabin, instigating the original call to find the master); but unclear of her purpose or real role. Until this scene from an arguably out-of-place nature sequence:

This moment in a strange way puts Toaster on the “right path,” forcing her closer involvement with Blanket (for a warm, toasty feeling, she says). She still has a way to go, and her nightmares won’t let her forget:

Holy crap, that was scary. But it’s powerful in a way; her own innate fears for sacrifice or… death (if we argue that appliances can die) come to play later, when she nervously drops her friends in a waterfall after a bout with vertigo (she genuinely feels terrible about that). So when she does make her final sacrifice, it’s all the more significant.

I’m running a bit long, so I’ll say one more thing. The music isn’t as memorable as I thought it would be (although “Worthless” is still pretty good), but again, it’s all about fears – organic fears that appliances would have (they anthropomorphize the appliances very, very well, such that their electricity-related puns come off as realistic dialogue instead of forced humor). From hope-filled “City of Light,” to the you’re-only-as-good-as-your-parts “It’s a B-Movie,” to you’re-now-obsolete “Cutting Edge,” to the final-nail-in-the-coffin “Worthless,” it’s an extremely poignant moment that when Toaster DOES jump to save her master, aware of the very real fact that she could be tossed aside and/or destroyed like the machine she is, you can’t help but get a little choked up. Even the Master’s girlfriend suggests throwing it away (what a fucking bitch—she doesn’t even CARE the master was almost killed). But he repairs it, and the Toaster’s fears are finally gone.

IN A NUTSHELL: There’s a lot of great stuff I wish I had more time to discuss here. The subtle moments and ambiance, combined with a quiet but rewarding aesthetic, makes The Brave Little Toaster such a pleasant wonderful experience that is SUCH a disappointment that the DVD itself lacks any really insight or inspiration. Also, the humor in this movie is excellent. Not only does it hold up, it’s even better than ever. This is what Toy Story wishes it could be (no offense to Toy Story—I liked that movie).

June 1st: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie
June 8th: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm


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Stay Tuned Screenshot

If it was raining, they would have been just fine.

STAY TUNED – (1992)

Director: Peter Hymas
Starring: John Ritter, Pam Dawber, Jeffrey Jones
Screenplay by: Tom S. Parker, Jim Jennewein

The bizarre, high-concept comedies of the late 80s and early 90s were for the most part distinctly noticeable by having specific characters spurt out the tagline at the most revelatory, dramatic moments. Perhaps the most famous of these would be “Honey, I shrunk the kids.” In this case, “Our parents are trapped in television” sought to invigorate a new movie-specific phrase into the lexicon, but it seemed to fizzle out, along with the glut of movies similar to this, involving parents trapped in basements (House Arrest), giant, macro-sized babies (Honey, I Blew Up the Baby), and psychopaths kidnapping your entire family in wacky ways (Carpool).

At least Stay Tuned had a cartoon in it. Directed by Chuck Jones himself! So maybe this movie could perhaps be memorable in other ways, specifically as “that movie with the cartoon by Chuck Jones in it.” Unfortunately, despite the (arguably) fun ride this movie takes the viewer, it’s too short, and hits a few roadblocks along the way.

NOSTALGIC LENS: Despite the fact that sixty-five percent of the references in the movie completely went over my head, my childhood-self adored this movie. I suppose the idea of “living in television” was the ultimate appeal (give me Duckberg anytime), so the whole thing about it being run by Satan, for Satan, to watch creative, snuff-filmed programming didn’t really bother me. People don’t really die in Television-ville, right? Or maybe it was because I didn’t really get the actual plot, since I pretty much watched the entire movie just to get to the cartoon. I mean, it had a cartoon! That’s all that really mattered, right?

DOES IT HOLD UP: Well, that’s a trickier assessment. It does in some ways, and it fails in others.

Roy Knabler (John Ritter) is a hapless coach-potato stuck in a TV-saturated, mid-life crisis (who also fails at selling plumbing supplies) as his wife (Pam Dawber) succeeds repeatedly at her marketing job. The two bicker constantly as Roy’s television fascination consumes his life, to the point that he even agrees to sell his soul to late-night salesman Spike (Jeffrey Jones) for a supped-up, demonic satellite TV, which basically PO’s his wife something fierce. As they have their most heated argument, the satellite itself sucks the two into itself and warps them through a series of dangerous, deadly TV programs that try to kill their victims. Come to find out, Spike works for the Devil himself(!), sucking random people into hellish parodies of regular TV (so Satan can get off on their fatalities).

The entire movie seems completely phoned in. No one stands out in any way, at any point. No scene or parody is distinct or memorable, and the editing and directing is as straightforward and half-assed as you can get. The son even bookend-narrates the movie, which is pretty much the epitome of indolence (and irrelevance). Hell, even the product placement is lazy, to the point that it’s hilarious. The (obligatory) nerdy son pulls a box of Dunkin Donuts out the oven and just plops it onto the table, for no reason. Also, Pepsi. Also, Settle Supersonics. Even Chuck Jones phones in his animation. (More on that in a minute.)

Everything about the movie screams early-90s, and while I love the 90s with a passion, I can’t say that the aesthetic holds up very well (although, it’s much better than the middling-80s raunchy comedy aesthetic. I physically can’t stomach Cannonball Run or Revenge of the Nerds). Before-mentioned nerdy son and shamelessly-generic teenage daughter run the typical gamut: he notices their parents are trapped first, she doesn’t believe him, back and forth and so on until he finally shows her proof. It’s lame and pointless except for the final rescuing scene, but it’s not all groan-inducing. Just mostly.

But what about the TV-stuff? Well, it’s hit-or-miss. The real problem here is that the movie doesn’t know what it wants to be: a general parody of TV shows and movies; a satirical commentary on the effect of excessive TV consumption (where “sucking into TV” is more metaphorical than literal); a generic comedy of family-related drama; or a black-comedy depiction of hell. The individual parts don’t quite congeal into a comfortable whole, which bounces all over in pacing, jokes, plot-revelation, and editing.

That being said, when the individual jokes hit their mark, they do wonderfully. I got a kick out of two old people experiencing two different fatal reactions by their “Different Strokes”, and “Autopsies of the Rich and Famous” was amusing as well (how did James Dean really die?). While the “Yogi Beer,” pun was lame, the father’s approval of his son’s drunken misogyny towards his mother was rather funny as well. There are plenty of specifically great moments, which either will induce a nice laugh or a groan, but the movie is very short, so it’s a mostly fun way to kill an hour-and-a-half.

Which is why I was so disappointed in Jones’ animated bit. I can’t imagine that it was always that bad – since it was my favorite part – but, in retrospect, I guess it was. Now, let me say this: I always disliked Chuck Jones, mainly because he removed the wacky, all-over-the-place wonder from cartoons and grounded them, a trait which most modern animation comes from and why most modern animation is boring. But at least his cartoons looked nice—but this one didn’t. It seemed hastily produced and lacked the control Jones usually provides. He seemed to try to channel Tex Avery’s gimmicks, gimmicks that Avery mastered, like eye-pops and jaw-drops and speedy-movements, but it just comes off… well, out of the moment. The more stable scenes, when they’re talking in the dollhouse for example, work better than the wackier action. Still, it was fun to experience again. Also, Dawber is a MUCH better voice artist than Ritter. (Dawber, btw, still does voice work.)

IN A NUTSHELL: The parts are better than the sum of the whole, but it’s still an enjoyable experience. The movie hits its stride in the climactic moments where Spike and Roy jump channel-to-channel fighting over the remote-o-destiny, which is worth all the bad acting of the children. The jokes hold up, but the movie overall doesn’t—if it was any longer, it would be unbearable.

May 25th: The Brave Little Toaster
June 1st: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie



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