THE BRAVE LITTLE TOASTER – (1987)
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