The Brave Little Toaster is a 1987 animated adventure film adapted from the 1980 novel of the same name by Thomas Disch. The film was directed by Jerry Rees and released by Walt Disney Pictures. The film is set in a world where household appliances and other electronics have the ability to speak and move, pretending 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 radio, and a vacuum cleaner—who go on a quest to search for their original owner.
The film was produced by Hyperion Pictures along with The Kushner-Locke Company. Many of the original members of Pixar Animation Studios were involved with this film, including John Lasseter and Joe Ranft. While the film received a limited theatrical release, The Brave Little Toaster was popular on home video and was followed by two sequels a decade later. (The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars and The Brave Little Toaster to the Rescue)
In the movie, a toaster named Toaster, a blanket named Blanky, a lamp named Lampy, a radio named Radio, and a vacuum cleaner named Kirby awake in a cabin in the woods to find their master gone. They hear a car outside, but when Blanky looks out the window he notices that the car is leaving and goes to get a picture of the master and begins to cry much to Kirby's disturbance who tries to grab the picture from Blanky which causes the frame to break, but the picture isn't broken. They soon come face to face with Air Conditioner, who is mean to them because the Master never played with him like he did them that he tells the Gang that the Master isn't coming back and then he blows up in angerness. Soon the gang hears another car approaching, but when they look out the window together, they find out that it's a Real Estate Man putting up a FOR SALE sign and now they know that the Master is gone. The Toaster decides that they should go to the city and find the Master. They use an electric chair which Kirby pulls to travel.
That night, they camp in a clearing. Blanky tries to snuggle up with someone but no one will let him snuggle up with him so he goes to sleep sadly with no one to snuggle up to. The next day, they come to a meadow where they meet a bunch of animals who fasinate their reflections in Toaster and some mice befriend Blanky until they try to pull him down a hole and try to eat his picture of the Master. Shortly afterwards they continue their journey and travel into a dark forest where they camp under Blankey. Toaster thanks Blankey for letting them camp underneth him and he snuggles with him which reminds Lampy of the time when his bulb burned out and the master put in a new bulb and Lampy just glew. That night, Toaster dreams of his memories with The Master, until it is ruined by an evil clown who attacks him and a violent storm that wakes him up in fright along with the others. Blanky gets blowing up in the trees and the gang can't see him because of the darkness and Lampy's light bulb goes out. The next day, the gang still searches for Blanky and finds him up in a tree nearby and Kirby rescues him. As they continue their journey, they come across a waterfall and when they try to get across it with Kirby's help, Toaster, Lampy, Radio, Blanky and the electric chair all fall into the water. Kirby jumps in and saves them all. When he brings them ashore, Toaster walks away sadly because he believes that he's gotten the gang lost but comes back to help pull Kirby along, but as they do Kirby falls back into the water and sinks as do Toaster, Blanky and Lampy. Just as Radio is about to do the same, a man named Elmo St. Peters pulls the applances out and puts them into the back of his big red pickup truck and takes them to a parts store.
Once there, they meet a Ceiling Lamp who gives Lampy a new lightbulb and tells them that St. Peters is quite an amazing fellow. The gang watch in horror as St. Peters takes a blender apart and sells it's motor to a costumer. Knowing what their fate is the gang try to escape but St. Peters comes back and tries to take Radio apart to sell his tubes to the same costumer who bought the blender motor. With an idea from Lampy, the gang manage to scare St. Peters and knock him out, rescue Radio, and escape the parts store as do the other applances who were all ready in the store. Meanwhile, Rob the Master is living in an apartment in the city with his Mom and is packing to go to college. His girlfriend Chris comes to pick him up to take him to the cabin and pick up the radio, toaster, blanet, lamp, and vacuum cleaner so Rob can use them at the dorm at his college. Shortly afterwards, the gang arrives at the apartment but find out that the Master isn't there and decide to wait for him there. The other applances in the apartment are jealous of the Master's likes for the Toaster and his friends and throw the gang into a dumpster to Ernie's Disposal hoping they will get taken to the dorm by the Master.
At the cabin, the Master doesn't find the applances but manages to fix Air Conditioner who comes back to life happily and the Master returns sadly to his apartment in the city. At Ernie's Disposal which turns out to be a junkyard the gang watches in horror as a Giant Magnet picks up old cars and puts them on a machine that crushes them to peaces. At the apartment, the Master sees a commercial for Ernie's Disposal on the Black and White Television and has Chris take him there. Once there, the Master finds Radio, Kirby, Blanky, and Lampy but just as he's picking them up the Giant Manget picks him and the applances up and puts them on the machine but just as the machine is about to crush them, Toaster jumps on and manages to stop it. At the apartment Rob fixes Toaster and puts him and the other applances in Chris' car and they head off to college. The appliances are happy they completed their mission and found the Master and they can't wait to have more adventures at the Master's College.
- 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.
- Tim Stack as Lampy, an easily-impressed yet slightly irascible gooseneck lamp.
- Jon Lovitz as Radio, a tube-based dial radio whose personality parodies loud and pretentious radio announcers, notably Walter Winchell.
- Thurl Ravenscroft as Kirby, a very low-pitched, individualistic upright vacuum cleaner who dons a cynical, cantankerous attitude towards the other appliances.
- Wayne Kaatz (Timothy E. Day, young) as Rob ("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.
- Phil Hartman as the sarcastic, Jack Nicholson-inspired Air Conditioner, who resides in the cabin with the five appliances. He loses his temper in an argument with the appliances and explodes, and is revived by Rob near the end of the film. Hartman also voiced the Peter Lorre-inspired Hanging Lamp, as seen in the appliance parts store, who doesn't believe in Toaster's optimism, after years of having been forced to watch the death and mutilation of countless disabled appliances.
- Joe Ranft as Elmo St. Peters, one of the major antagonists of the film. He owns a spare parts shop, where he disassembles broken machines and sells the pieces.
- Colette Savage as Chris, Rob's tomboyish girlfriend.
- Jim Jackman as Plugsy, a table lamp who leads the modern machines, who reside in Rob's apartment. While they were benevolent in the original novel, here they are jealous and antagonistic towards the main characters.
- Jonathan Benair as T.V., a black and white television who lives in Rob's apartment and is an old friend of the five appliances.
- Giant Magnet is the voiceless final villain, who lives at Ernie's Disposal and makes a career out of sending worn-out cars to their demise in Crusher. It pursues the appliances and attempts to destroy them.
The film rights to The Brave Little Toaster, the original novel, were bought 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, Toaster 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 too, due to one of the cars driving into a crusher on purpose, using a suicide reference. For unknown reasons, the scenes were left in the film.
Release and Reception
The Brave Little Toaster 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 told by several of the judges that they considered Toaster the best film but they couldn't give the award to a cartoon as they considered people wouldn't take the festival seriously afterwards. Ironically, Heat and Sunlight, unlike Toaster, 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. The film premiered on The Disney Channel 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. 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 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 breasts are replaced with a bra. Disney has currently made no official statement on a future Blu-ray release of the film.
The Brave Little Toaster 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 written by Disch, and The Brave Little Toaster to the Rescue (1999). The two sequels were released out of chronological order; To the Rescue takes place before Goes to Mars.
The Brave Little Toaster was scored and conducted by David Newman and performed by New Japan Philharmonic. The film contains four 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 this movie 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 the film a dramatic score to reinforce the serious nature of many of the film's themes.
As was becoming the trend of animated films at the time, The Brave Little Toaster has many dark tones. The graveyard scene is a depressing song about wrecked cars meeting their fate at the hands of a trash compactor. This compactor nearly kills Rob, but is stopped by Toaster wedging himself in the gears of its mechanism.
Another example is the storm which causes Blanky to be blown away.
Toaster has a dream where he is being chased by an evil clown, a popular horror film character. The clown is a fireman, trapping Toaster near a bathtub and throwing metal forks at him, things which are fatal to toasters.
In one scene, a flower mistakes its reflection on Toaster's face for another flower. Toaster explains that it's just a reflection, and leaves. Upon looking back at the flower, he notices that it looks depressed and is losing its petals.
- 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.
- Due to "toaster" being masculine and "lamp" being feminine in German, in the German dub, Toaster was voiced by a man and Lampy was voiced by a woman. Both are also voiced by women in the Polish dub.
Differences from the novel
- 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 (rather than Toaster).
- The benevolent appliances in Rob's apartment are antagonistic in the film.
- The appliances originally encounter a river and they find a boat to cross it, while in the film they encounter a waterfall and fail trying to cross.
- Elmo St. Peters was the junkyard owner, rather than the part shop owner.
- The original ending was notably different from the film: the appliances find a new owner, rather than Rob, to live with.
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