The Brave Little Toaster is a 1987 animated adventure film adapted from the 1980 novella by Thomas M. Disch. The film was directed by Jerry Rees and the titles were created at Walt Disney Pictures. The film 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 this film, including John Lasseter and Joe Ranft. While the film debuted mainstream on the Disney Channel and thus received only a limited theatrical release, The Brave Little Toaster 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, an electric blanket named Blanky, a gooseneck lamp named Lampy, an antique radio, and a vacuum cleaner named Kirby awaken to life 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 window up in the attic he at first really does believe the Master is coming and has a daydream; but then he realizes that the car left, 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 the picture from Blanky, causing ruckus among all the appliances, and eventually causing the picture frame and glass to break. The picture itself is still intact. The appliances soon come face-to-face with an air conditioner, who acts sarcastic and cynical, and tells them that the Master isn't coming back, despite their delusions that he is.
But when the Toaster suspects that the Air Conditioner is acting this way because the Master never played with him like he did to themselves, he reacts 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 find that it's just a real estate man putting up a "For Sale" sign. Now they know that the Master is gone for good. After an intervention of hopeless depression among the appliances, the Toaster aggressively decides that they should go to the city and find the Master. The rest of the gang hesitates at first, but soon they agree that together, they can succeed. After coming up with some funny modes of transportation, the Toaster use 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 appliances camp 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 appliances come to a flowery meadow and a lake where they meet a bunch of animals, some of which are fascinated by their reflections in the Toaster's chrome. The lake critters then put on a show when trying to capture a meager worm. Afterward, the 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. The flower mistakes its reflection in the Toaster as another one of its own kind, and despite the Toaster's explanation that it's just a reflection, the flower hugs him. Alarmed and confused, the Toaster runs away from the flower, only later to find it shedding a petal in sadness. The Toaster leaves, feeling guilty. Meanwhile, the animals are frolicking around the other appliances, and the 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. The Toaster yanks him out of the hole, and he gets his picture back. Shortly afterwards the appliances say goodbye to the animals and continue 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, the Toaster thanks Blanky for letting them all camp underneth him, and he snuggles with Blanky too. This leads Lampy to have a talk with the Toaster about what warm feelings are. Lampy is reminded of the time his bulb burned out and the Master replaced his bulb, leaving Lampy with a "glowing" feeling. When Lampy and the Toaster finally go to sleep, the Toaster dreams of his memories spent with the Master; but the memories are quickly destroyed when an evil fireman 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 underwater, he wakes up in fear and a dangerous violent storm wakes the others up. Blanky gets blown 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 he/she has gone dead, leaving the appliances without a power source. To recharge it, Lampy acts as a lightning rod and allows a bolt of lightning to strike him, thus recharging the Junko. But he gets seriously damaged, and his bulb breaks (much to the horror of the Toaster, the Radio, and Kirby).
The next day, the appliances continue 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 appliances 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 appliances try to cross the waterfall's gorge by having Kirby swing the Toaster, Lampy, Radio, Blanky and the office chair on his cord, the Toaster fails to hold up the cord's far end after experiencing vertigo, and he lets everyone fall.
The cords snap off, and Kirby looks down in shock. All alone, he eventually musters up the courage to jump into the waterfall after his friends. One by one, he saves them all. When he brings them ashore, the Toaster walks away sadly because he believes it's his fault for getting the gang lost. He stares at his reflection in a pond and splashes it away. He comes back to help pull Kirby along, because the chair and the Junko are lost. But as they struggle Kirby falls back into a mud hole and starts to sink. He goes under, and the Toaster, Blanky and Lampy do too. Just before the Radio is about to do the same, he plays a song as an S.O.S. signal to call for help. A man named "Elmo St. Peters" heard the Radio's signal, then pulls him and the other appliances out and throws them in the back of the 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 a back room.
Once there, they meet a hanging lamp who gives Lampy a new light bulb to replace his burnt 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 Toaster and his 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 find a way, they are trapped in the Parts Shop, forever. Just as the worn-out appliances are about to haunt the Toaster, a ding from a bell from Zeke returning makes them go back to their places, leaving the five appliances 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 blow-horn calls out a jailbreak as another refrigerator breaks down the door, tosses aside Elmo's dog, Quadreped, and escapes the shop with the other worn-out appliances. Quadreped quickly climbs up Elmo's Monster Truck and drives away, as the worn-out appliances gleefully returned to their masters' homes. Eventually, Elmo wakes up and finds his place a mess, as Zeke peeks into his private room, telling him that he was just wondering if he got some radio tubes. Now, the Toaster, Lampy, the Radio, Blanky, and the Kirby are riding their way to the city in a baby carriage they got in the Parts Shop. They see a city of twinkling lights at night, and ride toward it.
Meanwhile, Rob, the Master, is living in an apartment in the city with his mom, and is packing his things to go to college. His girlfriend Chris comes by to take him to his old summer cottage and pick up the Toaster and his gang so Rob can use them at his college dorm. Shortly afterwards, his appliances arrive at the apartment, but after entering, find that the Master isn't there. So, they decide to wait for him. They also meet up with their old friend, a black and white T.V., who was taken away from the cottage long ago, possibly along with Plugsy, a purple ginger jar lamp. He and the other Cutting Edge Appliances who let them inside Room A113 are jealous of the Master's choosing the Toaster and his friends over them. After trying to tell the gang 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 the dorm instead.
At the cottage, the Master can't find the appliances anywhere and gets annoyed. However, he manages to fix Air Conditioner, who comes back to life happily. The Master and his girlfriend sadly return to his mom's apartment in the city; meanwhile his appliances are being carted away in a garbage truck. At Ernie's Disposal, a junkyard, the appliances are dumped off, and they watch in horror as a Giant Magnet picks up old cars and drops them on a conveyor belt headed for a compactor machine, 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 the T.V., and has Chris drive him over there.
Once there, the Master finds the picture of himself that Blanky had dropped. His appliances then see him as they are hanging from the Magnet, and they are determined to escape the conveyor belt and compactor, irritating the Magnet. After a few times of running from the Magnet and just missing the Master, the Master eventually finds Radio, Kirby, Blanky, and Lampy. But just as he's picking them up the Giant Manget picks him and his appliances up and drops them on the conveyor belt. He screams for his girlfriend Chris, who cannot see him. But the Toaster can see him. Just as the compactor is about to crush the Master, the Toaster jumps into the compactor's gears and manages to stop it. Later, Chris tells Rob he scared her to death, and she carries away some junkyard parts. Back at the apartment, Rob fixes the Toaster, against Chris' suggestion that he should just get new appliances. He puts the Toaster and the other appliances in Chris' car, and they head off to college. The appliances are happy that they have completed their mission and found the Master, and they can't wait to have more adventures at the Master's college.
- Deanna Oliver as the 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 desktop lamp, and Zeke, a customer wanting Radio's tubes from the appliance shop.
- Jon Lovitz as the 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 the Kirby, a very low-pitched, individualistic upright Kirby vaccuum 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. He has his own car named "the Sedan".
- 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, a pendant lamp who lives in the appliance parts store, who doesn't believe in the 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 of 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 spare 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 the Toaster, the Radio, Lampy, Blanky, the Kirby, the Air Conditioner and the T.V., but now he is ally to the Computer (named "the Tandy") (voiced by Randy Bennett), a Tandy Color 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 mischevious to the Toaster and his gang.
- Jonathan Benair as the T.V., a black and white television who once lived in the Cottage with the Toaster, the Radio, Lampy, Blanky, the 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 Toaster and his gang, and the Crusher attempts to eat 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 the Pickup driving into the 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 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 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 a novella written by Disch, and The Brave Little Toaster to the Rescue (1999), in which Disch took no part. 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 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 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.
Frightful and Violent Scenes
As was becoming the trend of animated films at the time, The Brave Little Toaster has many dark tones. The junkyard scene contains 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.
Near the beginning of the film, Air Conditioner becomes so angry that he overheats, blows up, and dies. He is then fixed by Rob.
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 including electrocution.
Another frightening scene is that Elmo St. Peters takes apart the blender—much to the horror of the appliances.
In one scene, a flower mistakes its reflection on Toaster's face for another flower. Toaster tries explaining to the flower that it's just a reflection, and leaves. Upon looking back at the flower, he notices it drooping its head in depression and shedding a petal as if shedding a tear.
Home media release
- Main article: The Brave Little Toaster videography
- This movie isn't rated by the MPAA whatsoever.
- 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 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 apartment are sometimes mischevious in the film.
- The Toaster and his gang originally encounter a river, and they use a boat to cross it, while in the film, they, along with Junko, encounter a waterfall, and they form into a chain to cross it, with the office chair.
- Besides Ernie and the City Machines, the other characters that were planned to be in the film but never released are, the Ballerina, the Hammer Drill, the (Old) Phone, the Broiler, the Dishwasher, the (Old) Stereo (System), the Dry Cleaners, the (New) Blender, the [Shelf] Clock, the (Oral) Irrigator, the (Mini) Lights, the Vaporizer (possibly named "Vapormatic"), the Fox, the Elevator Doors, the Compact Car, the Powerboat and the Milk (Cube) Van.
- The original ending was notably different from the film: the appliances find a new owner, rather than Rob, to live with.
Songs: April Showers | Tutti Frutti | City of Light | Mammy | It's a 'B' Movie | Cutting Edge | Worthless | Bread and Butter | I See a New You | Floating | Fight Right | Home Again | I'm Into Something Good | Remember That Day | Cocktails for Two | Super Highway | Chomp and Munch | Hang In There, Kid