The Brave Little Toaster
|The Brave Little Toaster|
UK release poster
|Directed by||Jerry Rees|
|Produced by||Donald Kushner|
Thomas L. Wilhite
|Screenplay by||Jerry Rees|
|Story by||Jerry Rees|
|Based on||The Brave Little Toaster: A Bedtime Story for Small Appliances|
by Thomas M. Disch
Timothy E. Day
|Music by||David Newman (score)|
Van Dyke Parks (songs)
|Edited by||Donald W. Ernst|
|Distributed by||Hyperion Pictures|
|Box office||$2.3 million (estimated)|
The Brave Little Toaster is a 1987 American animated musical comedy film adapted from the 1980 novel The Brave Little Toaster by Thomas M. Disch. The film was directed by Jerry Rees. The film is set in a world where household appliances and other electronics come to life, pretending to be lifeless in the presence of humans. The story focuses on five household appliances, a toaster, a lamp, a blanket, a radio, and a vacuum cleaner, who go on a quest to search for their owner.
The film was produced by Hyperion Animation along with The Kushner-Locke Company. Many CalArts graduates, including the original members of Pixar Animation Studios, were involved with this film. While the film received a limited theatrical release, The Brave Little Toaster was popular on home video and was followed by two sequels: The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars and The Brave Little Toaster to the Rescue.
Toaster is the leader of a gang of appliances consisting of a radio, a lamp named "Lampy", a blanket named "Blanky", and a vacuum cleaner named "Kirby" who belong to their "master"; a young boy named Rob. They wait every day at Rob's cottage for his return with an increasing sense of abandonment, which causes Blanky to hallucinate about finally seeing Rob coming back. On the second day of July, the appliances are devastated to learn that a real estate broker is selling the house. Not wanting to accept the fact that the Master would abandon them, Toaster decides that the group should head out and find Rob. The appliances connect a car battery to an office chair pulled by Kirby and set out into the world, following Radio's signal broadcast from the city where Rob has moved to.
On their journey, the appliances encounter numerous harrowing adventures where they learn to work together. Shortly after stopping to rest within a forest, a nightmare where Rob and Toaster get tortured by an evil smirking clown dressed as a firefighter followed by a violent storm during nightfall wakes Toaster and the others with the storm blowing Blanky up into the trees, and Lampy risks his life by using himself as a lightning rod in an attempt to recharge the group's dead battery. After recovering Blanky the next morning, they try to cross a waterfall, but during an attempt to cross it, everyone falls in except for Kirby, who dives after them and rescues them, and the appliances wash up into the middle of a swamp. After losing both the chair and the battery, the group resorts to pulling a disabled Kirby through the swamp. After losing their balance and almost drowning in a mud hole, they are rescued by Elmo St. Peters, an owner of a spare parts shop, where they get scared by a group of partially dismantled or disfigured appliances, who have lost hope and are at risk of being disassembled or sold. When Radio is removed from a shelf and about to have his radio tubes extracted, the appliances frighten St. Peters by pretending to be a ghost and flee to the city, while most of the worn-out appliances flee the store and return to their masters' homes.
Rob, who is now a young adult living in a modern apartment with his family, is about to depart for college, and goes with his girlfriend Chris to the cottage to retrieve the old appliances to take with him. After secretly witnessing this, Rob's newer appliances in the apartment become resentful. When the appliances arrive at Rob's apartment after perusing a phone book, the newer appliances explain that they are "on the cutting edge of technology.” After answering Toaster and the other four appliances their question of what they mean by singing their song to them, they kick them into the apartment's dumpster from the window, where they are shortly transported to Ernie's Disposal, a junkyard. Thinking that the cottage has been broken and trashed and his original appliances were stolen, Rob and Chris return to his apartment where a black and white TV, who is another appliance owned by Rob that used to be part of the cabin gang, broadcasts false advertisements to encourage him and Chris to go to Ernie's Disposal to find Toaster and the other four appliances and bring them back.
At the junkyard, the appliances are tormented by a maniacal crusher with its henchman, an evil tower crane with an electromagnet that picks up junk and places them on its conveyor belt that leads to the crusher. When Toaster and the gang discover that Rob is in the junkyard, they are encouraged that he still needs them after all, and attempt to foil the magnet in order to allow Rob to find them. After being foiled numerous times, the magnet decides to pick up Rob as well as his appliances, and drops them on the conveyor belt. Toaster makes a heroic sacrifice by jumping into the crusher's gears to disable it just in time to prevent it from killing Rob and destroying his appliances. Rob survives and returns to the apartment with all of the five appliances in tow, including the mangled Toaster. Rob repairs Toaster and takes the five appliances with him to college, along with Chris.
- Deanna Oliver as Toaster, an inspiring pop-up toaster who is the leader of the group of appliances. The main protagonist in the film, Toaster is courageous, intelligent, kind, thoughtful and warmhearted. Toaster is the one who devises the idea of going on a journey to locate the appliances' former master, Rob. Although Toaster is described as "he" and "guy" in the film, Jerry Rees pictured the character of Toaster as a female. Oliver originally auditioned for the voice of the Air Conditioner, doing an impression of Bette Davis, but was given the role of Toaster.
- Timothy E. Day as Blanky, an electric blanket with an innocent demeanor. Childlike and insecure, Blanky is the only appliance who is deeply distressed over Rob's absence, and wants nothing more than to be reunited with . Toaster and Blanky share a warm, older sibling-younger sibling relationship.
- Day also voices young Rob in several flashbacks.
- Tim Stack as Lampy, an easily impressed yet slightly irascible gooseneck desktop lamp. He is bright, but tends to be ironically dimwitted, though he has a couple of good points. During the storm scene, He nearly sacrifices his life, using himself as a lighting rod to power the gang’s car battery. Lampy and Radio share a like-hate relationship and frequently get into arguments with each other, though their animosity lessens throughout the movie.
- Stack also voiced a man named "Zeke".
- Jon Lovitz as Radio, a wise-cracking plastic line/battery-operated dial-based vacuum tube AM radio whose personality parodies loud and pretentious announcers. In a running gag, Radio and Lampy get into petty arguments.
- Thurl Ravenscroft as Kirby, a very deep voiced, individualistic upright Kirby vacuum cleaner who dons a cynical, cantankerous attitude towards the other appliances. He is also the oldest appliance of the gang.
- Wayne Kaatz as Robert "Rob" McGroarty ("the Master"), the original human owner of the five appliances. After appearing as a child in flashbacks, Rob, now as an adult, is leaving for college. While in the book, Rob plans to sell the cabin along with the appliances, in the film, Rob still has sentimentality towards appliances and takes them to college in the end.
- Colette Savage as Christine, Rob's tomboyish, supportive girlfriend, nicknamed "Chris".
- Phil Hartman, doing an impression of Jack Nicholson as Air Conditioner, a sarcastic electric air conditioner who resides in the cabin with the gang. He lost his temper while arguing with them, which causes him to overheat and explode, but is repaired by Rob near the end of the film.
- Joe Ranft as Elmo St. Peters, the owner of a spare appliance parts shop where he disassembles even his own appliances and sells the parts.
- Jerry Rees as the singing voice of Radio.
- Jim Jackman as Plugsy, a pear-shaped table lamp with an LED light bulb who is one of the modern machines that reside in Rob's apartment. While they were benevolent in the novel, in the film, they are formerly jealous and antagonistic towards the gang.
- Jonathan Benair as Black and White TV, an old monochrome console television who has moved to Rob's apartment and is an old friend of the gang.
- Judy Toll, doing an impression of Joan Rivers as Mish-Mash, a hybrid appliance consisting of a can opener, a gooseneck lamp and an electric shaver.
- Mindy Stern as the Mistress, Rob's mother who is an unseen character.
- Toll and Stern also voiced the Two-face Sewing Machine in Rob's apartment.
- Randy Bennett as Computer, a Tandy home computer system who is one of the modern machines that reside in Rob's apartment.
- Danny Mann as Stereo, a Japanese Panasonic stereo radio-cassette player who is one of the modern machines that reside in Rob's apartment.
- Susie Allanson as the Toaster Oven in Rob's apartment
- Randall William Cook as the Entertainment Complex in Rob's apartment.
- Louis Conti as the Spanish TV Announcer.
- Beth Anderson as the tape recorder in "It's a B-Movie" and the wooded wagon in "Worthless".
- Janis Liebhart as the fan in "It's A B-Movie", the phone in "Cutting Edge", and the pink convertible in "Worthless".
- Darryl Phinnessee as the hearse in "Worthless" and various characters in "It's a B-Movie" and "Cutting Edge".
- Pat Ericson
- Gary Falcone
- Roger Freeland
- Joe Pizzulo
Conception and financing
The film rights to The Brave Little Toaster, the original novella by Thomas M. Disch, were purchased by the Walt Disney Studios in 1982, two years after its appearance in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. After animators John Lasseter and Glen Keane had finished a short 2D/3D test film based on the book Where the Wild Things Are, Lasseter and producer Thomas L. Wilhite decided they wanted to produce a whole feature this manner.
The story they chose was The Brave Little Toaster, and this became the first CGI film Lasseter ever pitched. But in their enthusiasm, they ran into issues pitching the idea to two high level Disney executives, animation administrator Ed Hansen, and Disney president Ron W. Miller. Ron Miller asked about the cost after the pitch and when Lasseter replied that it would cost no more than a traditionally animated movie, Miller rejected the pitch, saying that the only reason to use computers would be if it was "faster or cheaper".
A few minutes after the meeting, Lasseter received a phone call from Hansen and was instructed to come down to his office, where Lasseter was informed that he was dismissed. Originally set to commence at the Disney studios with a budget of $18 million, development was then transferred to the new Hyperion Pictures, which had been created by former Disney employees Tom Wilhite and Willard Carroll, who took the production along with them after Wilhite successfully requested the project from then-president Ron Miller. As a result, the film was financed as an independent production by Disney, with the aid of electronics company TDK Corporation and video distributor CBS/Fox Video.
The budget was reduced by $12.06 million to $5.94 million as production began, approximately a third of the budget offered when in-house. Despite providing funds to get it off the ground, Disney was actually involved with production of the film. Rees later commented that there were external forces at work that had the right to say this was a cheap film that could be shipped overseas, which the staff objected to and therefore were willing to make sacrifices to improve the quality of the film despite its limited budget. They were dedicated to making something they were proud of rather than simply producing a kid's film, and to following the Disney's Nine Old Men influenced storytelling. They also aimed to "not belittle it because it happens to be drawn". Tom Wilhite helped to maintain the creative integrity of the project.Cite error: A
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Rees' wife Rebecca was the film's directing animator, and she taught classes to the Taiwanese animators in order to improve the quality of their output.
The animators also had a mixture of ex-Disney employees and college graduates from CalArts. Every day, they had to do what would normally be done across a two-week period at Disney. The colour stylist was veteran Disney animator A. Kendall O'Connor, a member of Disney's feature animation department from its first feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and Oliver likened the light-hearted frog sequence to Merrie Melodies. A massive TDK sign was included by Rees as the company was a big sponsor. The animators used many visual cues to help inform the audience about plot and character. For example, during Toaster's nightmare at the beginning of the film, he burns toast and emits smoke, which symbolises his guilt and fear of being responsible.
They deduced Toasters would be afraid of things like forks and falling into the bathtub while plugged in, so included them in this sequence. Oliver described the transition from bathtub sparks to lighting outside the house as proper filmmaking. Similarly, Blanky being a certain shade of yellow bears significance to the plot. In the beginning of their journey, the other characters dismiss him, even Toaster when he tries to snuggle him. Then Toaster encounters a flower that is the same colour, who also wants to snuggle. After explaining it is just a reflection, he walks away, thereby making the flower wilt. The next moment shows Toaster proactively rescuing Blanket. The idea is that the flower informs Toaster that his actions will make Blanky wilt too.
Music and sound
The film score of The Brave Little Toaster was composed and conducted by David Newman and performed by the New Japan Philharmonic. 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. Rees admired his "rich, classical style", and chose him so that the film wouldn't have "cartoon music". Rees stated that Newman would attempt to get into the headspace of the characters, and thought in the terms of the inanimate objects being real characters.
Rees told that Newman's score was as "grand as anything he would ever do", rather than composing the music differently due to the medium being animation. He wove death, joy, love, loss, and struggle into the work. Newman's composing style was influenced by his philosophy that behind every "chord of joy" lies an element of sadness, whether it being the knowledge it won't last forever, that it is a facade for a deeper emotion, or that joy itself comes from sadness. He used lush strings in the opening scenes to convey a sense of longing. As the characters are introduced, the score becomes more lively, and each character has their own theme, influenced by their personality. For example, Kirby is a grumpy and old vacuum cleaner, and so Newman provides a theme consisting of low chords, whereas Radio was given a brassy fanfare to reflect his self-important personality. These musical motifs wove their way into the entire movie score.
At some points, the style of music was used to provoke an emotional response, for example when the Air Conditioner breaks down, the orchestra first trembles and then bursts with energy. After this the music returns to a somber tone, as the appliances start to realise that there is truth to what he said. When they explore the outside world for the first time, the music fills with a "pastoral grandeur", and when they enter the woods, strings, flutes, bells and brass are used to convey the simultaneous magic and danger of the outdoors. The film also contains a Busby Berkeley Italian opera-esque sequence containing a fish. The score was finally given a limited release in 2004. The film contains four original songs ("City of Light", "It's a B-Movie", "Cutting Edge", and "Worthless") that were written by Van Dyke Parks. Rees "felt uncomfortable with the full Broadway book musical approach", and his philosophy was that the songs should be part of the action and plot without stopping for a big production number.
Rees specifically wanted characters to be able to break out into song whenever they wanted to, similar to the films of the Hollywood Golden Age. Once they were written, Newman used the songs in his own score. For example, the first song in the film, "City of Light", displays the character's naivety and apprehension, and contains a motif that gets more complex as the film goes on. This approach made the score more cohesive. "It's a B-Movie" is filled with black humour and an ominous pipe organ as the mutant appliances scare the main characters. The synthesizer-driven "Cutting Edge" sees the Master's state-of-the-art appliances boast about how great they are. The poignant number "Worthless" is a track filled with piano, strings, guitar, and vocals which are abruptly cut off when the singing cars are crushed. The junkyard sequence's climax evokes feelings of desperation, danger, suspense and real world peril. Newman "reprises the score's subtle and varied themes over the end credits". Newman wrote and orchestrated the score over a 50-hour period, which included embarking on a 12-hour flight to Japan to record with the orchestra in Maeda Hall.
The New Japan Philharmonic gave the score a "luxurious sound" that was impressive given the limited resources available. The sound effects were not from a library, and were instead created using Foley, with various real world objects around Los Angeles being used in the score, such as objects in antique stores. This technique was used because Rees wanted to create new characters with new sounds. The sound mixers, including former Disney studio mixer Shawn Murphy who recorded the score, asked how they would do their job due to the film being animated, and Rees explained that they should mix it like any other film, instead of thinking of it like it were a cartoon.
|The Brave Little Toaster: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack|
|Soundtrack album by|
|Label||Walt Disney Records|
- Main Title (2:24)
- They All Wake Up (2:44)
- Blanket's Dream* (2:29)
- The Air Conditioner Blows (1:21)
- They Decide to Go (0:54)
- They Look for Transportation* (0:51)
- Out Into The World (1:41)
- City of Light** (3:01)
- Blanket Looks for a Place to Sleep (1:05)
- The Pond/Busby Berkeley/The Meadow(5:37)
- Toaster's Dream (1:17)
- The Storm (1:38)
- Blanket is Blown Away (1:39)
- The Waterfall (1:00)
- Vacuum Rescues the Group (1:31)
- They Sink in the Mud (1:28)
- In the Shop (0:58)
- Blender's Motor is Sold (1:31)
- It's a B-Movie** (3:05)
- Radio is Stalked (1:05)
- Happy Travel (1:14)
- Into the City (1:31)
- Cutting Edge** (2:30)
- Junkyard Montage (1:25)
- Worthless** (4:28)
- Finale (7:03)
- End Title (3:36)
Director Jerry Rees described the main message is the film asks is: "what would it be like to be an appliance, and feel good when you're useful, and help people..."? He also explained that the film's themes included a "fear of being abandoned and wanting to be reunited with somebody that you love..." - the opposing forces of feeling like you're worthless and the joy of redemption. Another important notion was that of "valuing things from the past and taking them...into the future", both in terms of objects and relationships. All of the main characters have personalities that are unique twists on the appliance functionality.
Blanky is an electric security blanket but is insecure without its owner, the bright Lampy is mentally dim, Kirby is supposed to hold everything inside but has a nervous breakdown, Toaster is warm and reflective so can easily empathise, and Radio is constantly switched on and entertaining. He has the philosophy that despite being inanimate, they each symbolised things we actually feel. As the foundation for writing the story, Rees reasoned that the characters would only be happy if they were being used by the Master. As a result of this, a major aspect of the film is about inanimate objects becoming alive when you are not observing them.
As opposed to other films of the time, The Brave Little Toaster was able to include dark, scary, edgy, or risqué content due to being an independent feature. They were able to explore the "wouldn't it be fun if" places that Disney would allow. They rejected the false dichotomy of being joke-driven or overly sincere, and instead incorporated both elements as that is how real conversations work.
Release and home media
The film's premiere was at Wadsworth Theatre in Los Angeles on July 13, 1987. With the producer help, the film premiered in various festivals, including the Los Angeles International Animation Celebration in 1987, and the Sundance Film Festival in 1988. It made history as the first animated film ever exhibited at Sundance, and remained the only one until 2001's Waking Life.
Though the prize went to Rob Nilsson's Heat and Sunlight, before the awards ceremony, Rees claims he was told by the judges that they considered Toaster the best film but they could not give the award to a cartoon as they considered people would not take the festival seriously afterwards. Though it is sometimes thought that the film was not released in cinemas because it failed to find a distributor, in reality arthouse film distributor Skouras Pictures took on the distributing rights for the theatrical release, and was going to do evening screenings, noting it was more for college and young adult than kids.
Disney, who had invested in the video and television rights, according to Rees did not want competition so moved their release date up and prevented it from being financially successful in theatres, forcing Skouras to withdraw their deal. The film premiered on The Disney Channel on February 27, 1988. To compensate, Hyperion continued its plan to enter the film into various festivals, and managed to secure limited theatrical airings at arthouse facilities across the United States, such as spending two weeks at New York's Film Forum in May 1989, and shortly in Washington D.C. in March 1990. This helped to give the film a cult following.
Rees thinks most people discovered the film through syndication on The Disney Channel, or through home video releases. In July 1991, Buena Vista Home Video purchased the North American video rights and released the film to home video format and LaserDisc through its Walt Disney Home Video label. In the UK, the VHS tapes were released under PolyGram Video (1990s) and Carlton Video (2000s), while in the USA and Australia, Disney and Roadshow Home Video have the rights respectively. ITC Entertainment syndicated the film international as of the NATPE 1991 TV trade show.
In Spain, Divisa Home Video and Aurum Produccines were in charge of distribution, the former during the 2000s. Disney's VHS was re-printed throughout the '90s onward, and it enjoyed popularity as a rental amongst children. The DVD was released in September 2003, to tie in with the film's 15th anniversary. In the UK, Prism Leisure Corporation was in charge of distribution. Their license has since expired, but the disc can still be found on UK-shopping sites. Disney's releases commonly use a Laserdisc transfer from the early 90's, while Prism Leisure's DVD uses a fresh transfer from an international print.
The film has garnered a 77% rating on the reviews website Rotten Tomatoes based on 13 reviews, with a weighted average of 7.31/10. Mary Houlihan-Skilton of Chicago Sun-Times gave a positive review, but found a problem with the "storytellers us[ing] caricatures of Peter Lorre, Jack Nicholson, Mae West, Joan Rivers and others to portray them. This is so old. It's been used forever and should be given a rest."
The Washington Post called it "a kid's film made without condescension", while The New York Times said "visually the movie has a smooth-flowing momentum and a lush storybook opulence". TimeOut said the film had "a winning combination of inventive characters, amusing dialogue, excellent voice-overs, likeable tune and first-rate animation". Deseret News wrote it is "a wonder of the movie industry...a funny, occasionally thrilling animated feature aimed at kids, but with a sophisticated sensibility intended to reach their parents as well." Halliwell's Film Guide called it an "odd fantasy of pots and pans with no more than adequate animation".
Projection Booth, Film Freak Central, Arizona Daily Star, and Internet Reviews all gave the film their highest rating, describing it as "among the finest animated films Disney never made", "Blade Runner for children", "an overlooked classic [and] utterly rewatchable fable", and "an absolute delight for people of all ages" respectively. Needcoffee.com gave the film a 4/5, writing that despite a questionable premise, "it's an actually cute and extremely fun animated flick". Las Vegas Review-Journal, Movie Mom at Yahoo! Movies, and eFilmCritic.com all gave the same score, the latter describing it as a "perfectly charming kid's flick about adventuring appliances". Northwest Herald gave a 3/5, EmanuelLevy.Com and Talking Pictures gave a 2/5,.
Awards and nominations
|Year||Nominee / work||Award||Result|
|1988||The Brave Little Toaster||Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program||Nominated|
|1988||Jerry Rees||Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize, Dramatic||Nominated|
|1988||The Brave Little Toaster||Parent's Choice Award||Won|
This film is unique in that it attracted a substantial amount of talent from both old and new sources. Many of the cast and crew members went on to have successful careers in the animation industry. Co-writer Joe Ranft became a script supervisor at Pixar, while animators Glen Keane, Kirk Wise and Kevin Lima went on to animate and co-direct films of the Disney Renaissance, such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Tarzan. Keane would also go on to produce the 2010 animated film Tangled. Effects animator Mark Dindal directed Disney's The Emperor's New Groove and Chicken Little, as well as Warner Bros.' Cats Don't Dance. Character designer Rob Minkoff directed The Lion King, Stuart Little, Stuart Little 2, and Mr. Peabody & Sherman. After directing a financially unsuccessful film The Marrying Man in 1991, Jerry Rees now directs Disney theme park films. Voice actors Jon Lovitz and Phil Hartman wound their way onto animated series such as The Simpsons. Many have noted that this film shares similarities to the Toy Story franchise, also worked on by John Lasseter. Rees saw it as "the next inanimate object feature".
The Brave Little Toaster was followed by two sequels a decade later: The Brave Little Toaster to the Rescue (1997) and The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars (1998). The latter (Mars) is based on the sequel to Disch's novella while the former (Rescue) is a brand new story. While reuniting most of the cast, they had a new director and crew. Rees noted that the original film was made out of pure love and not thought of as a kid's film or a product, and that he had heard the new approach was a more commercial venture. Deanna Oliver felt that despite Ramirez being a talented director who handled the franchise with care, instead of "film" and "character driven", the project seemed more about getting it done because it could be made. Neither Rees nor Oliver have watched the finished sequels.
In 2006, the official website of Hyperion Pictures posted a image of a possible fourth film in CGI; however, that film was never produced. The website has been inactive since then but was recently updated in 2019. Waterman Entertainment planned a remake, but it was never produced.
Despite its limited release, the cult following of the film has seen the cast and crew get substantial recognition throughout the world. Rees recalled a situation where a person he was doing an online project with messaged him on IMDb, discovering his work on TBLT, and explained how deeply the film affected him due to teaching life lessons. He appreciated this genuine reaction from a real person. Oliver went to the Afghanistan deployment ceremony for her son in June 2010, and he had told Brave Company his mother played Toaster, so they brought toasters with them for her to sign, which the soldiers took to the country with them. She also received fan art from one of the soldiers. The consensus among people who worked on the film such as Tom Wilhite and Donald Kushner is that the original is the one that has the cult following as opposed to the sequels. Rees said that when his future Pixar friends saw the film, they appreciated it despite the animation due to the heavy financial and time constraints.
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