When humans aren’t watching, the inanimate objects come to life, this is the case in a little holiday cabin in the countryside, where five kitchen appliances live to clean and tidy up the cabin in the hopes that they would be able to meet their master, a young boy who they’ve never seen in almost six years. These appliances include a Radio, a lamp, an electric blanket, a vacuum cleaner named Kirby, and a Toaster. When they discover that the cabin is being sold, most lose hope and think the master is abandoning them. All except Toaster, who decides that they shall travel through the countryside and into the city where they’ll meet the master themselves. Their journey won’t be easy, but it’s up to the brave little Toaster and his four friends to find the master before all hopes are lost.
In 1982, Disney acquired the rights to the original novel, which went into print two years earlier, and went to animators John Lasseter and Thomas L. Wilhite to make an animated feature based on it. After experimenting with the concept in a test film earlier, Lasseter wanted to make it with 2D characters in a 3D environment, however a dispute over the film’s budget caused the idea to be rejected by Disney’s Executives and Lasseter to be fired from the company. The project was moved to Hyperion Pictures, with Jerry Rees set to direct the picture as well as write the screenplay along with Joe Ranft. Interestingly, two scenes were animated were intended to be cut due to their scary nature and references towards suicide, but were left in the final film.
The animation is simplistic and effective, particularly on the main characters. The character designers clearly put some thought into how each of the appliances’ facial expressions work. All the human characters on the other hand don’t look as good, most look really cartoony and are designed either really round or scrawny. There are some creative moments, especially with the lighting and the atmosphere, such as scenes with lightning and water, but most of it feels very dated. There are some odd design choices, like some of the facial designs on the “cutting edge” appliances, one of the set of antagonists in this film, but they aren’t in the film for long. Since the main characters are the best animated in the film, it’s a good sign that they are the best to look at, and their designs makes it easy to see what emotions they’re going through.
The soundtrack is smooth and well-orchestrated, but unlike most Disney style musical scores during the time, this one has more of a dark tone, which was an intentional choice made by composer David Newman and done very effectively. Having a hint of serious, dark or dramatic tones definitely emphasize the emotions going on through the scenes, and really makes you take the scenes seriously when danger occurs, and it’s really good to listen to. The songs however aren’t as impressive, although I wouldn’t say they are all bad. In fact, out of the four songs, all written by Van Dyke Parks, three of them are good for the film, and two of those I would say are worth listening on their own merit, but all of them have this one problem; the music is cool and for some is quite catchy, and the lyrics are well written and fit with the setting and points of the film, but they don’t really fit together, either because they don’t match entirely or the singers have bad rhythm and range. The best song would be Worthless, sung by cars in a disposal yard about to be crushed, each one recalling their problems or their moments which lead to their demise, the message it brings is really well placed and the song itself is really catchy. The worst song has to be Cutting Edge, sung by high end appliances, jealous of the master’s love of main characters and sing about how brilliant they are and how advanced they are. This song has cool moments in the backing, but not even a rewrite would save this song, as the lyrics are dated and sound like a long appliance commercial for nothing, and it has no redeeming value.
The voice acting is good for the most part, the actors of the five main characters work really well off each other and have a good amount of personality to make them likable and impressionable, especially Jon Lovitz as the Radio and Tim Stack as Lampy, both comedians who have really funny moments and are really entertaining. They even got a decent child voice actor for Blanky, the mostly unknown Timothy Day, who plays the innocence and charm of a young child without sounding or acting irritating. I wouldn’t say it’s a perfect cast since most of the supporting casts don’t really give much of a performance out of single tone characters, and the main cast is a bit weak when it comes to emotions, they try but barely do they succeed.
If there is one really interesting, yet not really surprising point about the story, and I ended up watching the film more than once to make sure I didn’t mistake myself, the plot is essentially the Toy Story trilogy, mainly the latter two but there are elements of the first story, the messages and ideas they produce are similar, even the concept of the Brave Little Toaster’s climax is similar to Toy Story 3’s climax. Since some of the staff went onto Pixar, and in particular Joe Ranft wrote both films, you can say Brave Little Toaster is a predecessor to Toy Story, and that the latter was an improvement, being lengthened to three films so the characters can be better developed and the story can be better paced to improve the suspense and drama.
Does that make Brave Little Toaster worse in comparison? Not really, since the Brave Little Toaster did take some more risks with more dark moments and a more serious attitude, the characters are just as likeable as those in Toy Story in their own way, and since there’s less, there are easier to follow as a whole. The antagonists are probably the only problem in this film, in the amount of time there are three sets of antagonists, and they don’t have much time to be developed to an understanding level before being ousted for the next set, by the end I didn’t really care about who, what or why the antagonists are the way they are, even if they do show legitimate signs of threats.
It’s amazing why this Disney release is so overlooked, it has the light-hearted nature and passion of the children’s animated feature but it has the message and the tone of a mature work, but keeps it controlled so the film avoids becoming uncomfortable or silly. I would recommend it to any fan of Disney animations, and fans of Toy Story for look at what an early style of the story would be like, but what I can certainly say is that you won’t look away from this one.
The Brave Little Toaster is available from Walt Disney Pictures, since the film’s main popularity was through video release, it’s pretty easy to find, particularly in America. The original novel by Thomas Disch was originally published by Doubleday but it’s out of print, and some people treat it as a collector’s item. Its sequel, The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars (no, really) was also published by Doubleday, and was later adapted into a direct-to-DVD sequel by Walt Disney. A second direct-to-DVD sequel titled Brave Little Toaster Goes to the Rescue, which takes place in between the first two films, is also available from Disney.