The Brave Little Toaster (1987) | This Ain’t No Kid’s Movie
(WARNING: This is going to be a long one folks, very long. But if you want to learn more than you could have ever wished for from and about this film, than stick with me and we’ll take this emotional roller-coaster ride together.)
I know I said I was going to talk about “Rock & Rule” next, but this movie popped back up on my radar a few days ago during a conversation with my sister, and I just couldn’t get it out of my head. I did a little research, and even found a Q&A session with the director and the voice of the Toaster about the movie, so I felt it was time to watch it again with my 20 year old eyes and 20 year old brain. Here is the long and short of what I thought.
(Sigh)…(sniff)…Um, (cough)…this is probably the most difficult film to watch…that I have ever seen in my entire life. However…
…that is exactly why it is so powerful.
Here’s the trailer from the UK: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpGLpD25dpU
Right off the bat, you should be aware that this is No Kid’s Movie. Now I don’t mean that in that kids can’t watch this, because I saw “…Toaster” for the first time when I was 5 years old. But it’s nowhere near what people in the movie business would ever honestly define as a quote-unquote “KID’S MOVIE.” Kid’s movies are usually half-assed excuses for entertainment that play to the simplistic impulses and demands of a young child’s brain and attention span: which often contain over acting characters, dorky musical numbers, over the top set design, half-assed plots with plot holes galore, low-budget crappy looking animation, and very likely a propensity for the director to be lax in his craft and let badly directed scenes slide. This would include such film masterpieces as “Thomas and the Magic Railroad,” “Barney: The Magical Adventure,” those stupid Direct-to-Video Barbie movies, the sequels to most of the Disney movies; and yes, even “Elmo in Grouchland.” You can just tell by watching them that these films pander to kids because they think kids are stupid, so the producers and directors feel they can just do whatever and the kids will just enjoy it anyway because they can’t tell a good film from a bad film. I can tell you right now, that is a little true, but not nearly as much as they’d like to think it is.
“The Brave Little Toaster” is just…a film, in the truest sense of the word. It has no ulterior agenda to be a film for families or children or adults, it kind of lands in the middle due to the sum of all its parts. Despite starring cute looking talking appliances and electronics, the story is filled with some of the most heart wrenching, dramatic, and emotional scenes I have ever had the privilege to witness. This movie affected me in so many ways when I was 5, and still when I was 8 and 10, but after watching it again now, after so many years; I finally can see, and feel… everything that it was and was supposed to be. And I’m going to do my best to really paint you a picture of just what this film really is and just how amazing it can be.
Now as I said, this is no kid’s movie, it’s more mature than that. That’s not to say it’s adult by any means, because “Adult” and “Mature” actually mean two completely different things. Being “Adult” means that it is something that contains inappropriate materials meant for “of-age” people (older than 16 or 18 in most cases), who are allowed to see T&A. It’s actually more a juvenile thing really. Adult films play to the desires and impulses of older people just as kid’s films play to the desires and impulses of children. And I mean our most basic impulses here.
“Mature” films on the other hand are the kinds that don’t play to any of those basic impulses; they work their magic on your higher senses as well as your emotional heart strings. They are films which require thought and contemplation to really get the full effect while in your seats. And “The Brave Little Toaster” is one such film.
This IS A VERY SERIOUS FILM, PEOPLE! Don’t be fooled by the quirky box-art. I don’t mean that you should be scared or turned away by what I’m about to go into about it, on the contrary. What I mean to do is to get you to understand how important of a film this is for doing exactly what it does, and that this is not just something you should pop in for your kids to keep them quiet. This is the kind of film that you should sit down and watch WITH your kids so that you can get them to understand the messages that it brings.
So to really set the mood for you, I’m going to describe just the first few moments of the movie.
The movie begins with a near black screen where the first credits appear. The music is very very quiet. It starts up slow with some low clarinets and flutes kind of sneaking by for the moment. Suddenly a bunch of dark colored birds fly away from the screen. The landscape is thick with fog and mist. We hold a few moments until a light metallic title appears on the right side of the screen that reads… “The Brave Little Toaster.”
The music continues to click and spurt, and then slowly builds with the clarinets again to really start pulling you in. The fog lifts, and the camera trucks towards a cabin in the distance. There are no cars and no other houses nearby. The camera goes through a window, and we truck across the staircase. We move in to see a Toaster with a reflection of the sunrise on its face. We then pan across a lamp and a vacuum cleaner, and then we slide upstairs, and see a picture of a young boy propped next to a small red radio. The camera pulls back to a wider shot, and the music dies down.
Now based on what I have just described, does that sound like the opening to a Kid’s movie to you? Absolutely not. No kid’s movie in their right mind would start with a slow, serious atmosphere in the middle of a dark forest, and open with slow emotionally charged music. Based upon this opening you should realize 3 things:
- The fact that it starts out dark and then foggy: should suggest that this is not going to be a happy-go-lucky film.
- The music should suggest that this is going to be a very serious, emotional and dramatic film
- The fact that the characters are introduced in very slow camera shots, completely in silence: should suggest that this is going to be a creepy film in one way or another because it is going to involve inanimate objects coming to life in a world that has no idea they can. And keep in mind, this was 7 years before “Toy Story” came out, and they did not introduce Woody in silence. They had a very charming opening theme song in that movie to get you in a happy mood and ready for fun. This movie, is no “Toy Story.” So what is the story then?
The story of this film is about a Toaster, a Lamp, a Radio, an Electric Blanket and a Vacuum Cleaner; and their unrelenting love, affection, and their subsequent search to find and return to their owner, whom they affectionately refer to as “the master.”(not to be confused with the character from Doctor WHO)
The movie has a slurry of ups and downs of every emotion you can think of. And I mean all of them, especially the less than pleasant ones. Loneliness, Dread, Sadness, Fear, Isolation, Denial, Cheerfulness in the face of danger, Disgust, Condescension, Love, Appreciation, Steadfastness, and of course Bravery. There are really only a few scenes in this movie, where you will likely feel happy and content, because through the rest of it, I continually felt a strong feeling of sadness, pity, empathy of loneliness and abandonment, empathy for loss, and fear for and with these characters. It is that strong of a film. And the music certainly doesn’t help none.
Some people will tell you that “music that pulls you along to feel a certain way is just trying to overcompensate for a lack of good story telling skills.” But in this case, it’s overdone music in a film that already has extremely good writing. So whatever over emotionally charged music might do to you on its own, and whatever a well written dramatic story might do to you on its own, is doubled or tripled when you mix them together. I have never, in my life, heard a more heart twisting soundtrack than this one. “The Land Before Time” and “An American Tail” come really close, but this takes the cake. There is so much going on that I never feel comfortable through the movie, it always leaves me wanting to go to my happy place because even when what’s on screen is nothing to bat an eye about, the music makes you think it is; and so you don’t feel happy when the characters do, you feel awkward and you feel the impending emotional roller-coaster that’s coming in a few minutes. I think that is one of the movie’s biggest strengths and biggest faults: that the music is too strong in places where it doesn’t need to be, and stronger than expected in scenes where it does need to be. I’ll get back to some more about this later.
Now for most of this review, I’m going to carefully describe to you how this film will emotionally, and mentally affect you by describing the film’s most disturbing scenes. Now I in no way wish to harm any of you who are reading this, in any way mentally or emotionally. So read at your own risk. But if you have already seen this film, then you will already know what I’m going to talk about. You just may not have internalized exactly what was going on, so I may shed some more light. For those of you who have never seen this, these detailed descriptions are in no way meant to turn you away from seeing this film. And if you’re like me, you will want to see it anyway. But if you have your doubts after reading what I have to say, read through to the end of my review, and you’ll see that even with all of this dark imagery, the film is still important.
So the whole film is pretty much spotted with some of the most dark and dramatic sequences I have ever seen in an Animated feature. I know that certain Japanese films tend to have very disturbing images, but those are mostly built on gore and hentai. This film, however, is disturbing on how it plays on your emotions and how you connect to the characters. I am now going to describe the 7 key scenes for your education:
- The first scene in question is the spontaneous combustion of the Air Conditioner. He chides and chastises the little appliances for their irrational faith that the Master will return. But after a few choice words were said by Kirby the vacuum cleaner, the Air Conditioner beings to boil with anger and distemperment towards his own predicament as something that must be stuck in a wall and cannot move about. Therefore he was never able to fully interact with the Master when he was at the cottage. So after getting over steamed and sucking too much power into himself, of course the Air Conditioner shorts out. But this ain’t no simple blows a fuze and instantly shuts off kind of short out. No, this is the pomp and circumstance, explode in sparks and scream and wail in pain kind of short out. Finally after much screaming and cries of torment from the Air Conditioner, and flashes of sparks, he literally blows up, and he seems to be forever broken. A piece of his face then falls off. This is a clear indication…(cough), that we have just seen the equivalent of a violent heart-attack and sudden death of a character…in an animated movie. What a tragic thing. It’s actually quite hard to watch, personally. Only during the Resolution of the film do we see the Master does return to the cottage and fix the old Conditioner back to working order. I call fowl on this because the Conditioner was clearly blow out, internally and externally to the point where repairs would cost more and take more effort than replacing him. I know this whole movie is based on the fact that one should treasure their belongings and not toss them aside for new upgrades. But it’s still quite unlikely that anyone would be able to fix him, let alone want to.
- The second scene that is quite disturbing is the Nightmare sequence of the Toaster, when he and everyone else are resting for the night after their second day out in search of the City. The Toaster dreams that the Master is making some toast in him. The Master takes one slice out, eats it with jelly, but the other piece starts to burn. The smoke plume then curls around behind the Master, and forms a hand which grabs him and yanks him through the kitchen door; then closing it. The Toaster looks down and sees flames erupt from the floor, and a Giant, evil Clown Fireman appears. (trust me, it sounds funny in a way, but it’s creepy as hell and you know it). The Clown moves in close, and without moving his teeth, says “run,” in the softest scariest way possible. Then the Toaster starts running, and a wave of water appears behind him, which curls over and the foam at the top of the wave morphs into a bunch of giant forks, which land and stick in the ground just behind the Toaster. Then the clown starts laughing manically off camera. The Toaster now appears in a bathroom holding onto the shower curtain, and as you can guess, he is suspended above a full bathtub. The dream sequence ends with the Toaster falling into the water, and likely dying of electrocution.
YOU SEE WHAT I MEAN ABOUT THIS MOVIE BEING SCREWED UP!? I just can’t believe I was able to watch this as a child. I must have had some pretty strong prepubescent balls or something. Cause I can handle it now too, but it’s a lot more emotional and things resonate with me much more strongly and differently than they used to.
- The 3rdshocking scene is just after the nightmare, where the Car battery that the appliances were using to power Kirby to drive them around suddenly goes dead. (Although I call fowl on this as well because Kirby can obviously move just fine under his own magical powers of inanimate life; so why in the hell does he need help pulling an office chair around the countryside with a giant battery?) The Blanket gets caught in a heavy wind that screams by in a thunder storm going on at the time, and everyone starts calling for the Blanket to try to find him. Lampy looks over and realizes that they won’t be able to do anything without the battery (again, they can all move without being plugged in, so what the hell?), and he decides to do something drastic. He climbs on top of the chair, plugs his cord into the battery, and stretches himself as high as possible. Then a bolt of lightning strikes him and holds for a seemingly long while. The battery gets a huge surge of power and recharge, but the Lamp is severely burned and his bulb explodes. He then falls to the ground, weak, and deeply injured.
- The 4th scene is short, and so is the 5th. The 4th involves a water fall and adjoining rapids. The appliances realize that they have to get across the waterfall, so they attach all of their cords together in an attempt to swing themselves across to the other cliff face. The Toaster manages to reach the other side, but loses his foot hold and falls. The weight of the fall snaps off everyone hanging off of Kirby’s cord, and they plummet into the water below. Kirby is left sitting their, alone, shocked, helpless, feeling dread for the possible death of his friends. But he does a very brave thing, he sucks in his cable, and leaps off the cliff into the water, managing to pick everyone up on his way down the rapids. The shot of him falling into the water is one of the most inspiring shots in the whole film, next to the Toaster’s sacrifice during the climax. But we’ll get to that later.
- The 5th scene involves Kirby falling into a quick mud-pit, where he sinks into the mud with everyone attached to him. So as he sinks deeper, everyone else follows suit. The radio is left outside clamoring for something to say as his final words, and chooses an old 1930s tune that sort of describes it all. Just the way that John Lovitz delivers these lines is what tears me up. He feels so helpless and scared about his impending doom. At this point, we have 5 scary, disturbing, and heart wrenching scenes; what wondrous adventure shall we have next kids? (o_0)
(Big Sigh) So onto scene 6. I’ll need to set this one up with a big question that needs a very clear answer, because despite my full understanding of what is going on here and the analogies being made, I can’t help but notice theirs a flaw in the logic of the writers.
Now this question I’d like to pose is relates to something that is not really a fundamental problem of the film, it doesn’t necessarily detract from anything in the story unless you look hard enough. But it is an inherent logic problem. How are these appliances all alive, and what is their life force? You might say, well likely you’d say it’s electricity, right? And you’d probably also say that their heart is their internal motors or their battery circuit or something of that nature. But then I would have to rebuttal that with the fact that, other than the radio running on batteries (although we later learn in the sequel that he runs on a very special vacuum tube that is only made in Russia or something), none of the other are kept alive all day long through power. It’s almost like electricity powers different parts of their physiology. For some, their entire life-force is run by battery or outlet power. For others, like the Lamp and the Toaster, electricity is only needed to run their heating elements: the lamp’s bulb and the Toasters grills. Kirby the Vacuum only needs power to run his suction mechanism, but why would he need that out in the wild? He can move about on his wheels under his “natural” life-force all he wants. He doesn’t need electrical power to pull that off. So then why is electricity so important to anyone other than the radio? The Blanket, while being an “electric heating blanket,” never once complains or mentions that he needs power to stay alive. He perpetually moves his cloth body and talks without a problem through the entire film. And the toaster moves about with a retractable cord for some reason, without the need for power either. So the big problem here is they never needed a car battery in the first place, and Lampy never needed to get struck by lightning. It’s just plain confusing any other way. Either keep the reason for their life-force consistent between all of them, or have them able to live without it at all. Simple as that.
6. So back to disturbing scene Number 6. Here we have a hardware shop/appliance repair shop. Where a man referred to as Mr. St. Peters is taking a customer’s order for a new blender motor. Mr. St. Peters was the one who saved all of the appliances from sinking into the mud pit from scene 5. I have no idea why he was out in the forest though. Anyway, Peters doesn’t actually have any other blender motors in stock. So to make a couple buck, he takes the blender he does have, and he takes out it’s blender to sell to the guy at the counter. But what the director does with this scene is make it all gross and overly shocking. We see the blender cower in fear. We see Mr. Peters put on sterile rubber gloves slowly. He tightens a vice down onto the blender with it upside down. He stabs the blender with a flat screw-driver. Pulls it’s cord out: an obvious reference to neutering a dog, as the appliances all pull their cords in after witnessing this. We hear loud crunching noises and cracking plastic sounds to simulate breaking bones likely. And then he snips all of the blender’s internal arteries. Taking its heart out and placing it in a box with a price of $5.95 on it. Now this scene plays out exactly as the director Jerry Rees intended. The problem is that if the motor of the bleder is it’s heart, and electricity its blood; then why don’t all of the appliances have these basic parts. The toaster has no motor, so what represents his heart? The Lamp doesn’t have a motor, it doesn’t even have a battery, and yet he can turn on his bulb without being plugged in a few times. The blanket and the Radio have a battery system, but would that be their heart or their brain? Therefore Kirby is the only one with an internal motor, although he can clearly move around without it, so it makes no consistent sense. See what I mean.
Whew! Well, I know it’s just been so fun up to this point now that I’ve thoroughly explained why this movie is so dramatic and disturbing. So before I explain the last three most disturbing scenes, I’ll take a break and express what I find nice about this film.
So in between all of these moments of personal torture to the audience, there are a few sequences that are either happy, charming, fairly pleasant, interesting, wacky, cool, or catchy and enjoyable. =)
I first want to express that I do love all of these characters. It’s a good varied bunch of misfits. You have the stead-fast optimistic leader of the group (Toaster). You have the good tall-guy friend who likes to get involved but has his own mind about things sometimes (Lampy). You have the loud mouth class clown who loves to narrate everything: kinda like the resident Robin Williams of the group (Radio). Then you have the crotchety uncle figure who is the voice of authority and old fashioned values (Kirby the Vacuum). And finally you have the kid; who’s only want in life is be loved and cherished again by his Master (Blanky). I like the comradery and the relationship that all of these characters have with each other. Sometimes it can get hard to watch, like when Kirby goes a little nuts at the sight of the water fall, or when the Blanket flies away in a gust of wind from that thunder storm. But for the most part they are a fun bunch. The Toaster and the Radio are my favorites. They keep the group together and are the glue and the super glue for most of the film.
Another good thing about this film is that it has almost equal parts comedy and lightheartedness as it does dark and dramatic parts. It’s just that the dark and dramatic parts are very very strong, so there seems to be more of them more often. Then again, maybe there are more scenes that are dark, but there’s just enough light hearted scenes and comedy to keep one comfortable.
The other good thing about this film is its songs. Strange that it only has four songs total, because most musicals would need five or more to be considered a musical. So I’m not sure exactly what to call it.
a. Anyways, the first song “The City of Light,” is a beautiful piece that describes what the appliances hope to get out of their adventure to the city. It’s actually quite an unconventional song with very original lyrics for a change. Nothing seems taken from the big book of cliché song lyrics, it’s very much its own animal. Which is quite refreshing for a song in an animated feature.
b. The next song doesn’t come for quite a while, almost an entire half hour before we hear it. It’s called “It’s a B Movie,” and it was probably the first time I ever heard the term “B Movie” ever, back when I saw this movie when I was 5. I’ll say right now to clarify my next point, that THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING THAT MAKES THIS MOVIE SO DAMN DRAMATIC AND DISTURBING AT TIMES IS THE MUSICAL SCORE. The score is relentless in its attempt to illicit emotional reactions from the audience. Those damn violins just won’t shut up sometimes, and they are the one most saddening instrument in the entire film. Any time they play, you feel awkward inside because they waver and hold their note. The way musicians must play violins to get this wavering sound is something that I internalize when I hear the sound, and so whenever I hear wavering violins, I tense up, as I would if I was actually having to play the violin like that. And that’s exactly what wavering violin sounds do to any person; you tense up and you expect some impending danger to come along. But this damn sound plays during times when nothing bad is happening. So I’m constantly held in a state of fear, dread, sadness, confusion, and unpleasant emotions all around when there’s no call for it. It’s one of the most maddening things about the whole film. The music is so overpowering that it makes the film more awkward and depressing to watch than it already is.
Thank goodness though, the musical numbers are not as much like that. The song “It’s a B Movie,” while sounding creepy and weird, is much less so than the actual background music. So I actually am quite fond of this song because of its topic, its tune, and the great singing by the performers of the song itself. Very very entrancing harmonies here.
c. The 3rd song is probably the coolest and most associated with the film. A song simply entitled “MORE.” It’s about technology on the cutting-edge providing more choices and abilities to do things than ever before. Especially computers and electronics. It kinda has this odd, mid-80s sound that you don’t hear very much. Almost like a DeVO thing or something. I really really like it.
Okay, so after those pleasantries, let’s get back to the hard-hitting stuff.
7. Disturbing scene Number 7 is just after the song “MORE” finishes. The Master, whom we now know is named Rob, has gone back to the cabin after many many years to pick up the old appliances to use in his new college dorm room. Although, I’m calling yet another fowl here: he talks to his girlfriend as if he has been going back to this cottage every single summer since he was little. Clearly he didn’t come back after he was 5, because they last image the appliances have of him is him at 5 years old, you can tell by his voice. Also, he remembers all of the old appliances, even what they look like for some reason. A 5 year old is not going to remember all of those details of old appliances he once used to use. He just isn’t. It’s not like he has family photos of the Vacuum cleaner and the kitchen toaster.
So then as he is searching for his old stuff he asks out loud “well, where’s the toaster?” And right after he asks that about each of the 5 appliances, they all get kicked out of his mother’s apartment by the modern electronics and appliances, into a waiting garbage container in the back alley. This is pretty much the new appliances bumping off the old ones and condemning them to hell. Which is exactly where we are going next…the DUMP.
Now, after having seen Toy Story 3, you can probably guess that Pixar had seen their colleagues film here a couple of times, because now we are at the Garbage Dump: the equivalent of Hell for all appliances, toys, furniture, and electronics…
d. So, now were in the Dump. The 4th song of the film is called “Worthless,” a song about how unimportant you most likely are in the life of your owner. In this case, only cars sing this song, so it’s about cars not living out a full life. What is essentially happening here, is the cars are expressing their regrets and missed opportunities in life due to their neglected owners, and then they are pretty much executed by the giant garbage compactor: which in this film is represented which hilariously by a giant metallic stamping machine with soulless eyes and blocky teeth. So it is literally chomping them into little cubes. What life they had in them…is now gone.
After the song ends, things start to get serious. The appliances are being carried up by the electro-magnate to their impending doom. But the master shows up in his car with his girlfriend after the TV (who is old friends with the appliances) convinces Rob to go check out a garbage dump, to hopefully allow him to find his old appliances.
The appliances now feel that they are at the end of their rope, and there’s no hope in getting back to the master now. But just then, Blanky sees the Master down below looking through some piles. The magnate drops the appliances on the conveyer belt and they all leap off. A game of hide-and-seek begins between the appliances, Rob, and the electro-magnate. The appliances don’t want the magnate to find them, but they do want Rob to find them. Rob doesn’t know they’re there, but the magnate does. The magnate has a very strict prime-directive, and only wants to take up the garbage, put it on the belt and keep it there. And he will apparently do anything to make sure that happens, even if it costs someone’s life. So when Rob finally does find his old appliances sliding along on the conveyer belt, he picks them up and calls for his Girlfriend Chris to say what he’s come across. But the magnate won’t have any of his garbage pulled back off, so he picks up the appliances again, with Rob holding on dearly to Kirby’s arm. The magnate drops them all onto the belt and Rob is trapped under a bunch of heavy metal chunks and pipes. He has no chance to easily escape, he screams for help, but his girlfriend can’t find out where he is.
As he gets closer and closer to the crusher, he realizes he might be done for. The Toaster looks quickly climbs up onto a pile of garbage and looks on, he tries to think of any possible way to stop all this. The Toaster then realizes there is only one course of action to save his Master; he must sacrifice himself by throwing himself into the gear system of the crusher to hopefully stop the motor and shut down the machine. He succeeds…and the Master is safe.
The film, for better or for worse (you’ll see what I mean in a minute), abruptly shifts from that intense climax to the brightest and most cheerful part of the whole film, the resolution: where the Master, Rob, is now safe and sound back at his mom’s house with his girlfriend Chris, and all the old appliances. He hammers the toaster back into good shape, and celebrates with a good old-fashioned piece of dry toast. Then he packs up the car, and gets ready to head out for college life. The appliances all give themselves a pat on the back for a job well done, and Radio gives a FDR styled speech for recognition of bravery and perseverance in the face of uncertainty and adversity. The film thankfully ends on a good note.
Well as you can see, this is a very very very very very Very VERY VERY VERY Dark film. One of the darkest and most deeply emotional, heart wrenching, nerve twisting, tear jerking films I have ever seen in my entire life. It is that strong of a film. But that’s not to say that it is so strong in this respect that you shouldn’t watch it. I kind of like to think of it as just as exhilarating as what watching a horror movie is like for other people. People like a good scare, right? Well the thing is, horror movies don’t affect me very much, at least out of the ones I’ve seen. I think even the “Halloween” films would seem tame compared to what emotions this film can elicit from me. So rather than get a high or get a buzz from being shocked and terrified, sometimes I like to let loose, let down my barriers of strength, and get emotionally affected by a strong film such as this. Because I don’t get emotionally affected very often these days. I’ve kind of had to shut all of that off for the sake of staying productive and being a pillar of strength and an example of perseverance for others. But because of all that, I have denied myself a normal part of what it is to be human, emotions. And so, films like this, while being very hard for me to watch, I believe are good releases for all of my pent up sadness and other unused feelings. Strange I know, but that’s one reason I would say you should watch this.
Another reason you should watch this movie is pretty closely related, and that is that this is one of the only films that is non-apologetic in it’s affect on your mind, your emotions, and your subconscious. Everything I just described as being disturbing and freaky is just that, and most animated films do not have the balls to be that way, let alone all the way through the film. Remember what I said about this being a mature film? Well if you want to watch an animated movie that is mature, not just adult, and not just kiddie stuff like those “Tinker Bell” CGI movies or something, then this is probably the movie to watch.
Some very interesting facts to get you even more interested.
- 3 of the cast members for this film, Tim Stark, John Lovitz, and Deanna Oliver were apparently all picked from an improv group because of their more realistic deliveries of the lines. Director Jerry Rees wanted there to be believable conversations between these actors, and he gave leeway for the actors to adlib some lines, which some of he did keep in.
- John Lovitz, the voice of the Radio, got a job offer during the early script stages of production to become a member of Saturday Night Live. But Jerry Rees was still writing the script at the time, and had been re-writing earlier lines and writing new ones to fit John Lovitz specifically. So they decided that the only way John could still play the character would be to record all his lines in one night, without any of the other actors present. So literally, every single line of John’s in the film was recorded on one single night. You gotta hand it to the guy for dedication.
- Joe Ranft, who died prematurely a few years ago, was a key player, storyboard artists, story consultant, and friend of the main Pixar Team since “Toy Story.” But before “Toy Story,” he worked on this film as a story man and storyboard artist with Director Jerry Rees. Joe also provides the voice of Elmo St. Peters, the portly repair shop guy in the middle of the film.
- Veteran Voice Actor, Thurl Ravenscroft, signature singing voice of the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney Land/World and the ever popular “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” not to mention the original Tony the Tiger; plays the crotchety uncle figure of Kirby the Vacuum cleaner. One of his only roles where he is officially credited for the part.
- Every single sound you hear in the film was done on a Foley stage, because Jerry Rees wanted his appliances to have a unique sound to each of them. He also wanted to retain the realism and the stark serious atmosphere of the piece by not using any sounds from the Disney libraries. That way people wouldn’t watch the film and recognize sound effects that had once heard used in “Robin Hood” or “Dumbo” or something. Because Disney did tend to reuse many of their old sound effects from even their Silly Symphony days. Jerry Rees also went all over Los Angeles personally to pick up as many cool appliances and bits and pieces of appliances from thrift stores and pawn shops and where ever else he could find stuff, to make all of the sounds.
- Probably the most important piece of information of all: is that this film was never officially released in theatres when it was finished in 1987. It was only released to the general public later on its initial home-video release.
- HOWEVER, in 1988, the film WAS exhibited at one of the early Sundance Film Festivals, where it was actually considered, by the judges behind closed doors, as the best film of the year. The only reason it didn’t win was because the judges felt they would lose credibility in the film community if they gave an award like that to an animated feature; which at the time were not consider true films. Only until Beauty and the Beast came out in 1990 were Animated films finally given the proper praise that they deserve.
I have a pretty good idea why this film could have won the Sundance Film award for Best Picture, because it was not like all other animated movies. It had the balls to be dramatic, and harsh, and unapologetic. Film critics and Film Judges love movies with strong emotional baggage, and a lot of dramatic performances and scenes. So if any animated movie should have won the festival, it should have been that one. And it would have been if the judges weren’t afraid to be progressive. The movie might get more praise now than it does.
I should also point out that Jerry Rees has been taking questions from fans about the film on his website: http://www.topiama.com/r/374/im-jerry-rees-director-of-the-brave-little
He also has webpages dedicated to Behind-the-scenes photos and descriptions of the production; which I was very fortunate to come across after writing this review: http://www.jerryrees.com/page3/page3.html
So after all of that mess, and pages and pages of my descriptions, what are my personal summations?
Even back when I was 5 years old, this film was hard to stomach. Now, in some ways, it’s even harder. But I feel that it has a real charm to a lot of it. I really love the animation done here. For being an independent film made out of a dirty old shack in Los Angeles, they pulled out some very expressive stuff. I especially enjoy the facial expressions given to the Toaster. He’s a cute little guy. Actually, since the voice is performed by a female actress, I’ve always thought of the Toaster as the resident female of the group. Even back in the day I never considered the Toaster a boy. Not really.
I firmly believe this movie is something that if you don’t get traumatized by it, can turn you into a person who really understands the power of emotion in storytelling. It teaches you things that you can’t really describe entirely: about friendship, about compassion, about understanding others differences; even more so it teaches you to be resourceful, about the capacity for personal sacrifice for the greater good (not that everyone needs to do that, but it’s something that people need to learn about some day), and it teaches you about bravery and the ability to face danger head one when the time calls for it. These are all good morals that young children should learn. It may be all wrapped up in a dark feature, but it’s quite powerful and striking. And I may show it to my kids one day, and I will likely cry along with them. Because the feelings I get from this movie are Real, they are Visceral, they are powerful, and…(sniff)
…I…am just so happy…(sniff) to be a filmmaker…because I want to be able to make other people feel this way about my characters in my stories the way that I feel about the Toaster, and Lampy and Radio and Blanky and…
…I’m sorry, but the film finally got to me… (sniff)…
…I’ll see you all later…