Hi Wesleyan. This is Mytheos Holt, your (at least for another week) resident epic troll, and welcome to a new column I like to call “the DeAnimator.” And yes, it is a column. I’m going to try to get as many of these published over the next week as possible, seeing as it’s my last chance to publish in the Blargus, and also seeing as it’s my last chance to rant about a topic wholly unrelated to political liberalism, but no less repulsive to my worldview – namely, animated films that ruined my childhood. As you may have guessed, given this subject matter, this is going to be a much less serious column than my infamous “Mytheology,” and will probably offend a lot less of you, seeing as I’m going to be tackling films that, by and large, everyone can agree have some serious flaws. Some of these are going to be less obvious than others, and to that end, I’ve decided to begin the series by tackling a more counterintuitive film – one that definitely has its merits – but one which I disliked heavily in my childhood, and still dislike today. I’m talking about Disney’s random venture into the adventures of anthropomorphic appliances, the Brave Little Toaster.
Now, I’m not going to deny there’s a lot to like in this movie. A lot of the people who worked on it went on to work at Pixar, and it shows, because the plot has definite resemblances to Toy Story. And God knows, if anyone says anything against Toy Story in my presence, I’ll sock them in the goddamn face and they’ll stay plastered. So why did I single this film out for a hit piece, if it bears resemblances to a film I love? Well, to be frank, the trouble is that while it resembles Toy Story, it’s missing almost everything that made Toy Story good.
Let’s start with the main characters – namely, Kirby the vacuum cleaner, Lampy the Lamp, Radio the…well, you figure it out, Blanky the Blanket and the eponymous Toaster. Now, I’ve got nothing against ensemble stories. Not to harp on the Toy Story connection too much, but Toy Story 2 featured a really excellent ensemble by including not just the famous Woody and Buzz, but also Woody’s coterie of Wild West-oriented compatriots and the entire crew of toys that populate Andy’s room, in the plot. There’s two big differences, though – firstly, while Toy Story 2 had an ensemble cast, it didn’t try to give them all equal face time, which enabled the film to cement the distinctiveness of each character with particular moments. Secondly, all the characters in Toy Story 2 were…well, likable. Sure, some of them had their neuroses, and a fair number weren’t the nicest toys on the block, but more or less they seemed like decent characters, and fit into a world which was, if not danger-free, at least a place where optimism was possible.
Not so with Brave Little Toaster, where not only are the characters all given face time at the same time, thus blurring the memorability of each, but almost none of them are the sorts of characters you’d want to remember. In fact, the only character I found myself liking at all in Brave Little Toaster was the Radio, and that’s only because of how audaciously ridiculous the character is, and how refreshingly un-laden down with baggage he is. To put it bluntly, Radio’s the only character in the movie who seems like an adult – a really immature, megalomaniacal, narcissistic and emotionally obtuse adult (see why I identify with him?), but an adult nonetheless. Everyone else is either insane or…well, really emotionally unhealthy. The Toaster is almost bipolar, given how frequently he/she/ze/it changes the way ze acts. One minute, ze is verbally abusing the Blanket. The next, ze is cuddling with him. One minute, ze refuses to give up hope on “the Master.” The next, ze sits resignedly in a garbage disposal. The vacuum cleaner is clearly supposed to be a jerk with a heart of gold (at least, according to TV Tropes), but really comes off as an emotionally stunted jerk with a reckless disregard for his own safety. And the Lamp’s status as a literal dim bulb wears thin after a while, especially given the annoying tone of his voice actor.
And then there’s the Blanket. Oh, dear God, the Blanket. I hate this character. I really, really, really hate this character. It’s one of the creepiest entities ever put on screen. If you took Glenn Close’s character in Fatal Attraction, gave her the voice of a seven-year-old boy and the mental age to go with it, deepened the severity of her Borderline Personality Disorder by a factor of 10, and removed any notion of other peoples’ personal space, you’d have Blanky. We get our first look into the mind of this twisted piece of fabric not twenty minutes into the movie, when a car drives down the road toward the house and Blanky, literally shivering with antici…….pation, imagines that it’s the car belonging to the appliances’ former owner, the “Master.” This triggers a disturbing, emotionally manipulative and frankly cruel fantasy sequence in which the blanket floats down the stairs, sparkling with joy, as the mysteriously unaged “Master” enters the door and runs, in slow-motion into the outstretched arms of his obsessed former lover before evaporating as the fantasy dissipates. That’s right, kids. Careful with your appliances, because that first gen iPod you threw out last year is gonna boil your rabbit in a pot, because IF IT CAN’T HAVE YOU, NO ONE CAN!!1
And that’s not even getting into the world of the film, which is about as bleak, unforgiving, cruel and utterly hostile as you can get away with in a kids’ movie. Everything, from cheap engineers, to nature, to next-gen technology, to dumpster magnets, is out to KILL our heroes. And the payoff at the end doesn’t nearly justify it – they just get packed into the “Master’s” car as he drives off to college. No Great Valley, no spectacularly lit ending sequence, no emotional closure, no nothing. We go through several different kinds of hell, and all we get is the promise that these poor appliances are going to get puke and sundry other bodily fluids all over them for the next four years as “the Master” lives it up in college, completely oblivious to their sacrifice, until he dumps them at “Waste Not” senior year. Thanks, movie. Real emotional payoff, there.
But all of this would be forgivable (well, except the Blanket) if it weren’t for the Godforsaken music. This film was made during the era when every bloody animated film ever had to be a musical, and it shows so much. These are some of the most uninspired, irrelevant-to-the-plot, pseudo-electronic eighties-style songs ever written for a movie. From the bizarre non sequitors (“I remember Frankenstein! Shivers up my spine! Whooooaaaa!”) to the painful rhymes (“Computer graphics locked into your memory”/”Step up and talk to your dear old Uncle Emory”) to the anviliciously existential and frankly disturbing (“You’re worthleeeeeeess”), I can’t think of another film this beloved that made such poor use of its music. At best, the songs feel badly tacked on. At worst, they just deepen the generally disturbing and depressing tenor of the rest of the film to almost Kafkaesque levels. In one of them, a car even commits suicide. As the Nostalgia Critic might say, “You know! For kids!”
I know people like this movie. Believe me, I realize that the animation’s clever, that the story’s a good twist on the usual homeward bound style plot, and that there’s a lot of nice, subtle jokes at the expense of the eighties. However, that doesn’t make up for the rest of the film. For all its nostalgic value, the Brave Little Toaster is just that: Toast.