Friday, 3 October 2014

The Brave Little Toaster Is Terrifying

A couple of articles ago, I stated that a series of movies about inanimate objects that were secretly alive when people weren't looking was the only perfect trilogy in the history of cinema. In the first film of that most perfect of trilogies, some inanimate objects get lost and have to find their way back home before their owner moves away. Now imagine that premise but like ten times more horrifying and you get The Brave Little Toaster.

Instead of lost toys who have to get home, you have a bunch of discarded household appliances who have been waiting patiently and dutifully for years in a family cottage for their owner to return and use/play with them. You know how the toys in Toy Story 3 haven't been played with for years and are basically just in storage? Well that's how The Brave Little Toaster starts. It doesn't take two movies to build up to it, just throws you straight in.

Because, really, it isn't a children's animated film. Oh, it may superficially look like a children's film with cartoon characters and a cute "pets/objects try to get home" story but it is all a trick. One big ploy design to trick you and scar your childhood with nightmares too terrible to behold. For The Brave Little Toaster is in fact a horror movie in disguise as a children's film.

Although, to be honest, it's not much of a disguise.

Look at that opening title. No really. Look at it. Take away the cutesy title and that image could be the background for any horror movie made ever. Dark background shrouded in mist? Check. Twisted looking trees? Check. Invokes a vague sense of ominous doom? Check. Seriously, why this didn't clue everyone in that this movie was going to be scary as hell is a mystery scientists will be trying in vain to solve for decades to come.

Now, before I go into how this movie is chains-rattling-in-the-night horrifying, it's probably best to lay down the plot for plot's sake. So, the movie is about these five appliances who have been waiting for their owner... sorry, they call him the Master since I guess they're his slaves? I mean master... for their master to return.

But it's been years and they have began to think he will never return after having their hopes dash too many times. When they find out the house is for sale, rather than accept that and just lie around for the new owners, they decide to set off and find their master.

"Come on guys, it'll be fun. Like vampire hunting or fending off a zombie horde."

Accompany our eponymous Toaster is a radio named Radio who's pretentious and likes to come up with ridiculous stories/lies about himself (mostly involving Teddy Roosevelt, which is fair enough since Teddy "My moustache once killed a man" Roosevelt!),  a dim-witted goose-neck lamp named Lampy, an electric blanket that goes by Blanky and a grumpy gruff vacuum cleaner named Kirby...

A vacuum cleaner named Kirby? At least with that one they actually tried and didn't just add a -y to the end of word of the thing they are, like it could be a nod to comic artist great Jack Kirby or what's that? Kirby is the brand name for a line of vacuum cleaners and his name is just as simple as the rest? Oh... Nevermind then.

What's interesting about these characters though is that they don't like each other. They really don't. They've just sort been thrown together and are stuck together but they don't really like each other. They constantly argue and fight, getting in each other's faces and calling each other names, just being all around unpleasant to each other.

For example, The first introduction we have to Radio and Lampy, the first characters we are introduced to in the film, is when Radio wakes Lampy up and they fight each other across the house, insulting one another. And while Toaster might be the glue that keeps them together, acting as peacemaker most of the time, even she gets annoyed at the others the rest of the time.

This is not the face of a little toaster that's gonna take any more of Lampy's shit.

Now, Toaster and the Appliances (that would make a great name for a band, write that down) don't know what to do with the day since it's just gonna be a morning of waiting for their master to return followed by more waiting in the afdternoon, with a side of waiting in the evening. So, they start dancing around to the sounds of Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti" while doing chores because a little Richard goes a long way.

Actually, I think that might be the first time I ever hear "Tutti Frutti". Or Little Richard. Well, at least it is the first time I can ever remember hearing that song. Therefore, I have forever thus associated a song that list two girls who either know just what to do or drive Little Richard crazy, but still know how to love him yes indeed, with a bunch of dancing appliances doing chores. Childhood rememberings work like that.

But that brief moment of bouncing joy is soon cut short when Blanky hears a car coming so they go look to see if it is the Master returning. It's not. But don't let that get you down because the air conditioner named Air Conditioner is all too willing to do it for you when he starts berating the other appliances for still believing that the Master will ever come back when it's obvious they've been discarded.

"I just like making electric blankets cry. It's my function."

And this leads to the first really scary moment in the film since Air Conditioner is just callous and menacingly creepy as he torments them with words as chilling as the air he be spilling (I'm so sorry). Voiced by the late great Phil Hartman, who you may remember from such childhood memories as Troy McClure and do-I-need-to-mention-anything-else-I-already-said-he-was-Troy-McClure-from-The-Simpsons, doing his best 'Jack Nicholson at his most ominous' impression, the Air Conditioner is genuinely scary.

After Toaster suggests that the reason he is so bitter is because he's jealous the Master never played with him, he starts getting seriously worked up and screams that he was designed to fit in the wall, it's not his fault, IT'S HIS FUNCTION, overheating until he explodes. And dies. Legit explodes, then death.

[Warning: Viewing this video may result in some viewers averting their eyes in pure terror.]


Before they have even left the house to go on their adventure, this 'kids' movie hits you with a nightmarish vision of self-inflicted death caused due to bitter loneliness, indignant rage, and overheating. The appliances then leave the house with Kirby pulling the others on a desk chair while they all sing an apprehensive hopeful song called "City of Lights" about going to find the Master and how life is highway you've just got to ride it, but this is just a brief moment of levity before the horror to come.

In fact, "Tutti Frutti" and "City of Lights" are the only songs in the movie that have any lightness about them (or in the case of "Tutti Frutti" just rollicking Little Richard awesomeness). The rest do not. I would say they are shrouded in shadow but it's more that they are shadows themselves, just darkness creeping up behind waiting to engulf any bit of light they can. But we get to that all in good time.

Because right now is the time to talk about the woodland critters they come across and it seems like we've just stumbled onto another movie entirely.

Nothing ominous about this at all.

Now the thing about this scene is that it's all cheery with talking animals (yes, apparently animals can also talk in this movie) and actually kinda reminds me of that scene in A Series of Unfortunate Events where it opens with The Happiest Little Elf and sunshine before hitting you with the dark gothic movie you came to see. Something about that forced happy cheerfulness that precedes something more depressing and/or scary.

Because that is exactly what happens. Within a moment, almost within the same beat, those welcoming smiling critters become quite invasive and threatening as the squirrels and frogs all jostle to make funny faces in their reflections on Toaster's surface. Toaster runs away as the animals chase him because holy shit man, did you see that funny face I just made?

He manages to lose them by hiding behind a bush but then a flower mistakes its reflection on Toaster's surface for another flower and tries to embrace it. Toaster tries to explain to the flower that it's just a reflection and that she is not a flower but the flower still tries to hug her thinking that finally it is no longer alone in the world... so Toaster runs away again since the word 'brave' in the title was more of a rough guideline than an accurate description of her courage.

But then she looks back at the flower and sees it droop its head in utter despair and sheds a petal as though it's crying. It sheds a petal as though it's crying.

I want to hug it and tell it that things will be okay.

After that heart-wrenching scene, we go back to see that the mice are dragging Blanky down into their hole because of course they are before Toaster comes to rescue him. They then set off into the forest which is ridiculously eerie with massive looming trees that block out the sun and submerge the appliances in murky gloom.

After they decide to camp for the night, the appliances wonder where they'll find shelter since the spooky demon face tree Lampy found didn't have any accommodation available for the night.

Eventually they end up sleeping under Blanky who's pitching a tent (I'm sorry). Tucked away under Blanky's tent, Toaster dreams. Or rather she nightmares, and nightmares hard.

Wow... okay then, I... um... wow.

No seriously, look at how traumatically petrifying this nightmare is. It is legitimately scary.

I mean, fire! Evil smoke cloud that steals your loved ones! Fireman devil clown! Waves of water that turns into waves of forks! Falling into water and being electrocuted!

Did I mention the fireman devil clown? Because fireman devil clown!

I had a caption for this but it pissed itself and ran away in terror.

With that vision of utter horror still fresh in our minds, our supposedly intrepid gang of appliances wake up in the middle of a storm with screeching wind, pulsating blasts of rain and raging lightning. And thus begins the scene that traumatised me the most as a child. Whenever I remember this scene I recall the terror and nearly weep for fear that nearly tore my soul in twain.

Blanky gets blown away. The wind picks him up and sweeps him off so quickly you scarcely have time to process what just happened, let alone react. But react you do. It's genuinely frightening when he gets blown away and cries for help into the abyss of the night. You fear that maybe he is actually gone, for the others can't even see him in the cacophony of wind, rain and leaves engulfing them.

And then the battery dies, so Lampy stands on the chair with his bulb to the air and gets struck by lightning to recharge the battery. His bulb bursts from the overload and he collapses dead to the world. Again, all this is supposed to be a children's film.

To be fair, like a children's film, Lampy is fine, if a bit beaten up and sick, and they find Blanky stuck in a tree the next day, but still. Once they find Blanky, they continue on their journey until they come to a waterfall and this happens:

Kirby short-circuits. As in, he loses his mind and starts choking on his own power cord as though having an epileptic fit.

Yet again, this is supposed to be a children's film. Because characters nearly chocking as they go into an epileptic fit is standard fare for most animated kids movies. Like that scene in The Lion King where Pumbaa nearly chokes on Timon after having a fit downwind. Classic family entertainment.

After trying to make a bridge across the waterfall, falling into the rushing water below because Toaster suffers from vertigo, the gang end up in a swamp where they have to pull Kirby since they lost the battery. Of course, he falls into mud hole and starts to sink, bringing the others along with him. And so each one sinks into the mud. Blanky even says he's not scared as he gets pulled under, resigned to his muddy fate.

They get saved by a passing used parts saleman who hears Radio's radio and get taken back to his little shop of horrors. Filled with broken and discarded appliances, the scene is not unlike the ones in Sid's room from Toy Story. But where we eventually find out Sid's Frankenstein monsters are actually nice and help Woody and Buzz, these broken appliances are twisted and cruel.

Cue the creepy hanging lamp that gives Lampy a new bulb and says to keep it in good health for as long as he has it, by which he means until the used parts salesman chops him up. Because the used parts salesman has to get used parts from the used appliances he uses. And just like that a customer wants a blender motor. So he operates on a blender in ghastly silhouette, violently removes his motor like a crazed surgeon.

We can see why the hanging lamp is so creepily cheerful despite the horror of the situation, he's been driven insane by the terrors he's seen. So many terrors. This leads to a song that is explicitly about how the scene is like a 'B' horror movie where they namedrop Frankenstein, the House of Wax, and Vincent Price in the lyrics.


It's almost like this song is straight up telling the audience, "This is not the children's film you are looking for. It's really an animated horror movie. We're making references to Vincent Price for Dracula's sake!". But since it is supposed to be for kids, I suppose, the appliances escape and make their way to the Master's flat.

Where they are promptly are confronted by jealous and vindictive modern state-of-the-art (for the 1980s) appliances who sing a song about how they are so much better than Toaster and the gang being cutting edge and whatnot. So they throw Toaster and company out into the trash and they get taken to the junkyard.

And there we have a song that matched with the imagery is far more dark than I think the filmmakers actually realised. All the wrecked cars in the junkyard sing about how they are now worthless... as they are about to be crushed by the trash compactor. That is, as they are about to die.

Yes, add eyes and make the part that crushes trash into cubes look like teeth, that'll make it look more kid-friendly and less like an arbiter of death.

This would be gallows humour of the highest order if it was played for laughs instead of just being deeply unsettling. It's like hearing the prisoners on death row singing about how they're worthless before sitting in the electric chair.

In what, one more time, is supposed to be a children's film.

They are literally watching corpses go by on a conveyor belt.

All of which builds up to the climax, where the malevolent giant magnet, presumably called Giant Magnet and who seems to relish his job of carrying things to their doom, has been chasing Toaster and the Appliances across the junkyard while they are attempting to get the Master's attention since he's there. The Master finds them and gathers them together (aside from Toaster) but Giant Magnet doesn't give up, pulling them all up, even with the Master holding onto Kirby's handle.

He then drops them on the conveyor belt of death, trapping the Master under the weight of the trash, unable to escape as the trash compactor, whose name is Shirley by the way, is about to crush him. So, Toaster, after spending most of the movie just filling out the 'little' part of the title, has to decide whether to let her Master be crushed or sacrifice himself by throwing himself into the gears of Shirley before she does said crushing.

The gears in her reflection reflect the inner workings of her mind as she agonises over this decision.
Also, the actual gears she's thinking about throwing herself into.

Ultimately proving she is a brave little toaster, Toaster sacrifices herself and flings her metal body into the gears and is promptly ground up. But she does save the Master. Of course he does repair her and the rest of the Appliances are safe and all laugh as the end credits roll because the filmmakers remembered that this was supposed to be a children's film.

But it's not. Well, not really. What it is really is scary. There are moments in this film that would not be out of place in horror musical or just a regular horror movie. Like authentic scenes of terror and/or creepiness that can actually cause trauma if you weren't prepared for such intense moments of dread.

That said, the songs are catchy as hell, even when they sound like they come from the cries of those in the pits of hell. Sooo... kids' movie?


References:

The Brave Little Toaster Wikipedia page

The Brave Little Toaster DisneyWiki page

It's a 'B' Movie DisneyWiki page

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