The Brave Little Toaster Trilogy
Released in time for its fifteenth anniversary is The Brave Little Toaster, 1987's award-winning film about some appliances who hit the road in search of their owner. It's an entertaining movie in a Toy Story sort of way—you spend your day talking to these inanimate objects and it's fun to imagine what would happen if they could talk back. This Hyperion Pictures production features animation that, while it really doesn't strongly emote, still does a competent job of getting to who each character is. Those characters (a toaster, a radio, a lamp and an electric blanket) are all supported by songs that are a step above what you'll hear in most other animated efforts. But really the key, as in any movie, is the story. Here the story (written by Thomas Disch, Brian McEntee, Joe Ranft and Jerry Rees) is strongly told and loaded with undertones of abandonment and love, and teamwork and trust in some pretty open and expanded ways. This is one of those well-crafted movies that is able to get its points across in a way that is less preachy and more entertaining. The Brave Little Toaster is an under-the-radar movie that works really well and hopefully its new release will garner it a new generation of fans. The movie is also notable for animation fans because one of the animators is Pixar's own John Lasseter and the film features the vocal talents of Thurl Ravenscroft and Phil Hartman and you can never go wrong there.
Where you can go wrong is in taking a nice, small mid-level movie and forcing a sequel out of it, which is exactly what's been done to The Brave Little Toaster. Twice. And both of those films are out on DVD as well.
In the first sequel, The Brave Little Toaster to the Rescue, the boy from the first film grows up and takes everything to college. As many sequels do, this one dips into a little bit darker territory than its predecessor by bringing a subplot of animal testing to its story. Not a typical studio animated topic, but done right it could have been something interesting and special. Unfortunately, it's treated as it's drawn, blandly. The film, whose characters were so well developed in the first outing, suffers this time from a middling, uninspired mildness. It feels like a B-team project that was worked on in down time. It's not that this is really a bad movie, but there just isn't a reason to get excited about it. It lacks a real care and passion. Its animation feels almost too clean and its songs (perpetrated by William Finn) have slipped a notch to mediocrity. Animated movies like this are often what detractors of animated movies point to and when they do, it's tough to argue.
Remember the movie Multiplicity with Michael Keaton? It was the one where he cloned himself and then made a clone of that and a clone of that and so on. Every time he made a clone though, it just came out a little fuzzy and duller than the first. It's a theory that sums up this trilogy completely. Alone, The Brave Little Toaster is a fun watch and it makes an interesting double feature with Toy Story. After sitting through the progressively dull exploits of all three movies though, you start to think that if that's what appliances are up to then the Amish way of life isn't all that bad.