*CONTENT WARNING: This article mentions the suicide of a character, self-harm, and abandonment trauma. Although it’s about a “family-friendly” animated movie, it’s important to note that art from the past can and does carry insensitivity, nuanced complications, blatant disregard for certain justices and potentially triggering content. Please be sensitive with yourself and others when reading and sharing.*
Whatever age you first experienced The Brave Little Toaster was too young. This movie is straight-up bonkers and I’m not really sure why so many of us watched it throughout our childhoods. Some things aren’t meant to make sense I suppose.
The Brave Little Toaster forced us to come to grips with abandonment trauma, self-sacrifice, and some pretty hefty stuff first-hand. Not to mention a few treacherously unforgettable moments we wish to un-see.
Are we anxious millennials because we watched this oddly intense movie? I’m not sure, but I can certainly tell you life was never the same after my first viewing and that’s worth noting. To be honest, it’s kind of a shame to see these October Spooky Movies listicles churn out every year and for all of them to blatantly ignore this golden nugget of uniquely traumatizing Disney lore. If we really wanted to take a look at films that make a messy impact, ignite actual fear, and provide stark, jarring visuals, at least in the opinion of this lone writer, The Brave Little Toaster counts as essential fright-night viewing. You’ve got to see it to believe it because this movie absolutely exists and we have a generation of scarred childhoods to prove it.
If you’re unfamiliar with the epic, fraught tale of Toaster and his band of forgotten friends, imagine Toy Story was directed by Wes Craven but focused instead on everyday household appliances. Not sure it gets anymore mid-80s than that. The Brave Little Toaster is entertaining, funny, zany as all get out, and most certainly a bonafide frightful feast. To fully honor the October theme, it’s fitting to re-hash some of the more notably scarring moments and wildly creative craziness this flick provided.
Here are three reasons why The Brave Little Toaster is arguably the most frightening movie ever made.
1. Air Conditioner Suicide
When was the first time you saw the death of a character on screen? Because that’s exactly what this is, a visceral, monologue-laden suicide(?) invited by the grim realities of abandonment and unfair circumstance. The creative team certainly wasted little time ushering-in this staggering scene for the young viewers.
Sure, hanging out with a few friendly appliances in a darling little cottage seems fun. Right about the time you’re buying-in and emotionally investing in these endearing characters, they cross paths with the living room air conditioner — window unit of course. In that moment, still early in the first act, we get our first glimpse into the curated world of terror-laced discovery.
The late Phil Hartman voices the savvy but cynical Air Conditioner (A.C.) who takes it upon himself to serve a sobering wake-up call to the naive Toaster and crew. Floating around an empty house wondering when their beloved “Master” will return, it’s good ol’ A.C. that breaks the sour news.
“Optimistic?! Somebody untie the knot in this guy’s chord … Now get this through your chrome — we’ve been dumped out, abandoned!”
What immediately ensues is a heated exchange that ultimately leads A.C. to literally implode beyond all fixability.
Watch the whole scene here. (content warning: suicide/self-harm)
After all, he’s not mobile; he never had the opportunity to engage with the famed Master; he’s deeply cynical as a result, and his reality has always been sad and limited. A near-useless existence. Unloved with no friends to speak of, trapped within the confines of a wall and a window frame.
So, A.C. loses it. he bursts into a “seeing red” soliloquy that ends with him blowing himself out of commission; lifeless; never to be heard from again.
Actually, it looks like this . . .
The level of existential dread this lone moment unpacks is harrowing by just about any standard let alone for a “family feature”.
Naturally, that leads us to question: Did Disney really give us a cartoon suicide on-screen and deem it socially acceptable for families to watch? Or, maybe it was simply a heart-attack brought buy extreme anger and stress? Either way, we all watched it and it changed us.
2. The Nightmare Clown
Remember this horrifying guy?
He pops-up in the middle of a literal nightmare sequence for our hero, Toaster. A nightmare that includes a towering inferno, dangling above a bathtub of water, the inability to run away from it all, and a blood-curdling clown cackle backdropping the whole display.
Outside of Christopher Lloyd in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, I legitimately have a hard time finding a more horrifying image from my childhood. Who thought a nightmare sequence of this absurd magnitude constituted kids’ entertainment. A sinister Bozo the clown and a treacherous near-death experience for everyone’s favorite animated toaster is not exactly my idea of a good time. But in terms of diverging visceral fright, it certainly delivers.
Here’s the full sequence. Re-Watching it again in 2020 it’s even more staggering that this scene made the final cut. No doubt a triggering moment of childhood trauma. That’s standard par for the course for a Disney animated flick, right?
3. The Musical Number About Being Gutted for Parts
It wouldn’t be Disney without at least one show-stopping music number, right? Well imagine, if you will, a big ensemble display of spooky character, sinister voices, dark looming shadows, trademark horror camerawork, and the oh so wholesome message of:
You’re trapped in your worst nightmare. Life as you know it is over. And you’re about to be experimented on and sold for parts. That’s literally the scene.
Get a load of these lyrics:
“It’s too late
We’ve got to operate
Just try to relax
It’s a house of wax!
Oh, I remember Frankenstein
Shivers up my spine, wo-oh
I’m for getting out of here
No need to shout, my dear, no-oh …
… There goes the sun
Here comes the night
Somebody turn on the light
Somebody tell me that fate has been kind
You can’t go out
You are out of your mind!”
Now that’s some good, clean family fun right there. Nothing more than a mild-mannered group of demented, partially destroyed electronics populating the creepiest Radio Shack ever set to screen. Kudos to them for embracing the “B-Movie” of it all and going out of their way to welcome Toaster’s crew to their own special circle of appliance hell.
Watch the whole number and tell me this isn’t pure nightmare fodder. Of course, it’s still not as frightening as the Clown nightmare so maybe that’s a good thing. But at this point, everything is so trippy how can you tell the difference? Here’s what I do know, real or animated, it’s pretty remarkable to see a musical number like this one serenading young viewers into a stupor of gritty childhood fear. Bold choice indeed.
Who knew abandonment trauma could be animated in such a visceral fashion?
Though likely that may not have been the motivation for the creative team we can certainly say it has become the movie’s lasting legacy. The Brave Little Toaster marks for many of us the first time we came to grips with some of these concepts and perhaps the first time we saw such harrowing images through the lens of vibrant high-quality animation. No doubt Disney crafted one of its weirder, more bewildering installments with this one. Yet through the trauma, the nightmare sequences, the spooky singing, through it all we get a clear glimpse that, if nothing else, the mid-80s Disney animation team gave us unfiltered, undeniable frights.
Speaking of trauma, it is quite telling that Disney+ has two Brave Little Toaster sequels available on the platform but not the original. Perhaps they finally came to their senses in realizing that though an animated talking toaster may be endearing children may be better off avoiding twisted title. It’s a noteworthy stop along the deceptively traumatizing trail of, well, let’s call them “unique” animated installments. In the same vein as Pinocchio, Mufasa’s death in The Lion King, Snow White‘s wicked witch, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit in the grand scheme of things The Brave Little Toaster in terms of nightmare fodder, unfiltered frights, and psychologically damaging displays, still sets unmatched. If you ask me, that is the makings of a truly frightening film. In many ways, I dare say many of us millennials may trace back the origins of our anxiety back to watching Toaster, Blanket, Radio, and the gang come face-to-face with jarring abandonment and downright scary characters. I mean, what’s not to love, right?
So maybe, then, we should be expressing our appreciation. Thank you, Brave Little Toaster, for making us grow up too fast; for giving us unforgettable moments like the junkyard sequence, the treacherous sinking mud, and the catastrophic air conditioner meltdown that have been forever seared into our psyches; for introducing feelings like doubt and anxiety into our little worlds. Yes, thank you Disney for giving us Toaster. We will quite literally never be the same again.
Now, after having said all that . . . Who’s up for a rewatch?