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‘The Brave Little Toaster’ Traumatized a Generation of Children

Think ghosts, witches and murderers are scary? Clearly you’ve never seen a film about kitchen appliances having existential crises.

Seriously, if I hear “Lost in the Woods” one more time, I’m going to freak the hell out. Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely think Frozen II is a good movie — and I applaud it for briefly reviving the male power ballad — but, as the father of a six-year-old, hearing the same film on repeat all summer can be grating, no matter what it is. That’s why, when I join in on movie night, I insist on exposing my kid to stuff she hasn’t seen before. For example, there’s The Land Before Time, which had a big impact on me as a kid, and Osmosis Jones, which is surprisingly educational. Recently, I was trying to think of something cute and lighthearted to watch, and The Brave Little Toaster came to mind. Unfortunately, all I could find was a couple of direct-to-video sequels on Disney+. The original was nowhere to be found — not on Netflix, HBO or Amazon. It was nowhere.

That night, we settled on watching Muppet Treasure Island because I love everything with the Muppets, but I went digging into The Brave Little Toaster issue later on and was surprised by what I found. While it seems that Disney may not have all the rights to the movie — which might explain why its sequels are on Disney+ but not the original — I also found several blog entries, Reddit threads and Twitter posts by adults saying how much The Brave Little Toaster terrified them as a kid.

Honestly, I don’t remember being freaked out by the movie when I was young, and it’s hard to believe that a movie about a talking toaster could really be that traumatizing. But when I found the full film on YouTube, I rewatched it and immediately understood why it was so frightening.

If you’ve never seen The Brave Little Toaster, it’s a lot like Toy Story, except with appliances. It’s about a toaster and a few other abandoned housewares who reside in an empty house, awaiting the return of their “master,” a small boy who used to live there. But when a realtor puts a “for sale” sign out front, the appliances decide to head to the big city in search of the boy.

Whereas the Toy Story films are adventure movies with some existential crises mixed in, The Brave Little Toaster is mostly about an existential crisis. On occasion in Toy Story, Woody and the gang confront the fact that they will eventually be outgrown — and maybe even thrown out — but while a child might have some sentimental attachment to their cowboy doll or their Mr. Potato Head, you can’t really say the same thing about a toaster or a vacuum cleaner. Hell, I remember when I was a kid I had a toaster oven that caught on fire. I didn’t give a fuck — my mom just bought a new one. If anything, I was probably more upset about the decimated Bagel Bites inside the toaster oven than the actual toaster oven itself.

It’s not like Jerry Rees — the writer and director of The Brave Little Toaster — was unaware of this. In fact, much of the movie deals with just how worthless these things are. Less than 15 minutes into it, the appliances are lamenting the absence of their master, when a grumpy air conditioner — played by the late Phil Hartman — chimes in. He tells them, “We’ve been dumped! Abandoned! It’s scrap-metal time!” From there, an argument erupts where the air-conditioner freaks out and explodes. It’s unclear if he killed himself or had the air conditioner equivalent of a heart attack, but he certainly is dead.

That scene in particular is memorable among fans — and victims — of the film. Josh, a 39-year-old college professor, tells me that his mom worked at a daycare when he was little and they’d show it there all the time. “I remember liking it, but parts of it really scared me,” he says. “The air conditioner was terrifying!”

Josh also recalls being scared by a scene that takes place in an auto-wrecking yard. Much like the heart-wrenching junkyard scene in Toy Story 3, the appliances in The Brave Little Toaster have a moment where they’re also threatened by a trash compactor. During it, a bunch of broken-down cars sing a song called “Worthless” in which they lament their past lives before being crushed into pint-sized cubes. Literally dozens of characters die in this scene, and though none of the principal characters lose their lives, it’s still really unsettling.

But that wasn’t the only scary song! Justin, a 40-year-old mortgage underwriter, says that he was even more frightened by a song called “It’s a B-Movie.” Taking place right after a scene where all the lead characters appear to die in a mudpit, Toaster and the gang are retrieved by a man who runs a repair shop and intends to use them for parts. It’s there that a bunch of other broken appliances describe the man as something of a “Dr. Frankenstein,” taking appliances apart and experimenting with new inventions of his own.

On YouTube, one commenter left a rather chilling analysis: “The scary part of all this is that the machines have, in a way, gone off the deep end and just accepted their fate. They even see it as a funny thing to ponder their eventual dismemberment and/or their unavoidable demise. And the fact they have given up the idea of escaping to the point of preventing others from escaping is rather shudder-worthy.”

But the horrors don’t stop there! There was also a scene where the vacuum cleaner runs over his own cord and goes crazy. One redditor tells me that that scene left him with a lifelong fear of running over the vacuum cord, and others on Twitter have echoed his sentiment. Meanwhile, in another part of the movie, the lamp gets himself struck by lightning to save his friends.

If all that weren’t enough, the toaster has a dream sequence where he comes face-to-face with an evil clown. Why a toaster has a fear of clowns is never addressed, but it’s in there, and it’s scary as fuck.

In fairness, not everyone thinks that it’s a bad thing that The Brave Little Toaster is a scary movie. Caleb, an English teacher in New Zealand who wrote an essay called “The Brave Little Toaster Is Terrifying,” explains, “The film seemed far darker or more real in the emotional sense than other animated films I was watching as a kid. Also, I think the best term to describe the feeling the film evoked is ‘distressing.’ Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a kid to feel while watching a film, but it definitely wasn’t typical for an animated children’s movie.”

On that note, I’d have to agree. Released in 1987, The Brave Little Toaster refreshingly didn’t speak down to kids. There’s even a good argument to be made that it set the stage for other, more memorable films like Toy Story that would tackle similar themes in the decades to follow (FWIW: many people involved in The Brave Little Toaster would go on to work at Pixar). If anything, the film is probably under-appreciated for its contributions to the genre.

All that being said, I’m in no hurry to show The Brave Little Toaster to my daughter. I’d much rather go for another round of Frozen 2 than have her up all night with nightmares about her fucking air conditioner.