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Film review: Brave Little Toaster, The

A big hit at the Sundance United States Film Festival a few years ago, "The Brave Little Toaster" is a wonder of the movie industry — despite its enormous appeal this picture has been unable to find a national distributor.

A delightful tale, based on the Thomas M. Disch novel, "Toaster" is about a houseful of old-fashioned appliances in a Rocky Mountain cabin that have been abandoned by their owners.

They come to life, of course, tidying up the cabin each day as they await the return of the little boy they call "the master." But he never comes.

When the cabin is put up for sale, the peppy little title character, along with a dour vacuum, a perky lamp, a sad little electric blanket and wisecracking radio, sets out for the big city to track down their "master."

Along the way they encounter all kinds of dangers, ranging from overly curious frogs to raging rainstorms to typical big-city hazards. Occasionally the film even veers toward "Indiana Jones"-style heroics, and it is at this point (about halfway through) that "Toaster" loses a bit of steam.

It does pick up again, though, especially when the appliances encounter some more modern counterparts.

There's a hip quality to all of this, with movie in-jokes and puns blending well with the action. And a couple of characters lend extra laughs as voiced by "Saturday Night Live" players — Jon Lovitz as the radio, blurting out baseball plays, musical interludes and FDR fireside chats (obviously not gags aimed at small fry) and Phil Hartman doing a hilarious Jack Nicholson imitation as the bombastic, stuck-in-the-window air conditioner. The air conditioner steals the show.

The animation is fully developed and fluid, and the "camera angles," if you will, indicate direction that has been well thought out for theatrical showcases. The animation is also, however, flatter than the classical style employed by Disney and Don Bluth productions we've seen lately.

On a recent scale, I'd rate "Toaster" well above "All Dogs Go to Heaven," though it doesn't match the knockout epic gestures of "The Little Mermaid."

"The Brave Little Toaster" is a funny, occasionally thrilling animated feature aimed at kids, but with a sophisticated sensibility intended to reach their parents as well.

In fact, "Toaster" is so charming and animated films are so popular right now, it's hard to believe a major studio hasn't seen the potential for success here.

After its premiere at the Park City film festival in January of 1988, followed a few months later by a run on cable's Disney Channel, "Toaster" finally landed its first commercial run at the Film Forum in New York last June, obviously hoping to attract a distributor.

Unfortunately, it didn't happen, and there are no plans for a video release either. Who knows when you'll get another chance to see "The Brave Little Toaster."