The Darkest Moment in the History of Children's Films

The Darkest Moment in the History of Children’s Films

On what planet is this a good children’s story?

The 1980’s may have been morning in America, but children’s animation was full of nightmares. There was The Secret of NIMH (1982), in which a mother mouse struggles desperately to save her babies from drowning in the mud as they cry out in terror. There was The Black Cauldron (1985), which was so dark that Jeffery Katzenberg was afraid it would get a PG-13 rating, and made animators remove scenes like this. There was The Land Before Time (1988), which begins with the main character’s mother getting killed by a T-Rex.

But there’s dark, and there’s The Brave Little Toaster (1987). This movie is twisted.


A John Lasseter sketch, from back when he wanted to make a computer-animated Brave Little Toaster.

In some ways, Toaster was a dry run for Toy Story. It’s about inanimate objects that talk and move when people aren’t around, and their fierce love for a little boy. Both movies center on the objects’ struggle to be reunited with their owners. In both movies, the objects obsess over becoming lost, broken, or unwanted.

These similarities may be more than a coincidence. In the early 80’s a Disney junior animator named John Lasseter had the crazy idea of making a computer-generated feature. Years later, he recalled:

A friend of mine had told me about a 40-page novella called “The Brave Little Toaster,” by Thomas Disch. I’ve always loved animating inanimate objects, and this story had a lot of that. Tom Willhite liked the idea, too, and got us the rights to the story so we could pitch it to the animation studio along with our test clip.

That pitch went so poorly that Lasseter was fired ten minutes later. (But don’t feel too bad for John–he runs Walt Disney Animation now.)

The Brave Little Toaster became a traditional 2-D feature in 1987. The story is about a vacuum cleaner, a radio, a lamp,  an electric blanket, and of course, a toaster. They live in a cabin in the woods, which hasn’t been visited in years. Everyday the appliances wait, broken-hearted, for their beloved “master” to return for them. It is pretty much the saddest thing ever.

Video after the jump.

By the way: yes, the vacuum cleaner is Tony the Tiger. (Hey, did you know that the voice of Tony the Tiger is the same guy who sang the “You’re a Mean One, Mister Grinch” song?)

The appliances decide to go on a dangerous and totally terrifying journey through the woods to find their master. Eventually they wind up in a junkyard, where the broken-down cars sing the blues as they are brutally executed, one by one.

Keep in mind, I have not even gotten to the dark part yet.

Our heroes’ beloved master arrives at the junkyard, looking for cheap stuff to bring to college (this was pre-IKEA, of course). He sees (and somehow recognizes) his beloved appliances. But while trying to grab them, he’s picked up by a giant magnet and pinned to a conveyor belt, heading towards the crusher. What happens next used to haunt my dreams.

Can I swear on this blog? Is that alright? Okay, I’m going for it.



This is a children’s movie about an adorable talking toaster. And at the end of the film, he jumps face-first into industrial machinery. We watch him get ripped apart. The fact that anyone thought this was appropriate for children amazes me.

By the way, it’s not like that ending was part of the original book, and the animators were just being faithful to the story. The book does not end with a horrific appliance suicide, because Thomas Disch was not a sadist who liked to make little kids cry.

Now of course, the very next scene shows the master repairing Toaster. At the end of the film, not only is Toaster fine, he doesn’t have a scratch on him. But you know what? This is bullshit, and even eight-year-olds know it.





Are we to believe that after almost dying in the crusher, this teenager climbs up onto the machine to see what happened, somehow recognizes the mangled remains of the toaster his parents owned five years ago, and decides to fix it? And even if the guy was the greatest mechanical engineer of all time (Donatello? Hephaetus?) there is obviously no fixing that toaster. Toasters do not get any more broken than that toaster.

Oh, and you want some bonus darkness? The author of “The Brave Little Toaster” novella, Thomas Disch, shot himself on July 4, 2008.

17 Comments on “The Darkest Moment in the History of Children’s Films”

  1. Josh #

    I think dark, violent children’s films should be their own genre. I literally grew up on Secret of NIMH and I just got to say it, that movie was fucking badass.


  2. Katie D #

    Woah, I remember watching this movie many a time as a child. The scene where the vacuum cleaner sucks up his own electrical power cord gave me nightmares.

    Terrifying movie, but somehow I convinced my parents to rent it from the VHS section of Shop’n’Save at least twice a year.


  3. Gab #

    Oh, yeah, that movie is chock-full of dark, depressing stuff. How about the guy that makes Frankenstein appliances out of his stash in the back? Or the Narcissus-esque flower?


  4. LJ #

    I’m glad I’m not the only person seriously disturbed by this movie. The Black Cauldron also scared the crap out of me. That’s the only thing I remember about it, actually.


  5. Jonathan #

    Brave Little Toaster epitomizes what good animation can do for the average child, like Iron Giant did….today’s Dreamworks crapola is disgusting to say the least, dumbing our kids down even more….


  6. Spunk-Monkey #

    That movie really had some hot and cold animation moments; some parts were executed amazingly well while many other sequences are straight-to-dvd quality. I had thought the most disturbing part was the musical low where the “new” home appliances sing an amazingly annoying superiority song. But there’s a sequel that tops that sequence, featuring Carol Channing as a singing ceiling fan. Even my toddler felt that she was being punished.


  7. neubauer #

    @ Katie: To this day I am afraid of vacuuming over the cord! I had forgotten about the origin of this fear until now. Come to think of it, the times I’ve seen a large magnet in a junk yard, I get creeped out. Wow. I wonder what other subconscious appliance issues I have as a result of watching this movie. I watched it probably every other day at some point as a child, but I only remember the “city of life” song. The rest is blacked out…


  8. Lauren #

    I love this film. I loved in when I watched on VHS at my grandma’s house as a pre-teen and I love it now. It’s beautiful, dark and deep.


  9. Doyle #

    dude. ruining my favorite childhood movie. haha


  10. J.D #

    I think there is a period in everyones life when The Wizard of Oz is their favorite film. The darkest moment in children’s films for me probably came when Dorothy Gale is given electroshock therapy in the 1985 film Return To Oz. I’ll never trust Auntie Em again.


  11. Zzyzx #

    @neubauer: I 10000% agree with your fear of running over the cord with the vacuum. That green vacuum screwed me up. If I’m ever in a situation where I’d have to vacuum a house with an indoor waterfall, I think I’d pass out and shit myself.

    I remember having a fear of throwing out my old things as a kid. I’d hide my old, ratty socks from my mother so she wouldn’t throw them away while I was at school. I honestly believe, and still believe, that inanimate objects that serve me well in life deserve to be treated with dignity after their useful life is over. Cars, especially.

    There were a lot of dark animated movies back then. Remember “An American Tale”? I’ll stop there. I’m depressed enough. Fievel would make it worse.

    Well, goodnight, slothead.


  12. Manders #

    I’m also slightly disturbed, but I think I remember hearing once that this movie’s storyline is supposed to contain some “Christ/Resurrection” themes. You know…Toaster dies to save the Master, then the Master takes him and makes him whole and new again. Anybody? Anybody? No?

    Secret of NIMH, An American Tale and The Land Before Time, though? Making children cry like that is just mean.


  13. ken #

    Any pity for the Gelflings?

    Henson didn’t leave much doubt when he named his film, ‘The DARK crystal’.


  14. bri #

    they dont make films like this anymore…..everything has to be soo happy so we dont disturb our kids…..i dont think i have seen a kids film with any creepy parts in a while. i mean even pixtar has gone soft…..i remember when Sid from Toy Story was the scariest kid ever…and still is, and how Hopper would try to smoosh the ant’s heads, or the creepy snake monster in Monster’s INC. Now its all about happy rats cooking food.


    • SDL #

      This comment aged extremely poorly after the terror and tears of Toy Story 3 (and Wreck-It Ralph if we’re counting non-Pixar movies)


  15. KittyJinn #

    Has everyone repressed “Watership Down”??? Yes, technically it was released in 1978, however, it was very much an 80s dark children’s film. I was born the year 1981 and it still messed me up. I believe it may have been one of the godfathers to what we all experienced in the 80s with heavy dark despairing children’s films. How about “The Plague Dogs” (1982) ? Sanrio also had a hand in this sick genre with films such as “The extraordinary adventures of the mouse and his boy” (1977) and “Ringing Bell” (1978) . Oh and theres more! There was a special video subscription that my parents enrolled in for me as a very young child called f.h.e. (Family Home Entertainment). Does anyone remember that? They had some massively twisted stuff in their library and it was all conveniently sent to your home, at random. “Red Balloon”??? No, it wasn’t animated.. but it was described as a children’s movie at the time. How about “The Phantom Tollbooth”? 80s children’s movies were screwed up dude, but it started in the late 70s. Also.. Canada put out some weird stuff at the time. Bill Plympton was my hero.. still is. All in all this stuff should’ve put me in an institution but I grew to wanting to be an animator.. and mess kids up with my insane cartoons. It’s a vicious cycle.. but that’s how we got “Rick and Morty”. Much love to my 80s kids brothers and sisters out there! Were screwed up, but we can make it work. ♡


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