It’s not that often that animated films share some similar concepts (and even rarer when both similar film are released in the same year). Examples of such films include 1998’s Antz and A Bug’s Life, 2010’s Despicable Me and Megamind, 1992’s Ferngully: The Last Rainforest and 2013’s Epic, and 2006’s Happy Feet and 2007’s Surf’s Up. The similar concept I will shine a spotlight on today is an inanimate object (or group of inanimate objects) attempting to reunite with its (or their) master, with a number of challenges standing in the way. For this latest installment of Animation Corner, I’ll be looking back at The Brave Little Toaster and the Oscar-nominated Toy Story.
Directed by Jerry Rees, 1987’s The Brave Little Toaster centers on a toaster, a vacuum, a clock radio, an electric blanket, and a lamp as they journey over a great distance to find their original owner. Based on the novel by Thomas Disch, this film features the voices of Deanna Oliver, Timothy E. Day, Tim Stack, Jon Lovitz, Thurl Ravenscroft, Wayne Kaatz, Phil Hartman, and Mindy Sterling. This critically acclaimed film cost $2.3 million to make but didn’t gross much at the box office due to its extremely limited theatrical distribution. The film had premiered at the Los Angeles International Animation Celebration in 1987 and was shown at the 1988 Sundance Film Festival, but it failed to find a distributor and Disney (who had the video and TV distribution rights) withdrew its official theatrical distribution, airing the film on the Disney Channel in February 1988. Hyperion Pictures, which had produced the film, would later screen the film in art house theaters in the U.S. Disney originally bought the rights to the novel in 1982, but passed on a pitch by John Lasseter and producer Thomas Wilhite (both of whom wanted to use new computer generated backgrounds for the film). This led to Lasseter’s dismissal from Disney and Wilhite co-created Hyperion to put the film into production. David Newman would contribute one of his earliest and most memorable scores. Among the film’s accolades are a Grand Jury Prize nod from the Sundance Film Festival and an Emmy nod for Outstanding Animated Program.
Directed by John Lasseter, 1995’s Toy Story centers on a group of toys who pretend to be lifeless whenever humans are present, focusing primarily on the relationship between Woody, a pull-string cowboy doll, and Buzz Lightyear, an astronaut action figure, as they attempt to reunite with their owner after becoming separated from him. Featuring the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Annie Potts, John Morris, Laurie Metcalf, and R. Lee Ermey, this critically acclaimed film cost $30 million to make and grossed nearly $192 million (it made another $170 million internationally for a worldwide total of nearly $362 million). This was the first fully computer-animated feature film. Pixar had a tough time developing the film with Disney mainly due to Disney film division chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg’s work methods. Pixar owner Steve Jobs clashed with Katzenberg several times during the negotiations between Pixar and Disney in 1991. The story went through a number of phases over the next few years, requiring the work of several screenwriters (production would be shut down at one point in 1993). Billy Crystal had actually been offered the voice of Buzz Lightyear first but turned it down (a decision he later regretted, which led to him immediately accepting the offer to voice Mike Wazowski in Monsters, Inc.). Randy Newman also began his collaboration with Pixar, writing songs and scores for several of their films (including this one). Among the film’s accolades are two Saturn Award nods, nine Annie Award nods (including eight wins!), two Golden Globe nods, a Special Award of Merit from the Producers Guild of America, and three Academy Award nominations along with Lasseter receiving a Special Achievement Oscar.