If there's something I like in a movie, it's a breakfast machine. You know the kind of thing. That Heath Robinson / Rube Goldberg / Wilf Lunn (delete as applicable) device that is supposed to serve up a hot - and automated - plate of toast / eggs / bacon as well as a cup of steaming coffee while the house is attending to its toilet.
Variants will act as alarms / get one dressed / run baths.
There've been a few over the years, but let's establish some parameters.
- The "morning routine" is a hackneyed way of establishing character, yet it persists. We see your protagonist getting up and about first thing, and we can do two things at once. One, we can set up character through their routine / dress / looks / lifestyle etc, and two, we can start the story. Start of the day, start of the story.
- We can subvert these cliches by showing an atypical morning. Breakfast machines tend to signify wackiness. We're in for a zany time here, folks.
- We can infer disequilibrium a-coming around the corner as fast as you can say "Russian formalism" or "narratology" or even "fried or poached, Tsevan Todorov?" This is done simply by the machine going wrong. There are exceptions to the rule, but the rule is this: the machine goes wrong.
- Thus, either the world of the protagonist is about to turn sour / this is a world already gone wrong / we're in the presence of someone wholly unreliable / all of the preceding already applies.
- These contraptions tend to the home-made. We are in the presence of the amateur inventor. The unsung genius. Quite possibly, the crackpot.
- The machine is unnecessarily complicated.
However, we're also in the presence of breakfast. Most important meal of the day. Let's not cock it up, eh?
Exhibit A: Caractacus Potts: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
You get a song and a successful breakfast. I'm not sure if there's a movie breakfast machine that comes before this beauty though I've got the sneaking suspicion that I've forgotten an obvious one. Anyway, this one's a beaut. Plus it underlines that Potts's inventions can actually work.
Pee-Wee Herman: Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. A classic set-up this; how better to inculcate the viewer into Pee-Wee's world?
Then again, why not illustrate a world gone utterly wrong, where even the most mundane of tasks is over-complicated, bureaucratic, uselessly industrialised and - quite possibly - out to get you?
For an example of that, here's Terry Gilliam's Brazil. Sam Lowry's morning nightmare starts at around the 2m40 mark in this clip.
Sometimes this is friendly slapstick fun with well-established characters. A serial offender, and perhaps king of the labour-saving kitchen gadget is Nick Park's inventor Wallace. Here's the opening of his and Gromit's finest half-hour, The Wrong Trousers:
A kindred spirit is Emmett Brown, who has a couple of goes at automating the morning. This is from 1985's Back To The Future:
And another in the third (and best, let's face it) of the Back To The Future films, lovingly rendered in classic taped-off-the-telly style:
A friendly ghost-assisted version crops up in Casper:
The trope is subverted in Joe Johnston's Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, where the opening family dysfunction is signalled by the fact that Rick Moranis's inventor dad isn't there operating a breakfast machine (the whole movie is - for the moment - on YouTube, and the scene's at the beginning of the film, kicking in at about the 3m30 mark):
Breakfast machines were all over the place in the late 1980s. Even films without a breakfast machine had a similar scene, as in the terminally-overrated The Goonies:
He was late to the party, but even Robin Williams' Philip Brainerd (see what they did there with the character name?) has one in his late 90s Absent-Minded Professor remake Flubber. The breakfast device can be glimpsed here in what might be the most awkward n-th generation video capture ever uploaded to YouTube:
Inevitably, and depressingly, along comes Family Guy to render something once-loved into another in a cacophony of pop-culture references spat on then trampled for late-night yahoo enjoyment:
And there we have it. There'll be a few I've missed, I'm certain, and I'd love to track the trope back in time to see where it originates. The breakfast machine, ladies and gentlemen. May your toast always be buttered by automatic knives.
In the meantime, why not be like Simone Giertz and make your own breakfast machine?