Childish Fantasy
Small Soldiers
Dir: Joe Dante
Star: Kirsten Dunst, Gregory Smith (+Voices) Tommy Lee Jones, Frank Langella
Cert / Year: 12 - PG-13 / 1998
Format: DVD R2

"I love the smell of Polyurethane in the morning"

When Alan Abernathy (Gregory Smith) is left in charge of his father's toy store for a couple of days, it is a sign that his father is beginning to trust him again after a successive string of mishaps he caused including burning down his old school. Eager to make a good impression upon his father for his return, Alan manages to acquire a batch of "Commando Elite" and "Gorgonite" figures from a friendly delivery driver called Joe. (Dick Miller) and believes that he will be able to sell them all before his father gets back and he will have made some profit for his fathers "No military or violent toy" policy store.

After opening a couple of the figures Alan is visited by his attractive next door neighbour Christy Fimple (Kirsten Dunst) whom he has a crush on and who is looking for a birthday present for her equally precocious younger brother. Unbeknown to either of them the two figures Alan opened are having a stand off and are much more than just mere toys. The new figures are the latest product from "Heartland Play Systems" which having recently been taken over by the international corporation and defence contractor "GloboTech" headed by the toe tredding and materialistic Gil Mars.(Denis Leary)

In order for the new acquisition of Heartland Play Systems to pay off, Mars got Larry (Jay Mohr) and Irwin (David Cross) to design some "new" toys that could interact with the kids, have a mission, have lifetime batteries, and could walk and talk. The result was the Commando Elite under the command of Major Chip Hazard (voice of Tommy Lee Jones) and the Gorgonites, a band of creatures from the planet "Gorgon" led by their emissary Archer. (voice of Frank Langella) After searching through the "GloboTech" computer systems Larry discovers the X-1000 chips which were marked as surplus and in one of his more creative moments transfers them for use in the new toys, not considering the fact that the chips were designed for military applications.

Although at first glance you may suspect that this film is merely an attempt for Joe Dante to re-package Gremlins it isn't, and during the course of the movie you do have plenty of references to and fun been poked at Gremlins. Targetted for a mainly teenage audience this is a film that the more mature viewer can quite happily watch and enjoy, especially if you can appreciate the digs the film makes at the "Action Man/GI Joe" and "Barbie/Sindy" toys that many of us grew up with.

Good direction by Joe Dante which is complemented by the superb use of CGI courtesy of Industrial Light & Magic and the equally impressive puppet and animatronic design from the Stan Winston Studio. The figures look fantastic and are well designed and it is difficult to distinguish which scenes are animatronics and which are CGI effects. The character voices are superbly cast and it is amusing to see the figures of the "Commando Elite" voiced by members of the original "Dirty Dozen" notibly Ernest Borgnine, Clint Walker, Jim Brown, George Kennedy all of whom are under the command of the fantastic Tommy Lee Jones as Major Chip Hazard. "The Gorgonites" are equally well and interestingly voiced by the members of Spinal Tap led by former Dracula Frank Langella. Alright so it may be an eclectic group of vocal talents but they actually work remarkably well and afford the figures a some more endearing qualities which transfix you and are the source of plenty of laughs.

The physical acting however does occasionally let down a pretty good script courtesy of, among others Ted Eliot & Terry Rossio who also wrote Shrek which although not too overbearing on the film is a bit dissappointing. Kirsten Dunst is gives a reasonible performance likewise with most of the cast, but Kevin Dunn and Ann Magnusson steal their scenes as Alan's long suffering parents. Great performance by the late comedian Phil Hartman in his last big screen role before he was murdered. Gregory Smith however is a bit of a liability for the film, putting in an effectively lame performance he is unable to portray an effective stereotypical teenager performance which is required. A cameo apperance by Explorers and Gremlins 2 veteran Robert Picardo is typically funny and combined with the performance of Dick Miller as Joe who you will recognize as Mr Futterman from Gremlins links some of Dante's earlier films together quite nicely.

Fine use of some good music including Queen's "Another one bites the dust" keeps your attention firmly fixed on the screen as these diminutive heroes do their thing. I should point out that as well as taking the mickey out of his own work, Dante has included several parodies of other films into Small Soldiers but being included in this neat package are very funny and will undoubtibly raise a laugh or two. Dante seems to assume that the audience can automatically relate to the "live" characters he provides which does take a lot for granted, but it seems to work for him even though to be honest a lot of it may be down to the acting talent of the cast. With this film the Commando Elite and the Gorgonites are the stars and deservedly so.

For a kids movie this is excellent and has action, laughs and some great effects, in addition to being quite a clever story. Although it's no Gremlins it is just as charming and entertaining and one that everyone can appreciate.

The Commando Elite.....Everything else is just a toy!!!

Rating: 4 out of 5

Picture 2.35:1 Sharp Anamorphic picture
Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 Very good
Features Deleted scenes & Unused Special effects
Theatrical Trailer
Animated Menu's
Series of Bloopers/Outtakes from the film
Behind The Scenes Documentary which is quite amusing
Cast & Crew Biographies
Production Notes
Verdict Cool film, and a pretty good disc. Nothing particuarly fantastic but the extra's you get are worth having.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Reviewed by Logan Back Top Home