Small Soldiers

on July 10, 1998 by Christine James
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   Tickle Me Elmo and Teletubbies, beware. Fighting for shelf space has never been so literal--or lethal (save, possibly, for the Cabbage Patch Kid Melee of '85). In a desperate attempt to save their jobs, two toy designers (David Cross and Jay Mohr) develop a platoon of commando action figures programmed to decimate their mortal enemies, an assortment of odd-looking but noble monsters called the Gorgonites. Unfortunately, in their scramble to equip the toys with technology that will enable them to talk and move, the bumbling duo inadvertently utilize surplus defective munitions chips from parent company Globotech's global warfare arm. As a result, Commander Chip Hazard (voiced by Tommy Lee Jones) and his bicep-bulging platoon take their mission a little too seriously and have no qualms about killing any humans who get between them and the Gorgonites.
   The result is a rather harrowing film, at least for an animated adventure about toys, a genre one would think would be fun for the whole family. "Small Soldiers" earned its PG-13 rating for "menacing action/violence"; indeed, there's nary a frame of film in which someone isn't being seriously threatened by a grinning gadget-guerilla armed with knifes, scythes or chainsaws. Picture the "Toy Story" rivalry between Woody and Buzz Lightyear, only with Woody as a homicidal maniac.
   Not only is "Small Soldiers" violent, it's hypocritical: The greedy Globotech CEO (Denis Leary) is set as the villain of the piece when he nixes educational toys in favor of warmongering--yet the latter is just what "Small Soldiers" is trading upon. The filmmakers try to have it both ways--a moral message after an hour and three quarters of blowing things up. They could have even been successful, if only as much inventiveness had gone into the turnabout segment as in the numerous murderous devisings.
   Though it's ultimately little more than a reincarnation of director Joe Dante's "Gremlins," "Small Soldiers" does boast quite a bit of ingenuity and humor. The animation is excellent, and the voice cast alone is worth the price of admission: listen for actors from "The Dirty Dozen" as the commandos, and from "Spinal Tap" as the Gorgonites, while teen queens Christina Ricci and Sarah Michelle Gellar voice an army of bloodthirsty Gwendy dolls. Starring Gregory Smith, Kirsten Dunst, David Cross, Jay Mohr and Denis Leary. Directed by Joe Dante. Written by Gavin Scott and Adam Rifkin and Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio. Produced by Michael Finnell and Colin Wilson. A DreamWorks release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for some menacing action/violence and brief drug references. Running time: 109 min
Tags: Gregory Smith, Kirsten Dunst, David Cross, Jay Mohr, Denis Leary. Directed by Joe Dante. Written by Gavin Scott and Adam Rifkin and Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio. Produced by Michael Finnell and Colin Wilson. A DreamWorks release. Comedy, action
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