Director Joe Dante’s “Small Soldiers” is sadly a film without an actual audience. It’s tame for horror fans, and may possibly be much too menacing for kids. And while the film had real potential to burst out with merchandise and tie-ins, the premise never lasted beyond a single film. That’s a shame, too, since the idea of psychotic toys wreaking havoc almost never gets boring. As a hardcore fan of the “Puppet Master” movies, “Small Soldiers” feels like a high tech remake that really manages to work as dark comedy, and creepy fodder for young boys. War toys working toward their initiatives and becoming violent is just a great idea, even if the premise is far-fetched.
The high tech company Globotech has acquired Heartland Toys, an in an effort to corner the market, decide to revolutionize a brand of toys that play back, and interact. Two toy designers are tasked with creating an action figure line and end up with the Gorgonites, an action figure line involving a group of creatures that teach kids, while Commando Elite are war toys intended for action. The company decides to combine them and turn the Gorgonites in to the enemies. Surpassing product testing, obnoxious toy designer Larry steals his partner Irwin’s password and installs military grade interactive chips in the toys. When they’re signed off and shipped, the toys soon become sentient, and begin wreaking havoc on a small town.
In reality the deadly toys are the Commando Elite (voiced by the cast of “The Dirty Dozen”), while the Gorgonites are the friendly docile breed seeking to help young Alan and his family fight off the Commandos. After slaughtering the Gorgonites in a toy store, the Commando’s leader Chip Hazard, combines his Commandos to track down Alan and destroy the remaining Gorgonites once and for all. Voiced by Tommy Lee Jones, Chip Hazard is an underrated genre villain, hell bent on committing war on the Gorgonites and leader Archer (voiced by Frank Langella and most of Spinal Tap). Once he realizes that the humans have sided with the Gorgonites, he and his troop attempt to bring down the humans, implementing shockingly violent means of attack including nail guns, lawnmowers, and fireballs they begin hurling in to their house.
Chip even begins mutilating neighbor Christy’s (A young Kirsten Dunst when she was cute and not creepy) doll collection, turning them in to murderous freaks. Alan forms a bond with Archer and his Gorgonites, all of whom are programmed for peace, but have to learn how to fight Chip and his group, while Alan and his family try to combat the Commandoes and disable them before they’re all killed. Archer and his Gorgonites are very empathetic creatures with their own unique personality traits, eventually finding their purpose in the battle. “Small Soldiers” works as an adventure film and another fine Joe Dante creature feature, and it’s sad we never expanded on the universe and the Gorgonites mission to find a place in the world. I like to think the Gorgonites eventually met Lea Thompson and formed a rock band.