[Screen It]


(1998) (Gregory Smith, Kirsten Dunst) (PG-13)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Minor Minor Moderate *Mild Moderate
Mild None Mild None Mild
Smoking Tense Family
Topics To
Talk About
Minor Minor Minor Mild *Heavy

Action/Adventure: Some small town kids try to prevent a platoon of sophisticated military toy figures -- which have come alive and can think for themselves -- from finding and destroying a group of pacifist toy figures.
When toy maker Heartland Play Systems is acquired by Globotech, a military based conglomerate, toy designers Larry Benson (JAY MOHR) and Irwin Wayfair (DAVID CROSS) worry about their job security. CEO Gil Mars (DENIS LEARY) isn't crazy about their latest designs -- some military action figures called Commandos and their enemy, the pacifist Gorgonites -- until he orders the designers to make the toys behave the way they do in the commercials -- that is, to move and talk. With a hurried delivery schedule, Larry uses a batch of top-secret Globotech military microchips to power the toys and ships them off to toy stores without testing them.

In the small suburban town of Winslow Corners, Ohio, Alan Abernathy (GREGORY SMITH) is the teenage son of Stuart (KEVIN DUNN) and Irene Abernathy (ANN MAGNUSON) who runs his father's small corner toy store when his dad isn't around. Receiving a new shipment of toys, Alan convinces the delivery man to lend him a series of Commando and Gorgonite toys headed for a larger chain store.

Unbeknownst to Alan, the archenemy toys come to life. Archer (voice of FRANK LANGELLA), the leader of the Gorgonites, hides in Alan's bag and returns home with him where Alan discovers that there's more to him than just a toy. Meanwhile, Chip Hazard (voice of TOMMY LEE JONES) assembles his musclebound toy soldier allies to find and attack the remaining Gorgonites who've gone into hiding.

Returning to his father's store the next morning, Alan finds the place a mess and the new toys missing. Getting help from Christy Fimple (KIRSTEN DUNST), a friendly girl he has a crush on, Alan cleans up the place, but gets in trouble with his dad who won't believe his story about the toys being alive. After Chip Hazard and his commando forces later assemble for an attack on the Gorgonites and their human sympathizers -- which include Christy's parents Phil (PHIL HARTMAN) and Marion (WENDY SCHALL) -- in the Abernathy "stronghold," however, everyone realizes these are no ordinary toys and that their lives are in danger.

Younger kids probably will (thinking it will be similar to "Toy Story") and some teens may be interested for the special effects.
For some menacing action/violence and brief drug references.
  • GREGORY SMITH plays a fourteen-year-old boy with a reputation for causing trouble at schools in his past, but he shows none of that here (other than a slight, but normal for the age bad attitude toward his parents).
  • KIRSTEN DUNST plays a girl with a slight crush on Alan who tries to help him out, and says that she only dates older guys.
  • JAY MOHR plays a near spineless toy designer who takes the easy way out and uses top-secret military chips to power his new toys.
  • PHIL HARTMAN plays a technology obsessed know-it-all.


    OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
    Given the immense popularity of 1995's "Toy Story" and its financial success in the theaters, on video, and in action figure toy sales, and combined with the near daily enhancements to what can be accomplished with computer generated graphics, it's of no surprise that another film has come along hoping to catch a ride on the coattails of success.

    "Small Soldiers" -- a more violent and adventurous tale that may catch some parents off guard -- however, lacks the fun, charm and most importantly, the originality that the earlier film so easily exuded. Expect decent early returns at the box office, but an otherwise quick trip to the video shelves.

    "Toy Story" featured -- among the many other toys -- the little green army men (with their two feet connected to a flat stand) that nearly every baby boomer boy probably grew up with. Sent out on reconnaissance missions, the little characters were an unexpected delight in a movie filled with such pleasures. This film takes that same concept and expands it out to allow toys commonly pitted against each other by young boys to duke it out themselves.

    While that idea is intriguing, it doesn't come off as much fun here. In the earlier film, the fact that the toys were alive was a magical condition that was merely hidden whenever humans were around and, for the most part, the toys only interacted with other toys in their own little toy world.

    Here, the toys are powered by military computer chips and have no problem interacting -- or attacking their much larger human counterparts -- it's like the Chucky doll from "Child's Play" being possessed by the Pentagon instead of an evil spirit. What it's more like, however, is a combination of "Toy Story" with an earlier film, 1984's "Gremlins," also helmed by this picture's director, Joe Dante.

    Dante (who also directed "Inner Space" and the fabulous third segment, "It's a Good Life" from "Twilight Zone: The Movie") has created a picture that's similar in both tone and structure to "Gremlins." Both feature a teenage boy and girl who must deal with a small band (army) of bad creatures (toy soldiers) that wish to do harm to humans as well as the good creatures (Gizmo and the Gorgonites).

    The screenplay by Gavin Scott, Adam Rifkin, Ted Elliot & Terry Russio also goes so far as to copy certain elements from that earlier film such as having the good creatures being mesmerized by TV shows and having the father leaving town at a crucial moment during the story. Likewise, the little bad guys use power tools as weapons, and knock out the power to the house they're attacking.

    There's also a way for more of them to show as reinforcements (although it's nowhere near as ingenious as the "just add a drop of water and you've got more" plot of "Gremlins"). Finally, the humans figure out a way to kill all of the attacking forces in one fell swoop, just like in the earlier picture.

    What this film is ultimately missing in comparison to Dante's early work, however, is the perilous journey through something nearing the zany horror of a fun house attraction. As goofy as it got, "Gremlins" had a "Hell's-a-Poppin'" feel all throughout it, while this film feels a little too manufactured for its own good and often seems like more attention went to the special effects than making a fun story. That's clearly evident in any scenes where the toys don't appear, as the momentum grinds to a sudden halt, and the audience gets extremely restless (at least at our screening).

    Most of that is due to the fact that, like the stiff toys represented in the film, the human-based roles have been molded into cookie cutter, plastic-like characters with little personality that could easily have been interchanged within the existing cast, or played by any number of other performers. Gregory Smith ("Krippendorf's Tribe") and Kirsten Dunst ("Jumanji"), for instance, are likeable, but don't do much more than exactly fill the shoes of similar characters played by Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates in "Gremlins."

    Jay Mohr ("Jerry Maguire") and the late Phil Hartman (TV's "Saturday Night Live" and "News Radio") are pretty much wasted in their small roles, but Tommy Lee Jones ("Men in Black," "The Fugitive") does have a fun time voicing Chip Hazard and playing off his now stereotypically deadpan, take charge persona. Likewise, the vocal talents of George Kennedy, Ernest Borgnine, Jim Brown, and a host of others are put to good use as the voices of various toys populating the story.

    Despite the film's problems and lack of any core originality, there is some fun to be had. The special effects are most obvious, and the ILM (Industrial Lights & Magic) computer generated material as well as the animatronic work done by Stan Winston ("Jurassic Park") is outstanding and nearly always seamless with the live action footage. In addition, Dante has also managed to throw in many jokes (some which work better than others) for both the kids and the adults in the audience.

    Film buffs will enjoy the duel homage paid to the "Frankenstein" movies, a brief but funny bit where Chip Hazard addresses his troops while standing in front of a puzzle-pieced American flag (like George C. Scott in "Patton") and a take on a scene and an infamous saying from "Apocalypse Now."

    While it's not a spectacular film by any means, the story -- despite its lack of originality -- is adventurous enough to please its target audience and perhaps those who've been reluctantly dragged along to see it. Featuring some spectacular special effects -- so much better to sell the action figures (although kids will be as disappointed as the character played by Denis Leary in that the figures don't do what they did in the film/commercials) -- the movie has just enough fun to marginally make it worth recommending. We give "Small Soldiers" a 5 out of 10.

    Parents who think this is another "Toy Story" should know that this PG-13 rated film is a more violent, "Gremlins" meets "The Road Warrior" type story than that G-rated Disney film. However, since nearly all of the violence emanates from the pint-sized action figures, it rarely achieves anything beyond cartoon status, even when the Commandos get quite vicious in their attack. As such, many scenes occur where the toys shoot nails and flaming objects at the humans and cause a great deal of damage (and some non bloody injuries).

    Very young kids may find the proceedings a bit unsettling for them, especially during the more violent scenes or when a swarm of dolls climbs over and attack several human characters. Finally, profanity and other phrases are mild for a film with this rating. Since many younger kids will probably want to see this movie, we suggest that you take a closer look at the content if you're concerned about its appropriateness for anyone in your home.

  • Alan's mother asks him if he's on crack (cocaine) after he claims that the toys are alive and tries to get Archer to talk (the boy says that he's not on drugs).
  • Christy's mom drinks a gin and tonic.
  • The commandos fire sleeping pills into Marion's drink, knocking her out (and the same happens to Phil who then drinks from her glass).
  • Some of the commandos get pretty torn up, but there's no blood.
  • Obviously the Commandos have both as they try to kill both the Gorgonites and their human sympathizers (but it's all done in a very cartoon-like fashion).
  • A deliveryman gives Alan some of the toy figures "on the sly," when they were supposed to go to another toy store.
  • To get the proper sight line for his new satellite dish, Phil takes his chainsaw to the Abernathy's tree.
  • We learn that Alan was previously kicked out of two schools for writing graffiti, flooding some rooms, and calling in a bomb threat, but other than some slight, but normal for the age, bad attitudes toward his father, we don't see any signs of such behavior.
  • Very young kids may be frightened by the menacing appearance of some of the Commando figures, or the somewhat grotesque and misshapen Gorgonite figures.
  • Likewise, younger kids may not like the somewhat creepy scenes showing a horde of female dolls attacking the humans like giant insects (jumping on their backs, running all over them, etc...).
  • Alan must save Archer before the Commandos lower him into the running garbage disposal.
  • Younger kids may find the multi-minute scenes where the Commandos chase Alan and Christy and the later scenes where they attack the house as suspenseful or tense, but most of the scenes won't be that way to older kids.
  • Chip attacks Alan who's on the top of an electric/power pole. Alan slips and hangs onto the pole with his feet dangling precariously close to the power lines.
  • Toy guns & knives: Carried by the Commando figures, and the knives are used to attack the humans. See "Violence" for details.
  • Household hardware items (nail gun, torch, etc...): Used by the Commandos as weapons against the Gorgonites and the humans. See "Violence" for details.
  • Tanks/Machine guns: Seen in footage from a war movie on TV.
  • Phrases: "Sucks," "Kiss ass," "Piss off," "Bastard," "Geez," "Freak," "Little brat," "Shut up," "Screwing up," "Screwed" (nonsexual), "Moron," "Scum," "Loser," and "Nuts" (crazy).
  • The Commandos fire sleeping pills into Marion's drink to knock out her and Phil (played for laughs and called "chemical warfare" and "Operation Sandman").
  • The Commandos shoot nails, flames and burning objects at the humans and their house.
  • Alan climbs up an electric/power pole hoping to "short circuit" the lines (to destroy the Commandos in a roundabout way) while Larry and Irwin try to do the same at a fuse/circuit box inside Christy's house.
  • None.
  • Several scenes have a mild amount of suspenseful (and playfully tense) music in them.
  • None.
  • At least 5 hells, 4 asses, 4 damns, 3 craps, and 1 use of "Oh my God" as exclamations.
  • The Commandos catch sight of Christy's female dolls and make some catcalls and whistles at them. Comments are made about them being "fully posable," and we later see the dolls dressed in skimpy, high cut, one piece outfits.
  • One of the Commando figures has a toy cigar butt in the corner of his mouth.
  • Alan and his father don't always agree on whether Alan is mature enough to handle the store and some brief arguments ensue.
  • The fact that the Gorgonites (who had been programmed to "hide or lose") decide to use violence to save the humans.
  • That climbing up an electric/power pole is a really bad idea as is playing with the fuse/circuit box inside the house (Alan does the first to try to short out the power, while Larry and Irwin do the latter trying to get the same result).
  • (For the younger kids) That their toys won't come to life and attack them or others.
  • Most of what occurs is presented in a cartoon-like fashion, and the "deaths" that occur happen to plastic toy figures that are "alive."
  • Alan returns to the toy store to find that the Commandos have torn up the place looking for the Gorgonites and have disembodied one of them (we see toy pieces).
  • We see some tanks and machine guns firing in a movie on TV.
  • A Commando fires a torch that catches a guy's pants leg on fire, causing him to fall down the stairs.
  • The Commandos use a firecracker like a stick of dynamite to blow up a box.
  • Alan and Christy whack some female toy "creatures," knocking them against the wall and "killing" them.
  • The Commandos shoots flaming objects at the humans that impale whatever they hit or blow out car windows they strike.
  • The Commandos shoot several darts (or similar objects) that impale Alan's leg.
  • The Commandos shoot things that catch trees on fire and cause them to fall in the road (or that similarly knock down telephone/power poles), trying to hit Alan and Christy.
  • Some Commandos are "killed" when their vehicles crash and explode.
  • Alan's dad punches Larry in the face.
  • The Commandos launch an all out assault on the Abernathy home, firing nails and flaming objects into the house, eventually resulting in quite a bit of destruction (some of the Commando vehicles are also destroyed during this).
  • A Commando stabs a man in the leg with his toy knife, and Alan's father is hit in the leg with several nails from a nail gun.
  • The Gorgonites fight back and attack the Commandos, but mainly by knocking them down or aside, etc...
  • A Commando stabs a person with his toy knife and does the same to a Gorgonite, but later is electrocuted and the other Commandos are all "killed" at the end (via a riding lawn mower and then an electromagnetic pulse that zaps their microprocessor chips).

  • Reviewed July 6, 1998

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