Small Soldiers - * * *

If Toy Story told the story of what would happen if everyone’s favorite childhood toy came to life, then Small Soldiers tells the story of what would happen if today’s violent action figures sprung to life. The result is a violence-filled kids movie, which has its moments of creepy fun.

The mayhem begins when a defense contractor, Globotech, buys up the Heartland Toy company. Toy designers Irwin Wayfair (David Cross) and Larry Benson (Jay Mohr) use the latest military computer chips to design the ultimate toys: fully interactive action figures called the Commando Elite, and their monstrous enemies, the Gorgonites.

However, Globotech never foresaw the consequences. When the Commando Elite leader Chip Hazard (voiced by Tommy Lee Jones) activates, he will stop at nothing to destroy the Gorgonites and anyone allied with them.

That anyone happens to be young Alan Abernathy (Gregory Smith) and his neighbor Christy (Kirsten Dunst). Alan’s dad owns a small toy shop, and Alan manages to talk his way into getting the first shipment of Commando Elite and Gorgonite action figures. However, soon he has an all out war on his hands…a war which could turn deadly for his family and friends.

Director Joe Dante, who also directed Gremlins, has applied many of the same touches to this movie. The general theme (peaceful suburbia destroyed by violent little creatures) is the same, and there are several other little details which add to the same feel.

The animation is simultaneously well done and crude. The integration of the action figures into the real world is done superbly. However, the action figures themselves (made of rigid plastic) have very few expressions. As a result, the characters never truly come alive as in, say, Toy Story.

The filmmakers did a good job in voice casting. In addition to Tommy Lee Jones, Frank Langella is cast as Archer, the lead Gorgonite. Rounding out the Commando Elite are Ernest Borgnine, George Kennedy, Bruce Dern, Jim Brown, and Clint Walker. Spinal Tap’s Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer provide additional Gorgonite voices.

The humans are mostly secondary characters. Gregory Smith and Kirsten Dunst are somewhat bland as the leads. However, Kevin Dunn and Phil Hartman add some levity as the kids’ respective fathers.

But let’s not kid around…the center of a film like small soldiers are the toys and the havoc they wreak. At times the film is a bit subversive in its humor, and a little violent for the youngest set, but mainly it is just plain fun.

The violence is mostly toy violence (hence no blood and guts). However, there are a few intense scenes here and there (but all tamer than Gremlins).

Small Soldiers doesn’t pack as much ammo as some of the bigger action flicks this summer. However, it has a bigger punch than a few I could mention.

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