Dreamworks, after Mouse Hunt, again try to break into children's films with
this comedy. While better than Mouse Hunt, and having Joe 'Gremlins' Dante
on board to direct, it still dosen't exactly set the silver screen alight.
The 'story' is that a toy company has released toys (Commando's and
Gorgonites, strange alien beings) which have a chip stored inside them so
advanced they are able to think and act for themselves. Alan Abernathy
(Smith) manages to get hold of both types, and they soon escape from their
boxes and go on the rampage. It's up to Alan and love interest Christy
Fimple (Dunst) to stop the Commando's who are know hell bent on destroying
the Gorgonites, and anyone who tries to help them (including Alan and
Although Small Soldiers has an interesting premise for a children's film, it
is sadly underused, and is reduced to a generic, 'Home Alone' style film by
the end. This movie could of been the new Toy Story, thanks to impressive
CGI effects, a story that appeals to children (their toys could be alive)
and Joe Dante has shown before he can add a dark comic underside to a
seemingly normal film (e.g. Gremlins.) But, the writers, Ted Elliot and Zack
Penn, have added little inventiveness to the script. There's enough in here
to keep kids amused, but the premise is hopelessly underused. Their are a
few interesting set pieces, including a terrifying attack from 'Barbie' type
dolls, but there's nothing here that is startlingly new. To add insult to
injury, Dante insists on directing the film in a rather dull story. The
movie is also incredibly slow paced, with a huge amount of padding to help
fill out the running time.
The players try to offset this with some good performances. The two child
leads are likeable, and there's some chemistry between them. They both have
some goofy charm to them, and act how kids would act. Although what they say
is sometimes cliched. The adult actors are two bad here. There's no major
stars in the film, so everyone is given the chance to deliver a good
performance. Kevin Dunn (Hot Shots!) is fine as Alan's dad, playing the
father figure quite well, even if he does look too much like Al from Home
Improvement. The late Phil Hartman also pops up as Christy's dad, and is
luckily quite funny in what turned out to be his last on-screen appearance.
Dante regular Dick Miller pops up as Joe the lorry driver, and he gives the
film some bounce at the start. Finally, Jay Mohr and David Cross are kooky
enough as the scientists who create the toys.
The voices of the soldiers themselves are perfect. The producers got the
cast of 'The Dirty Dozen' to voice the commando's, with Tommy Lee Jones
playing the leader. Each one fits perfectly with their character. For the
Gorgonites, the cast of Spinal Tap (Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer etc.)
were used, and again they suit their characters perfectly. Finally, the
soldiers themselves are beautifully created by Stan Winston, who bought us
the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.
But despite the good performances, the film suffers from weak directing, a
poor script, and dull set pieces. Although the ending does have some life to
it, and the film is not totally dull, Small Soldiers is slightly dull. For
kids, it's fine, if somewhat violent, but sadly there isn't enough here that
appeals to adult. A missed opportunity.
Copyright © 1998 David Wilcock