Small Soldiers

**

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Someone at DreamWorks said, "Gremlins did good," and someone else chipped in, "Not as good as Toy Story." The idea sold itself. "How's about Toy Gremlins?" "Bit heavy on the plagiarism. Let's call it Major Hazard In The Cupboard." "Eh?" "On second thoughts, would Diminutive Army Blokes' sound too minimalist?" And then they hired Gremlins' director, Joe Dante.

The plot is not without hope. A toy firm's latest line has Defense Dept computer chips installed by mistake, so that instead of canned dialogue these dolls talk back. What is worse, they make decisions. One set is The Commandos, led by brush-cut, bull-necked Major Chip Hazard, and the other, The Gorgonites, a ragged collection of literary monsters (Notre Dame's hunchback and Frankenstein's creature are on the team), led by Archer, a legendary figure with a dog's head. There's bound to be trouble. The C's have been programmed to annihilate the G's. Archer knows this and knows also that he has to lose.

Battle commences inside Alan's dad's toy shop. Alan (Gregory Smith, standing in for Elijah Wood) befriends Archer and tries to help the helpless Gorgonites against Hazard's hard men, all of whom are modeled on The Dirtiest Dozen. Christy (Kirsten Dunst) is the girl next door. Naturally, Alan has a crush on her. Soon they are under attack from these Actionmen substitutes.

The film's flaws lie in the script. None of the subplots follow through. Ideas hang on hooks, waiting for collection. With the exception of Archer, the G's have neither personality, nor purpose. Chip Hazard is complete, the archetypal brainwashed Marine, to whom the mission is everything. He could have come from "Toy Story".

Dante indulged the Gremlins to great effect. That was different. There were more of them than there are of these. What made Toy Story work so well was the characterisations. There are none here (Chip and Archer try). Once Dante attempts a Gremlins-style war on people the whole thing goes pear-shaped, which is a sad, because the effects are superb.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Toys installed with the wrong computer chips go to war.
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Director: Joe Dante

Writer: Gavin Scott, Adam Rifkin, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio

Starring: David Cross, Jay Mohr, Alexandra Wilson, Denis Leary, Gregory Smith, Dick Miller, Kirsten Dunst, Jacob Smith, Jonathan Bouck, Kevin Dunn, Ann Magnuson

Year: 1998

Runtime: 106 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US

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If you like this, try:

Toy Story