July 19, 1998 -- "Small Soldiers" is like "Toy Story" without the charm and minus a lot of laughs. It is also more science fiction than fantasy and it has a dark side.
The story starts with a buyout of a small toy company by a large conglomerate that includes a weapons division. The president of the company Gil Mars (Denis Leary of "Wag the Dog"). Tells a couple of toy developers he wants them to make toys that really do what they appear to do in television toy commercials, that is, speak and move as people do. Not only that, but they've got three months to work this miracle.
Using sophisticated military technology, the toy makers develop not one, but a whole host of toys that not only can move and talk like people, but can learn, think and act like people. Not only that, but they can make these sentient robots for less than $100 and you never have to replace the batteries!
While this is beyond the range of current technology, it is an intriguing possibility, a fine example of a "what if" science fiction premise. A young boy Alan Abernathy (Gregory Smith of "Krippendorf's Tribe) manages to get an early shipment of the toys for his father's store. He soon finds out these are more than just toys.
A war erupts as the out-of-control toy soldiers, the Commando Elite hunt down their programmed enemies, the Gorgonites. Humans get caught in the middle of the war. As the small soldiers learn to replicate shock troops and build new weapons, the humans find themselves in real danger.
While there are no real deaths in the film, there is real carnage among some of the toys. Since these are not really toys, but sentient beings it is a little disconcerting to see them smashed with such glee. There are some good actors in the film, including Kirsten Dunst as one of the neighbors, and the late Phil Hartman (his last film) as her father.
The voice of the lead soldier, Chip Hazard is by Tommy Lee Jones and the sonorous voice of the lead Gorgonite, Archer is that of Frank Langella. Other voices in the movie include those of Earnest Borgnine, Jim Brown, Bruce Dern, Christina Ricci, and a voice not often heard since the old "Cheyenne" TV series, Clint Walker. Robert Picardo (the holographic doctor on "Star Trek: Voyager" also appears as a scientist.
While the film is entertaining and interesting, using a combination of live action, models and computer graphics to bring the toys to life, it does have that dark undercurrent that makes it a little hard to find anyone, or anything, to cheer for, except, perhaps for the Gorgonite Archer. It rates a C+.
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