When a toy manufacturer puts artificial intelligence chips from the Ministry of Defence into their toys ‘Commando Elite’ and the ‘Gorgonites’, the toys become sentient and believe that they must fight each other. Teenager, Alan Abernathy manages to get his hands on the toys before they are available for general sale and activates the toys, not realising how dangerous they actually are. The Commando Elite are determined to destroy the Gorgonites, who are a peaceful race wanting only to get back to their homeland. Alan must fight against the Commando Elite in order to save the Gorgonites and stop the commandos from destroying his neighbourhood.
Small Soldiers (1998) – Director: Joe Dante
Running Length: 108 mins
Starring: Gregory Smith, Kirsten Dunst, Tommy Lee Jones
Genre: Action/Adventure, Science Fiction
‘Small Soldiers’ is an unusual movie to describe. While having many elements similar to the ‘Toy Story’ movies, Toy Story it ain’t! Despite being a movie about talking toys, a team of soldiers wanting to kill a peaceful race of aliens takes the movie to a new level, making it too dark for many young children. Having said that, ‘Small Soldiers’ doesn’t move too far away from a children’s film, being perhaps more appropriate for older kids who enjoy a slightly darker thread running through their movies. The relentless pursuit of the Commandos who want to kill and destroy the nice alien creatures may be a little concerning for young kids. However, the reversal of the roles, making the US Army the villains creates an interesting twist to the story.
The special effects of the toys has stood up well against more modern uses of CGI and blue screen. The way the toys look in their environment and their general movements and reactions to the live action around them is seamless which is very impressive when considering that this movie is 15 years old. All the stars play their roles well and the two leads, Smith and Dunst have a nice chemistry between them that develops along with the movie. The voice acting of all the toy characters is superb and never becomes too exaggerated; in fact, Frank Langella as Archer, the leader of the Gorgonites, has a very soft and gentle way of speaking but still manages to keep the gravitas of his character realistic. ‘Small Soldiers’ is a great film for any child who likes plenty of action in their movies.
IS ‘SMALL SOLDIERS’ SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN?
The characters of the Commando Elite soldiers will likely be the most concerning aspect of the movie. They are ruthless and, as their objective is to ‘destroy the Gorgonite scum’, they will stop at nothing until all Gorgonites are killed. The Gorgonites are sweet-natured, peaceful and completely helpless against the Commandos. When the Commandos are activated, they attack the Gorgonites in Alan’s dad’s toy shop where they are due to be sold. The camera shows the outside entrance to the shop as the sounds of the attack are heard although this isn’t too distressing and it is later revealed that the Gorgonites are ok but hiding nearby. However, when Alan goes to the shop the following day, one of the Gorgonites has been broken into pieces. While Archer is upset at his comrade’s fate, Alan doesn’t realise the severity of what has happened and just treats it as a regular action-figure toy. Alan then puts the pieces into the dumpster behind the shop.
There are a few moments when the toys suffer slightly when they are injured. One of the commandos falls down and his legs fall off. He grunts and groans as he uses his arms to move and, when the other commandos attempt to fix his legs by jamming them into their sockets, he groans in pain each time. However, as they are standard action figures, the joints are made of plastic and there is no blood or gore. One character has his legs forced into a garbage disposal unit and once the unit has been switched off, he groans as he pulls himself out of danger. His legs have been shredded and there is no chance of them being recovered. This character later ‘dies’ from his injuries and those around him briefly mourn his loss. Another of the toys is electrocuted and the camera shows him lurching for a few seconds. There is then a close up of his face with one of his eyes hanging out (again there is no blood or gore due to the toy being made of plastic).
The commandos turn some female ‘Barbie’ style dolls sentient as well. These dolls belong to Christy (played by Kirsten Dunst), the girl who Alan has a crush on. When the soldiers first see the dolls, they lust over them, wolf whistling and making mildly inappropriate comments. When changing the dolls, Chip Hazard, leader of the Commando Elite takes the head of one of the dead soldiers, pulls its face off and breaks the ‘skull’ in half in order to get to the microchip inside. Later, when Christy walks into her room, the door slams behind her and she hears giggling. The process of making the dolls sentient has warped their appearances and they have oddly shaped heads, limbs and bodies. They tie Christy’s legs together, making her fall to the floor and then climb all over her. They make sarcastic, menacing comments to her like ‘let’s see if her head comes off’ and ‘now it’s our turn to play with you’.
CAN I SEE A CLIP?
‘Small Soldiers’ is a great kids’ action movie; it doesn’t patronise the audience and is enjoyable for adults to watch well. The commandos being so ruthless is what most parents may be concerned about and therefore it is unlikely to be appropriate for young kids. We feel that this movie should be appropriate for kids aged 8 and over.
- Violence: 2/5 (when the commandos launch their main attack towards the end of the movie, the commandos use a weapon which shoots small skewers into Alan’s leg. He cries out and falls to the floor but quickly gets up and continues running and does not suffer too much from his wounds. Alan is also stabbed in the finger by one of the commandos. During a chase scene, several toys crash into a small stream and their vehicle bursts into flames. The toys then cry out in pain as they are killed. This only lasts for a few seconds and is not to distressing but could be a little upsetting for young children)
- Emotional Distress: 2/5 (when Archer believes that the other Gorgonites are dead, he hangs his head and appears upset. Towards the end of the movie it becomes apparent that in order for the commandos to be killed, the Gorgonites may have to die as well)
- Fear Factor: 2/5 (the commandos and dolls are quite scary)
- Sexual Content: 1/5 (Christy’s boyfriend is older than her and, when dropping her off at home, he tries to sweet talk his way in. This is very mild and unlikely to be understood by most younger kids.)
- Bad Language: 1/5 (some mild cursing and blasphemy)
- Dialogue: 2/5 (the commandos constantly make references to wanting to kill/destroy the Gorgonites)
- Other notes: Deals with themes of doing the right thing, fighting against those who are wrong, prejudice and taking responsibility for your mistakes.
- Alan’s mum asks him whether he is taking drugs and lists a few that he could be taking. Christy’s mum is seen drinking alcohol and the commandos put sleeping pills in her glass. Towards the end, Alan climbs to the top of an electricity pylon; young children may be tempted to copy this.
Words by Laura Record