Joe Dante decided to return to form in the late 90s, with a film that featured mischievous little creatures hellbent on destruction in a small quaint town in the Heartland of America. Clearly, you have a case of the Mandela Effect and didn’t know they made a Gremlins 3, right?
Not to worry, the film to which I’m referring is the 1998 dark “family” comedy, Small Soldiers. The film was meant to be a violent, more adult-themed film despite what the film’s poster might suggest to the contrary.
In fact, the studio actually came back to the filmmakers while already in production and attempted to ensure its family-friendly vibe, but they were too late, as the film featured strong elements of both.
The film opens with some of the 90s’ most prominent comedic voices: Jay Mohr, David Cross, and Denis Leary, so what did the studio expect? These guys are known for crass, and absurd comedy (ok “absurd” on more Cross than the others), and so the film sets the expectations right: crass people uttering PG-13 dialogue.
Small Soldiers follows Alan Abernathy, a teenager who used to get in lots of trouble in the past (doing what, we’ll never know); but now works at his distrusting Father’s failing toy store, looking to reinvigorate the store’s stock (much to his Dad’s chagrin), as the mega-chain rival store crushes the little shop in sales.
The truck driver (a friend of Alan’s, played by the wonderful Dick Miller) “drops a box off of the truck” and into Alan’s hands while his father is away for business. The new life-altering toys are the Commando Elite and their enemies, the Gorgonites. The problem with these toys (marketed as realism) is the X1000 microprocessor chips that give them
Artificial ACTUAL Intelligence.
Their “enemies,” the peaceful Gorgonites, were designed by David Cross’ character and were instead used as the cannon fodder for the Commandos.
Let’s skip to the actors, because I have a LOT to say!
First, Small Soldiers was Phil Hartman’s last film before his wife tragically murdered him in cold blood while he slept peacefully. Yeah, she’s a monster, and we all miss this talented man. Hell, I still remember when I saw the first episode of Season Five of NewsRadio, and found out he had been killed off the show. This was his last filmed segment for the show.
Then, I was happy to see Kevin Dunn again, as he had since graduated as “Father” in this movie, to “Father” in the first three “Transformers” films.
[WARNING: NOT A DEFINITION OF QUALITY]
Robert Picardo, from one of them Star Trek things, and more importantly, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, plays the lab technician who designs the chip.
Kirsten Dunst makes her follow-up (based on my knowledge of her) to Jumanji, with this film. She’d later go onto starring as Mary Jane in the Spider-Man trilogy.
Then the voice cast was stellar and I had no idea as a kid that these actors were behind the toys.
For the Commando Elites: Chip Hazard — Tommy Lee Jones || Brick Bazooka — George Kennedy || Jim Brown — Butch Meathook || Ernest Borgnine — Kip Killigan || Clint Walker — Nick Nitro || and Bruce Dern — Link Static
These guys (except for Jones and Dern) were featured in The Dirty Dozen (1967).
For the Gorgonites: Archer — Frank Langella || Christopher Guest — Slamfist, Scratch-It || Michael McKean — Insaniac, Freakenstein || Harry Shearer — Punch-It || and Jim Cummings as uncredited work. Of course the real voice actor gets shafted.
These guys, were clearly the men of Spinal Tap (again excluding the leader and Cummings), and that was not lost on me. I could pick out Michael McKean and Harry Shearer after re-watching this, but I didn’t know enough of Guest’s work to know his voice.
And finally, the Barbie Rip-offs, Gwendy Dolls, were voiced by a I Know What You Did Last Summer-era Sarah Michelle Gellar and Christina Ricci! Wow, weird, huh?
What’s the franchise like?
This film never had a sequel. It did feature one video game adaptation, but other than that, it was a solo film.
Where/ when did I first see it?
I first watched this as a big box VHS release that my Brother and I begged our Dad to buy at Shop N Save during the Holiday Season of 1998.
How does it hold up?
So the film’s CGI (when used) sticks out like a sore thumb. That’ll always be the issue with CGI (or in this case, Partial-CGI) released in the 90s (and honestly in any time when done wrong).
The thing that holds up incredibly well is the performances, the practical effects, and– aww hell, I say the same damn things every time.
A few things to Note:
In the deleted scenes, Chip Hazard sleeps with one of the Gwendy Dolls in graphic detail.
Okay, that’s not true, but surprisingly, the soldiers do request three days of R&R to spend with the sexy, plastic dolls. Whatever could they want to do…?
Also, Dick Miller is amazing. At one point, after dropping off the toys, he tells Alan: “Keep your nose clean, kid.”
WHAT?! Oh my God! What kind of trouble did Dick think Alan got into?
Another cool nod to classic films (like the Dirty Dozen casting), is the last line of the movie, once again uttered by the brilliant Dick Miller: “Toys is Hell.” A parody of “War is Hell.”
Those damned Barbie ripoffs…
They spewed out so many puns like bullets, that I thought there were The PUNisher.
Kill me; that was awful.
- Barbie won’t sue if you just simply rename the dolls.
- X1000 Chips are bad.
- Always cast Dick Miller.
Where can you see it?
Check out Small Soldiers on CanIStream.It?