I must admit, I am a bit disappointed. While I was excited to go see a kiddie bash with a Toy Story-esque, G.I. Joe-like cast of characters that cross paths with real humans, Small Soldiers makes old demonic doll movies like Gremlins look a whole lot better in retrospect.
Commando Elite warriors are the focus in this mishmash of a film. They are action figures programmed to work in combat and fight a group of rival mutants called the Gorgonites.
The Commando Elite warriors' leader is Major Chip Hazard, voiced by the always tough Tommy Lee Jones. Other notable celebs lending their vocal talents to this army of animation include Ernest Borgnine, Christopher Guest and Michael McKean.
Despite all that impressive star power, the dolls' computer-generated life and action sequences are the only parts of the film you will soon find yourself looking forward to. Small Soldiers fails to establish a strong, coherent storyline, and you soon find yourself chuckling more at the animation than caring about what is actually happening on screen.
The warriors are simply a roster of normal combat soldiers, played off here as bad guys hunting the Gorgonites, who are led by Archer, a charismatic man-beast voiced by the monstrous Frank Langella.
Archer is helped in his efforts by two pre-teens (Gregory Smith and Kirsten Dunst) who take part in a cheesy romantic subplot that no one will really care about. That's hardly this film's only problem.
While director Joe Dante tries to pull some of the focus over onto human interactions, like parents not believing toys are alive or neighbors hating each other, it simply doesn't work. Those are the parts of the film where you look around the theater and yawn. Only when the soldiers and mutants take over the screen does this flick ever spring to life.
While the soldiers plan their war and the mutants begin hiding for their lives, a legion of goody-goody, Barbie-like dolls are transformed into women-in-combat by the bad guys. Lending their voices for the sweet-turned-hideous dolls are Christina Ricci (The Opposite of Sex) and Sarah Michelle Gellar (Scream 2, Buffy, the Vampire Slayer), who provide a funny interlude in their enthusiasm. Kids will probably never want to mix and match their dolls again after this.
As one of the kids' parents, the late Phil Hartman plays a father who is obsessed with practically any electronic devices that a household can manage. Sadly, Hartman's final big-screen appearance is probably one of the few things that will keep this movie in the upper regions of the box office.
With its endless techniques showing us how to turn household items into weapons, Small Soldiers could easily be written off as a violent film. Instead of rooting for the group that should be the heroes (the soldiers), who in turn are actually the bad guys, your heart will belong to the Gorgonites. Those soldiers, though, do look pretty cute with their tiny weapons. Regardless of role reversals, kids will undoubtedly want to see this film.
Small Soldiers is supposed to be a fun movie. It is initially fascinating to see how director Dante (who brought you Gremlins) makes the toys come to life. Their facial expressions and movements are what toys are meant to be, with creaks in the joints and attaching wires. But after that, everything else becomes comfortably - and disappointingly - routine.