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Small Soldiers is a 1998 action/comedy film directed by Joe Dante, best known for his work on the Gremlins franchise. It focuses upon the Heartland Toy Company, a conglomerate that gets swallowed up by GloboTech Industries, an organization that deals in high-tech military hardware. The members of the board of Heartland deduce that implanting military AI chips into their newest set of action figures would grant kids a more interactive experience; however in doing so, manage to grant the two lines (the Commando Elite and their enemies, the Gorgonites) literal intelligence. The Gorgonites have a pacifist mindset while the Commandos are basically of the warmongering variety, who will stop at nothing to destroy the Gorgonite scum, and anyone who allies with them. Their battle takes place in Suburbia, where young Alan Abernathy (Gregory Smith) befriends the Gorgonites due to his being left in charge of his father's toy shop, and he vows to help them achieve their goal before the Commando Elite can find and take them apart. He gets help from his neighbor and love interest Christy Fimple (Kirsten Dunst).
The film was a modest box office hit, earning $54,682,547 in the United States market. It was only the 42nd most successful film of its year but more than covered its budget. It received mixed reviews. Some critics enjoyed the "smart satirical" plot and the Shout Outs to numerous pop culture elements. Others felt that it put too much emphasis on the special effects and too little on character development. Both Gregory Smith and Kirsten Dunst were nominated for Young Artist Awards and lost. Smith lost to Miko Hughles of Mercury Rising. Dunst lost to Lindsay Lohan of The Parent Trap.
The robotic characters consisted of:
- Archer (Frank Langella). The brave and wise leader of the Gorgonites. His weapon of choice being a crossbow.
- Freakenstein (f.k.a. Troglokhan) (Michael McKean). A Frankenstein's Monster look-alike. The navigator of the Gorgonites.
- Insaniac (Michael Mc Kean). A hyperactive Gorgonite. He spins about rather than walk, speaks fast and constantly makes jokes and puns.
- Ocula (Jim Cummings). Gorgonite with a single eye. Can only speak in whistles and is rather shy.
- Punch-It (Harry Shearer). Gorgonite resembling a humanoid Brontotherium. Best friend of Scratch-It.
- Scratch-It (Christopher Guest). Gorgonite resembling a frog with no hind limbs. Walks on front Limbs. She is the only female gorgonite and the best friend of Punch-It.
- Slamfist (Christopher Guest). A Gorgonite hunchback. His left hand consists of a boulder-like fist. A slow-witted bruiser.
The Commando Elite:
- Chip Hazard (Tommy Lee Jones). Leader of the Commando Elite.
- Brick Bazooka (George Kennedy). Artillery specialist of the Commando Elite.
- Butch Meathook (Jim Brown). The sniper of the Commando Elite.
- Kip Killigan (Ernest Borgnine). Covert operations specialist of the Commando Elite.
- Link Static (Bruce Dern). Communications officer of the Commando Elite.
- Nick Nitro (Clint Walker). Demolitions expert of the Commando Elite.
Tropes Demonstrated in this Film:
- Actor Allusion: Tommy Lee Jones voices Major Chip Hazard, who at the end of the second act gets horrific burns down one side of his face. The Commandos all bear some resemblance to their voice actors.
- AI Is a Crapshoot: Subverted. The chips enhance programming that is already present, so the militant Commando Elites become bloodthirsty, monstrous warriors and the weaker Gorgonites become cowards who only hide from battle.
- All-Star Cast
- Amusing Injuries: Most injuries are played seriously, even those that happen to the toys. However, Brick Bazooka getting torn in two is made rather funny by the fact that he has to crawl over to his bottom half to reply to his in-built radio. If he didn't get fully repaired in the next scene, maybe not so much.
- Armies Are Evil: Oh yeah.
- Armoured Closet Toy: Chip Hazard clearly knows how he works, but loudly proclaims that "Everything else is just a toy" and completely rejects Archer's Not So Different speech in the final act.
- Awesome McCoolname: The Commando Elite, both as a group name and as individuals. Special acknowledgments go to Nick Nitro and Butch Meethook.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Kirsten Dunst's character seems to get a little overly excited about the prospect of tearing apart the baddies with whatever household objects she happens to have on hand.
- Billing Displacement: Kirsten Dunst is the first billed despite playing the love interest.
- Bland-Name Product: "Gwendy" dolls.
- Bound and Gagged: Happens to both Kirsten Dunst's character and her little brother, separately.
- Chainsaw Good: "Dibs on the chainsaw!"
- Colonel Badass: Chip Hazard is a baddie version.
- Communications Officer: Link Static serves this role in the Commando Elite.
- Conservation of Ninjitsu: In the finale, an entire store line of Commandos are defeated by half a dozen Gorgonites with no casualties; the only part with any suspense is the showdown with (one) Chip Hazard.
- Cut Lex Luthor a Check: It's implied in the ending that the CEO of GloboTech plans to sell the Commando Elites to the military as essentially mercenaries against The Cartels .
- The Determinator: A villainous example, no matter what you throw at Chip Hazard, he's very likely going to come back.
- Disney Death: See the WALL-E example. After Alan sets off an EMP to take out the Commando Elite, he finds Archer lying in the yard, inanimate.
Alan: Archer? Archer, speak to me. Halt, who goes there?
Archer: Greetings, I am Archer, emissary of the Gorgonites. Greetings, I am Archer, emissary of the Gorgonites. Greetings, I am Archer, emissary of the Gorgonites.
Alan: Oh, man, your chip got fried, just like the Commandos.
Archer: The Commandos...are dead? Gorgonites...We won!
- Double Entendre: All the lines spouted by the Commandoes when they discover the Gwendy dolls such as: "Fully poseable!"
- Everything's Better with Spinning: Insaniac rapidly spins in a Taz-esque style, which turns lethal when he uses his Epic Flail.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Chip Hazard may be programmed to destroy the Gorgonites, but he was given an honourable and loyal personality as a heroic soldier. The trouble comes when his programming allows for no mercy to the Gorgonites or their allies.
- In fact all of the Commandos have heroic personalities as brave, dedicated soldiers - which is half the problem since they just don't give up.
- Executive Meddling: In-universe example. Originally, the Commando Elite and the Gorgonites were going to be completely separate, with the Gorgonites going for a more "educational" view, as they only want to explore the world, learn more about it, and socialize. The Commando Elite, meanwhile, were somewhat generic, G.I. Joe-esque characters. The director decided that the concepts weren't interesting, and decided to put the toylines together. Needless to say, this did not end well.
- Part of this was the that the creator of the Gorgonite line kept his original concept in all the background and programming as a protest, and the "heroic" Commandos had the sole purpose of following their orders to destroy the Gorgonites.
- Faceless Eye: Ocula.
- Fantastic Racism: The Commando Elite's entire goal is to strictly destroy the Gorgonites, nothing practical.
- Fastball Special: Punch-It launches Scratch-It from his horns like a slingshot.
- Brick Bazooka is similarly hurled onto the back of Alan's bike. And blink and you'll miss it, but two of the Gwendy dolls cheerleader-throw a third one to better attack Brad.
- Fell Off the Back of a Truck: How Alan "buys" the toys off the delivery guy.
- Five-Man Band:
- Five-Bad Band:
- Gay Moment: Irwin diving into Larry's arms in the computing lab's airlock.
- General Ripper: Chip Hazard.
- Goggles Do Nothing: The Commando Elite wear Liefeldian amounts of pouches, holsters and straps. Link Static even has a huge pair of welder's goggles, for even less apparent reason than usual.
- Gone Horribly Right: Putting some AI into toys, programming them as soldiers and giving them a specific enemy? How could anything go wrong?
- It's worth noting that numerous times Larry and Irvin both admit that there's nothing wrong with the intelligence chips.
- Gonk: MAJOR points for many of the Commando Elite and Gorgonites. Best examples are Nick Nitro and Brick Bazooka with their giant, ever showing mouths of teeth and Scratch-It with her own chompers and strange looks.
- Heroic Build: Somewhat inverted, The Commando Elite are made out to have muscular, almost G.I. Joe-esque designs, and they're the villains of the film.
- Humans Are Bastards: The Commandos are all human soldiers (for a dash of Armies Are Evil as well), while the good ones are nonhumans. The fact that the peaceful Gorgonites were designed as aliens from the start seems to indicate that Irwin at least holds this opinion.
- Then again the two lines (Commando and Gorgonite) were not originally intended to be used together, adding a in universe case of Executive Meddling to the mix.
- Improvised Weapon: The Commando Elite are experts at this. Among the household implements they convert into weaponry are a toaster that fires flaming CDs, a tennis-ball launcher firing kerosene-soaked balls, and a catapult made from a mousetrap and a spoon.
- The CEO, seeing the havoc the toys created (And giving everyone truckloads of cash not to press charges or talk about it), decides the best thing to do with the obviously-dangerous toy line is to add some zeroes on the end of the price and sell them as automated weapons instead.
- In Memoriam: A dedication to Phil Hartman at the end of the movie.
- Large Ham: Most of the toys, especially Chip Hazard, who gets most of the best one-liners.
- Laughing Mad: Insaniac, but he's one of the good guys.
- Literal Genie: The Commando Elite. They follow their orders to kill the Gorgonites to the extreme.
- Loud of War: The Commando Elite blast "Wannabe" by the Spice Girls to demoralize the Abernathys and the Gorgonites. The tipsy wife of the electronics geek exclaims "I love this song!"
- Manly Tears: With the exception of Chip Hazard, who simply wipes away a Single Tear, the Commando Elite blub unrestrainedly as Nick Nitro dies.
- McNinja: Kip Killagin has two outsized shuriken prominently displayed on his chest. Almost certainly intended as an in-universe bit of silliness on the part of his designers.
- Meaningful Name: Chip Hazard, Major Chip Hazard.
- The CEO of Globotech, a weapons manufacturer that has begun producing kids' toys, is named Gil Mars.
- My Little Panzer: Toys with military-grade computer hardware built in. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
- Nail'Em: The Commando Elite bring along a rapid-firing nailgun along for fire support on their second try.
- Oh Crap: Only without the "Crap". Irwin and Larry are discussing Alan's call about the rampaging toys:
Irwin: What if this kid's telling the truth? We can't have toys out on the market that may be dangerous.
Larry: [lackadaisical] How can they be dangerous? Everything on them is standard. The design is standard, the materials are standard... the mechanicals are standard. Even the... [sudden Oh Crap face] Oh.
Irwin: What's "Oh"?
Irwin: You just said "Oh".
Larry: No, I said "Oh!"
Irwin: You mean "Oh" like, "That's interesting" or "Oh" like, "We're screwed"?
Larry: No. I mean, "Hey! Whoa! Oh!". Look, forget the "Oh". l'll go to legal to start on the countersuit.
Irwin: The chips! That's the "Oh"!
- The Operators Must Be Crazy: Alan tries to call Globotech to complain about the Commando Elites coming to life and wrecking his dad's toy store, but the operator is actively unhelpful to the point that he ultimately asks to be transferred to a machine - right before the operator gets his gender wrong.
- Pet the Dog: The Commando Elite mourn after one of their troops dies, although subverted later, as they raise an army of evil Gwendy dolls using what is technically the brain of their fallen comrade.
- Pre-Ass-Kicking One-Liner: "An Officer and a Gentleman does not strike a lady."
- Pre-Mortem One-Liner: "Have I got a shock for you!"
- Rage Breaking Point: "Don't tell me to calm down; calm was killing me."
- Robotic Assembly Lines: Begins with a production line of the titular toys being manufactured (including Terminator-style skeletons and Uncanny Valley-ish rubber "skins").
- Major Chip Hazard is About to Shoot You: An in-universe promotional image for the Commando Elite line uses this very heavily.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money: The CEO spends his second scene handing out cheques to every disgruntled party, all of whom immediately stop complaining when they see the numbers.
- Shout-Out: Many, many parodies/homages of scenes from famous war movies. For example, Chip Hazard's Patton-like speech in front of a jigsaw of the US flag, or "Ride of the Valkryies" kicking in as he appears riding a remote-controlled helicopter.
- "All Quiet on the Western Front... yard!"
- Several to Dante's most famous movie, Gremlins, such as the password being "Gizmo", you can actually see a toy in the dumpster the Gorgonites hide in, among other things.
- Not to mention countless homages to The Terminator and the obligatory 2001: A Space Odyssey riff.
- Possible Shout-Out to G.I. Joe with Alan Abernathy: Joe leader Hawk's real name is Clayton Abernathy.
- At Nitro's funeral: "His memory will keep going... and going... and going..."
- The final line: "I hope we don't hit an iceberg!"
- When the first Gwendy soldiers begin to move, Brick Bazooka shrieks, "It's alive! IT'S ALIVE!", complete with maniacal laughter.
- Testosterone Poisoning: The Commando Elite all have ridiculously manly names. And builds. And attitudes.
- The Singularity: the soldiers learn how to reverse engineer their chips and create a army of franken-Barbies
- Token Minority: Butch Meathook is the only African-American in the Commando Elite.
- Ugly Hero, Good-Looking Villain: Archer and Chip.
- Verbal Tic: Link Static, Commando Elite communications specialist, bookends his sentences with white noise.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Christy's boyfriend tries to save Christy from the Gwendy dolls, gets attacked by the Commando Elite, runs out of the house, and presumably escapes... except his motorcycle is still outside later. Where'd he go?
- We Can Rebuild Him: Troglokhan is reconstructed as Freakenstein.
Punch-It: We fixed him!
Slamfist: We tried to fix him...
- What Measure Is a Non-Cute?: Subverted with the Gorgonites.
- Why We're Bummed Communism Fell: In the trailer for the film it's explicitly pointed out that Globotech decided to expand into the toy business due to the decrease in military hardware demand after the end of the Cold War.