Film: Small Soldiers
"We are the Commando Elite. Everything else is just a toy!"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.Not to be confused with Toy Soldiers
—Major Chip Hazard
Tropes Demonstrated in this Film:
- Accidental Hero: Alan manages to take down Brick Bazooka while biking home. He was completely unaware that Brick was even on the bike let alone after Archer.
- A.I. 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. (They're obeying their programming to the letter; the fault actually lies in the guy who programmed them and had no idea the chips would do that.)
- 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: Invoked as the commando elite are programed to be bloodthirsty maniacs.
- Armored 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 Meathook.
- Beware the Nice Ones:
- Christy 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.
- The Gorgonites, when they decide to fight back, easily overwhelm the Commandos' superior numbers.
- Billing Displacement: Kirsten Dunst is the first billed despite playing the love interest.
- Bland-Name Product: "Gwendy" dolls.
- Body Horror: Since the Gwendy dolls initially lack the same internal mechanisms that the Commandos do, they undergo some "plastic surgery".
- Bound and Gagged: Happens to both Christy and her little brother, separately, in order for hostage taking.
- But Now I Must Go: Archer and all the Gorgonites leave at the end of the film, hoping to find Gorgon.
- Chainsaw Good: "Dibs on the chainsaw!"
- Chekhov's Gun: A couple:
- The power pole.
- Phil's satellite.
- Christmas Rushed: The in-universe explanation for what happened with the toys; the company's new owner gave them what they insist is an insanely short development window to produce a revolutionary new product. The designers used what they thought were off-the-shelf parts without looking into the source and quickly slapped together a product by combining two toy lines developed independently with incompatible backstories. The problems went unnoticed because they had no time for product testing.
- Cliché Storm: Invoked with Chip Hazard's mode of speech. A perfect example occurs when Hazard activates the other Commandos; he gives a speech that is literally composed entirely of cliched famous quotes from war movies.
- Communications Officer: Link Static serves this role in the Commando Elite.
- Conservation of Ninjutsu: 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.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Invoked with Gil Mars, CEO of GloboTech, who pushes for the Gorgonites to be used as little more than the 'ugly evil mutant freak' foes of the Commando Elite and is stated to generally be pretty heartless; however, he doesn't specifically tell the designers to use military-grade hardware in toys, he merely states that he's sick and tired of products that don't deliver on their advertising and whilst he plainly doesn't give a crap about the devastation caused by Chip Hazard and the Commandos, he does make amends with a big cheque payoff.
- 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.
- Designated Hero: In-Universe. The commandos. They're supposed to be bold hero figures fighting the "evil" gorgonites but they are ruthless.
- The Determinator: A villainous example: no matter what you throw at Chip Hazard, he's going to come back.
- Disney Death: 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!"
- Even Evil Has Standards:
- Chip Hazard may be programmed to destroy the Gorgonites, but he was given an honorable 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.
- Everything's Better with Spinning: Insaniac rapidly spins in a Taz-esque style, which turns lethal when he uses his Epic Flail.
- Evil Plan: The Commando Elite are programed with one goal in mind: Destroy the Gorgonites. Though the start of the conflict is Mars' plan to program them as such for greater profits.
- 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.
- Explain, Explain... Oh, 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". I'll go to legal to start on the countersuit.
Irwin: The chips! That's the "Oh"!
- 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.
- Gay Moment: Irwin diving into Larry's arms in the computing lab's airlock.
- General Ripper: Chip Hazard.
- Genre Savvy: The truck driver, when ordered to move his truck with company logo on it, he feigns an issue just to get the CEO to cut him a check then and there.
- 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 AI into toys, programming them as soldiers and giving them a specific enemy? They become more dangerous than full sized human soldiers. It's worth noting that numerous times Larry and Irvin both admit that there's nothing wrong with the intelligence chips.
- Subverted by the end of the movie. Instead of selling them to children, Mars decides to sell them to the Department of Defense.
- 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.
- Grow Beyond Their Programming: The Gorgonites. They were programed to lose but at the climax Archer declares "No more hiding." Then they go out to win.
- The munitions chips can eventually do this as they go along.
- 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 an in-universe case of Executive Meddling to the mix.
- Hypocritical Humor: Chip doesn't take kindly to officers and gentlemen hitting women, but has no trouble shooting at them if they are helping the Gorgonites.
- 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.
- Also, Christy destroys the troop of Gwendy dolls using a riding lawn mower.]]
- Insistent Terminology: "We're not dolls... We're action figures!"
- It's a Small World After All: Chip Hazard says this when he happens upon Alan's home.
- Karma Houdini: The CEO of GloboTech manages to get away with authorizing the mass-production of untested, highly destructive military toys without any punishment by cutting checks for everyone involved. He even goes on to authorize the toys to be remade (except this time they'll be repurposed to bring down South American drug lords). Though his underling was to blame for using the military chips.
- Language Equals Thought: Mixed with a truly subtle bit of foreshadowing: Initially, they plan to market the Commando Elite with the slogan "Anything else is just a toy", but more of that In-Universe Executive Meddling changes that to "Everything' else is just a toy". As a result, when the Commando Elite become sentient, they can freely attack human beings, as their worldview is that everything else around them is part of their programmed conflict.
- 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.
- Let's Get Dangerous: Alan has been trying to avoid this trope after getting kicked out of two schools for his near dangerous pranks. However, when the Commando Elite kidnapped Christy and sent him a ransom/torture video, the gloves come off.Alan: Major Chip Hazard wants a war, we'll give him a war.
- Literal Genie: The Commando Elite. They follow their orders to kill the Gorgonites to the extreme.
- Living Toys: About as alive as the finest military AI chips can make them, anyway.
- 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!" Christy even alludes to the fact that the US Military used the same tactic to force the surrender of Manuel Noriega (dictator of Panama in the '80s; except they used hard rock/heavy metal IRL).
- Major Chip Hazard is About to Shoot You: An in-universe promotional image for the Commando Elite line uses this very heavily.
- Majorly Awesome: Chip Hazard is a baddie version.
- Manly Tears: With the exception of Chip Hazard, who simply wipes away a Single Tear, the Commando Elite blub unrestrainedly as Nick Nitro ceases to function.
- McNinja: Kip Killigan 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. The trope name is the exact command used to order it to be fired.
- 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.
- Police Are Useless: Taken to ridiculous extremes. Not only do the police refuse to believe Christy about the Commando Elites when she calls 911 and accuse her of making a nuisance call, but when she tries to make them come by admitting she made a nuisance call (a rather serious crime in itself) they simply hang up.
- Posthumous Character: One of the Gorgonites is killed off down to the last copy in the toy store when the Commando Elite first begin their attack, and thus never gets to do anything.
- Pre Asskicking One Liner: "An Officer and a Gentleman does not strike a lady."
- Pre-Mortem One-Liner: "Have I got a shock for you! You stupid toy!"
- 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").
- Rooting for the Empire: Enforced. The Commando Elite were the guys who mesmerised the marketing executives, and came to the opinion that the kids would be as well - after all, "it's not violence, it's action, and kids love action". So, they got all the focus and the poor Gorgonites, who were a rejected concept with nothing to do with the Commandos, got awkwardly shoehorned in as their "enemies".
- 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!"
- And the requisite Shout-Out to Apocalypse Now: "I love the smell of polyurethane in the morning."
- 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/Also Sprach Zarathustra riff.
- 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.
- Possible ones to G.I. Joe:
- Globotech's CEO is Gil Mars. MARS was also the arms manufacturing company led by Destro, as well as the Roman God of War.
- The Abernathy family share their name with General Clayton Abernathy, better known as Hawk.
- Irwin is a shout out to a real life toy company of the same name that distributes toys for well known companies such as Bandai and Milton Bradley.
- Several to Joe Dante's previous works, including the Piranha and Gremlin skull on Alan's desk, Irwin's password being "Gizmo," and a toy of Gizmo himself in the dumpster.
- The creation of the Zom-Gwendies is inspired by, and features music from Bride of Frankenstein.
- Similarly, Chip Hazard's Rousing Speech infront of an American flag is a pastiche of the opening scene of Patton, and Jerry Goldsmith even quotes his score from that film to drive the point home.
- Hazard's dialogue about how Nick Nitro's "battery has run out, but his memory will keep going, and going, and going" is a reference to Energizer batteries' slogan.
- Another mention to Energizer (or rather, their parent company at the time, Eveready) is heard during the beginning of the film. Doubles as a Take That.
- The Singularity: The Commando Elite learn how to reverse-engineer their chips and create a army of Franken-Barbies.
- Slasher Smile: Nick Nitro and Brick Bazooka sport these, but the winning candidate is undeniably Kip Killigan. Cheerful though he may be, that cigar-chomping grin is scary smile number one, hands down.
- Slipping a Mickey: The Commandos put Marianne out of commission by launching sleeping pills into her drink.
- Smooch of Victory: After Alan helps Christy fight off the Gwendy dolls the Commandos "recruited":Christy: You rescued me! *smooch!*Alan: *is very surprised* Anytime!Christy: *smooch!*
- The Stinger: A dedication to Phil Hartman, accompanied by an outtake of the "A nuclear bomb?" line, with everyone laughing.
- Stock Scream: Brick Bazooka utters a Wilhelm scream as he falls from Alan's bicycle, and another Wilhelm is heard as Alan's father kicks off the one trying to kill him at the end.
- Testosterone Poisoning: The Commando Elite all have ridiculously manly names. And builds. And attitudes.
- Ugly Hero, Good-Looking Villain: Archer and Chip.
- Verbal Tic: Link Static, Commando Elite communications specialist, bookends his sentences with white noise.
- We Can Rebuild Him: Troglokhan is reconstructed as Freakenstein.Punch-It: We fixed him!Slamfist: We tried to fix him...*watching Frankenstein*: I feel your pain.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Christy's boyfriend Bradley 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? Saying "to hell with the bike" and running like hell is entirely plausible, but never confirmed.
- What Measure Is a Non-Cute?: Subverted with the Gorgonites.
- Why We Are 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.
- Writer Revolt: In-Universe example. Larry kept most of Irwin's ideas for the Gorgonites' personalities in place even though they'd been made the villains of the toyline.