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.
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.
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.
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.
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 .
The Determinator: A villainous example, no matter what you throw at Chip Hazard, he's very likely 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.
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 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.
Evil Plan: The Commando Elite are programed with one goal in mind: Destroy the Gorgonites. Though the actual 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. Needless to say, this did not end well.
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"? Larry: What? 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"!
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.
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.
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.
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.
In Memoriam: A dedication to Phil Hartman at the end of the movie.
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. And 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).
Large Ham: Most of the toys, especially Chip Hazard, who gets most of the best one-liners.
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: 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).
Nail 'Em: The Commando Elite bring along a rapid-firing nailgun along for fire support on their second try.
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.
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?
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.