After the box-office smash Toy Story and the board-game bonanza Jumanji, the compelling premise for Small Soldiers seemed to be a surefire hit. The concept of army toys going haywire in suburbia can only be directed by one man -- Joe Dante -- the mischievous genius who created Gremlins. Even though the Grade-A special effects are astounding, Small Soldiers quickly turns into a series of mindless action sequences that are way too dark and sadistic for the young viewers intended to watch it. When the vicious Commando Elite toys launch their attack with deadly power tools, this family film suddenly takes on the tone of a Sam Raimi or Peter Jackson horror film. Stan Winston, the creator of Jurassic Park's dinosaurs, has once again given birth to brilliantly realistic puppets that come to life onscreen. Even though a majority of the brutality happens to these toys, they look and sound like real beings, so the violence becomes more jarring than entertaining. In one scene, evil Barbie clones are cruelly shredded in a lawn mower. While this moment is invested with real hints of irony and satire, young viewers will be more likely to shield their eyes than cheer. The occasional laugh-out-loud scene and suspenseful segment may generate interest in some viewers, but these moments are few and far between. Surprisingly, even with all this talent and money, Small Soldiers failed to duplicate the success of Dante's Gremlins -- or even Gremlins 2 for that matter.
by Adam Goldberg review