Small Soldiers

Small Soldiers, directed by Joe Dante, is typical of Hollywood
attitudes towards military values and military people. Even the grief of
soldiers for their dead comrades in arms is made fun of as the leader of the toy
soldiers brought to life by computer wizardry pronounces over one of his men
that: “Nick Nitro’s battery has run out, but his memory will keep going, and
going, and going.” What a laugh!

The film’s heroes are the Abernathys, a gentle family of hippies
manqué. Stuart, the daddy (Kevin Dunn), is the kind of guy who still
drives a VW beetle and runs a toy shop called “The Inner Child” — which (of
course) doesn’t sell violent toys. The bad guys are (a) an evil defense
contractor called Globotech and run by Gil Mars (Dennis Leary) which takes over
a toy company called Heartland Play Systems, (b) a Heartland employee called
Larry (Jay Mohr) who, having escaped downsizing, tries to suck up to Mars by
designing some toy soldiers that make use of real military technology
manufactured by Globotech and (c) an arrogant technophile called Phil (Phil
Hartman) who lives next door to the hippie family. His daughter, Christy
(Kirsten Dunst), is a rebel against her insensitive, environmentally abusive
parents and takes an interest in the son of the hippie family, Alan (Gregory

Alan, who has a history of minor troublemaking in his former school, which
has caused his family to relocate, is put in charge of the shop while dad goes
out of town. When a delivery truck pulls up and Alan sees the cool new soldiers
from Heartland toys, he decides secretly to defy his father’s edict against
violent toys and sell a few. But these are the first of the bunch, and no one
yet knows how dangerous they are. The soldiers, called the Commando Elite and
commanded by Major Chip Hazard (voice of Tommy Lee Jones) are programmed for
real warfare against the Gorgonites, a collection of gentle E.T.-like creatures
(“The Gorgonites are peaceful,” their apelike leader, Archer, tells Alan) who
are part animal, part human and part Disney animation. Here the monsters, who
look like something dreamed up on an acid trip, are the good guys and the
American soldiers the bad.

All these creatures, since they have the latest in computer technology in
them (“not artificial intelligence,” says the embittered inventor of the chip
that Larry has put in them: “real intelligence”), come to life. The
commandos are gung-ho fascists (“There will be no mercy,” is one of Major Chip’s
programmed sayings) intent on exterminating “the Gorgonite scum” while the
harmless, lovable, madcap Gorgonites only want to learn from Alan’s Encarta
computer-encyclopedia. They know that they have been programmed for defeat, and
so content themselves with doing “what Gorgonites do best” — which is
hiding. The miniature warfare thus takes on a life of its own, and the soldiers
with their super-sophisticated chips inside, make use of makeshift but deadly
weapons fashioned from household implements rather than the toy weapons provided
by the manufacturer.

As this is a children’s movie, you know that no one is actually going to be
killed, but the warfare carried out by the miniature soldiers would otherwise
appear terrifying, especially when they make recruits out of Christy’s vast
collection of “Gwendy” dolls. These are somehow given cloned chips from the
Commando Elite, and turn into crazed vamps whose fearsome attacks are
accompanied by the kinds of vacuous things (“I broke a nail” etc) that feminists
imagine are constantly being said by traditionally minded women. In other words,
what we have here is a war between New Agers and feminists allied with the
gentle Gorgonites on the one hand and the Commando-Nazis intent on genocide on
the other. Guess who is going to win. Guess which set of values is being held up
for the admiration of our children. Guess what kind of soldiers we are likely to
have in the U.S. Army of the 21st century.

Discover more from James Bowman

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