Gremlins in the Toy Shop
When Globotech takes over a toy company, an employee desperate to please his new CEO accidentally orders some defective military chips to put into a series of brand new toys which will have the ability to learn. The toys are The Commando Elite and The Gorgonites which 15 year old Alan Abernathy (Gregory Smith), the son of a toy shop owner, manages to get his hands on before they are officially released. But Alan and his neighbour Christy Fimple (Kirsten Dunst - Wag the Dog) find themselves in a middle of a war when the toys have a life of their own and The Commando Elite go hell bent for leather to destroy The Gorgonites and anyone who helps their sworn enemies.
Whilst "Gremlins" may be the movie most people think of when the name Joe Dante is mentioned part of me thinks it should be "Small Soldiers". Don't get me wrong as I love "Gremlins" and "Small Soldiers" has many similarities to it but it also has more going on than just mini monster mayhem. "Small Soldiers" has lots of movie in jokes from casting to scenes imitating some iconic movie scenes and there is of course the special effects which are brilliant. And like with "Grenlins" "Small Soldiers" is a family movie which is fun for all the family, imaginative mayhem for children to elements of comical horror and in jokes for older audiences.
So as already mentioned "Small Soldiers" owes a lot to "Gremlins" and some of what happens comes across like an update on the chaos caused by the little monsters. As such we have Alan and Christy having to fight to protect the innocent and frankly weird Gorgonites, lead by Archer, from destruction as The Commando Elite cause chaos. There are scenes such as a toy soldier ending up in a waste disposal system which directly imitates the "Gremlins" kitch massacre scene and the full on assault as Chip leads an army of soldiers also feels not that different to "Gremlins".
But "Small Soldiers" is not just a rip off of "Gremlins" and we have this interesting fine line walked between being family friendly and action horror. Scenes where The Commando Elite create weapons of mass destruction are genuinely entertaining but watching them go to war with saws and flame throwers gives it an adult tone but still strangely amusing in a child like imagination kind of way. Then there are scenes where The Commando Elite turn Christy's doll collection into a deranged female army which again has this mix of being amusing in a child like way but also dark in an adult way. It is why "Small Soldiers" is fun for all the family because there is action, horror and comedy which plays out for different ages and some of the darkest humour will fly over young audience's heads.
Now along side this mix of imaginative, child like and dark humour there are some wonderful movie in jokes. From visual references such as when Chip creates his monster doll army to actual film references such as The Gorgonites watching Frankenstein's monster. Add to this homages such as the scene where Chip is addressing The Commando Elite in front of an American flag. But for me, my favourite in joke is the casting of The Commando Elite as whilst Tommy Lee Jones is Chip you have George Kennedy, Clint Walker, Ernest Borgnine and Jim Brown reunited for the first time since they were in "The Dirty Dozen". In fact whilst young Gregory Smith and Kirsten Dunst are the stars accompanied by Kevin Dunn and Phil Hartman as parents it is the voices of these stars which help make "Small Soldiers" so entertaining, well that and the great special effects to bring them to life.
What this all boils down to is that "Small Soldiers" whilst obviously owing a lot to Joe Dante's "Gremlins" is in fact a movie which takes it to the next level with a wide variety of humour to make it fun for all the family. The only thing it doesn't have is the cute factor and is probably why "Gremlins" remains better known.