Rather than trying to cram a trip to the cinema into our already packed Saturday, we decided to stay in with a DVD. Small Soldiers, a film originally released in 1998, was next up on our rental queue and that’s what we watched.
I have to admit to a slightly nervous moment during the opening credits when I realised that this was a film directed by Joe Dante. Much as I like Dante’s films, I do tend to think of him as being primarily a director of horror films, and this is not a genre that often goes down well in our house.
I needn’t have worried though, the film is superb and was thoroughly enjoyed by all.
To set things up, the film introduces us to multinational conglomerate GloboTech Industries, which has recently decided to expand from building high-tech military hardware into manufacturing intelligent toys. It’s not hard to predict what is going to go wrong with that and, three months later, we have two toy lines about to be launched — the peaceful, but monstrous-looking Gorgonites and the much more militaristic Commando Elite, the enemies of the Gorgonites.
We then join young Alan Abernathy (Gregory Smith), a teenager who’s desire to be trusted is undermined by his past behaviour. While left in charge of his father’s (not very successful) toy shop, Alan manages to get his hands on a set each of Gorgonite and Commando Elite toys with which he hopes to finally turn a profit for his dad.
Of course, it all goes a bit wrong and we end up with the Commando Elite bringing their war to the suburbs.
In many ways Small Soldiers reminded me a lot of Gremlins. At its core it’s a home invasion movie, with toy robots rather than small monsters, and the film shares the same, slightly twisted, sense of humour that makes makes Gremlins so much fun. There are the same digs at the destructive effects of excessive consumerism and even several scenes that would be quite at home in Gremlins.
The big difference, though, is the tone of the film. Whereas Gremlins is a horror-comedy, Small Soldiers is very much a family-friendly comedy-action film and one with which the kids could enjoy the ride without anything getting too tense.
This is not to suggest that Small Soldiers is some sort of pale imitation of the earlier film. It certainly stands up as a violently funny film in its own right and is a great deal of fun to watch. So much so that I am genuinely surprised that I managed to miss this when it was released.
But we’ve seen it now and, given the boys’ reaction to the film, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we see it again.