Small Soldiers

Reviewed By Thom
Posted 12/28/99 01:49:26

"Gremlins, but better."
3 stars (Just Average)

Obviously tongue-in-cheek film mis-marketed as a children's flick but with potential cult status for the media-weary Generation X'er who has drank deeply from the cistern of popular culture before becoming jaded intellectuals with "something to say".

Put your high hat on autopilot and sit through a couple hours worth of sly consumer and media culture criticism, feminist jabs at the patriarchal domination and warfare model of social organization and referential nods to the pre-cursor of Small Soldiers, Gremlins.

Small Soldiers is essentially Gremlins but instead of gremlins, you have toy soldiers of the kill and destroy school and their "enemy", the nature-loving life-affirming Gorgonites. It's a film of hyphenated proportions.

This movie is ostensibly a children's movie but it is overwrought with not only adult themes, but educated, opinionated adult themes. I don't know what kids would get out of this movie. Its not about toys, and its not about young love. The conflict between the values of the culture of domination and war and the culture of partnership and nature is one of the main themes in this film. There is also a hint of art vs. capital.

The scene of the Franken-Gwendies is straight up the Distorted Barbies project that was sued by Mattel for defaming the holy name of Barbie by daring to suggest that perhaps Barbie is not only an impossible ideal but an insult to women. Lovely riffs on the "math is hard" talking Barbie. Imagine an army of distorted Barbies kicking ass and saying things like "let's go shopping!".

Small Soldiers is full of subversive social content that will fly over the heads of kids but will hit you squarely on the jaw if you have been trained to recognize it or are familiar with some of the anti-consumer, anti-media art campaigns or its attendant criticism.

You know what you are in for when film starts out with a CEO (Dennis Leary) saying, "its not violence, its action. Action sells." That sentence starts off with denial, changes meaning and then brings it home. The entire meaning of "violence" is changed by the patriarch who uses coercion to force the executors of the will of the state, the toy inventors, to promote the new social order where the love of beauty and harmony with nature is traded for profit by bloodshed.

Small Soldiers is ripe for a fruitful feminist or queer criticism. Even the part where the girly-girl barbies who exist as property of men are turned into warriors not for their own emancipation but to serve the war state. It is the complete eradication of the feminine principal and the exaltation of the male principal in culture to disastrous ends.

Wonderful stop-motion and other animatronic effects. The Frankenstein theme comes up in several scenes of manic cross-referencing. So knowingly a tribute to Gremlins that the word Gizmo is used twice in the film.

Small Soldiers is a sneaky baptism into the rhetoric of dissent against a male-dominated war culture where women are chattel and being a man means being a killer and violence is used to enforce conformity to the ideal of destruction and domination as normative masculine behaviour.

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