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‘Small Soldiers’ Looks Like A Kid's Movie, But It's Really An Anti-Consumerist Existential Nightmare  

Tyler Mitchell
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When Small Soldiers was released in the summer of 1998, Dreamworks Pictures probably hoped parents across the country believed the film was a lighthearted romp geared towards kids that were on break from school. The film was certainly marketed that way with a set of Hasbro toys, a video game adaptation published by Electronic Arts, and a Burger King tie-in all promoting the PG-13 movie to children. Of course, this was a Joe Dante picture, and the director of films like Gremlins and The Howling had no intention of making a family-friendly flick.

During a 2008 interview with Den of Geek, Dante lamented how his original vision for Small Soldiers ended up being tainted by big-money sponsors. "Originally I was told to make an edgy picture for teenagers, but when the sponsor tie-ins came in, the new mandate was to soften it up as a kiddie movie," Dante said. "Too late, as it turned out, and there are elements of both approaches in there. Just before release, it was purged of a lot of action."

While Dante's original vision may not be totally represented by the final product, the film is still laden with a lot of anti-consumerist messages and some truly horrifying existential questions about the nature of the sentient toys that drive the narrative. Film critic Roger Ebert stated, "For smaller children, this could be a terrifying experience." Though it may look like a kid's movie from the outside, many still question: Is Small Soldiers kid-friendly?

Military AI Chips Give Sentience To Anything They Are Programmed In
Military AI Chips Give Sentien... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list ‘Small Soldiers’ Looks Like A Kid's Movie, But It's Really An Anti-Consumerist Existential Nightmare
Photo: DreamWorks Pictures

Given that the Globotech chips used to give the toys sentience were originally put in military-grade munitions, does that mean projectiles are pondering the nature of their existence before they detonate? That is a line of thinking that is truly bonkers.

Does every item programmed with these chips fear the end of its "life" when it becomes aware it will be detonated? The Small Soldiers narrative certainly suggests that even the most extreme government devices are subject to such existentialism. What's more is that if these chips are being used for international conflict, how could they possibly be cost-effective for children's toys? 

The Toys Feel Physical Pain
The Toys Feel Physical Pain is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list ‘Small Soldiers’ Looks Like A Kid's Movie, But It's Really An Anti-Consumerist Existential Nightmare
Photo: DreamWorks Pictures

Kids can be pretty rough with their toys. The Toy Story franchise makes several references to how children take advantage of their playthings, and Small Soldiers brings up similar questions when it comes to the repercussions of such volatile actions toward seemingly inanimate objects. 

Both the Gorgons and the Commando Elite feel the pain that is inflicted on them throughout the film. The fact that the toys can feel pain does provide some comic relief over the course of the narrative, but it's more than a bit cruel when you begin to really think about what the toys must be going through when their child owners partake in imaginary conflicts. 

The Commando Elite Are Programmed With Genocidal Intent
The Commando Elite Are Program... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list ‘Small Soldiers’ Looks Like A Kid's Movie, But It's Really An Anti-Consumerist Existential Nightmare
Photo: DreamWorks Pictures

As Tommy Lee Jones' character Chip Hazard makes abundantly clear on numerous occasions, the Commando Elite's sole purpose is to completely eradicate the Gorgonites. This means that a line of extremely enhanced children's toys was programmed to end an entire race.

Even if the toys were nothing but basic action figures, having a backstory for a toy line that centers around the systemic wiping out of an entire population is frightening on its own. 

The Gorgonites Have A Single, Unachievable Purpose In Life
The Gorgonites Have A Single, ... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list ‘Small Soldiers’ Looks Like A Kid's Movie, But It's Really An Anti-Consumerist Existential Nightmare
Photo: DreamWorks Pictures

The peaceful Gorgonites, meant to play the heroic foil to the combat-hungry Commando Elite, are programmed to have one purpose and one purpose only: to return to their home planet of Gorgon. Considering these are toys and not actually lost aliens, there is no planet Gorgon and these creatures will never be able to achieve their lone purpose.

Even if the Gorgonites were able to return home to Gorgon in some bizarre twist of fate, what happens to them then? Do they cease to function after having achieved their one goal? Similarly, what happens to the Commando Elite if they wipe their enemies out or if the Gorgons escape for good?