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‘Small Soldiers’ Is Way, Way Darker Than You Remember

Updated January 23, 2020 14.5k views13 items

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?

  • The Gwendy Dolls Become Frankenstein Creatures Who Live Only As Cannon Fodder

    In a weird and under-explained sequence, the Commando Elite end up manufacturing their own bootleg microchips to put inside a group of Gwendy dolls, which serve as the film's knockoff Barbie surrogates. While the Gorgonites and Commando Elites have robotic skeletons underneath their toy exteriors, the Gwendy dolls are nothing but plastic, which really pushes the audience's suspension of disbelief to the extreme.

    Even in a film where toys are battling with each other, how does a microchip bring hunks of plastic to life? Adding to the discrepancies, these dolls are essentially used by the Commando Elites as cannon fodder that have little-to-no bearing on the outcome of the film's plot.

  • Globotech Is Putting 'Advanced Battlefield Technology' Into Consumer Products

    The film's opening sequence involves a Globotech commercial that primes audiences for the kind of tongue-in-cheek messaging that centers around a corporation putting a happy face on something that is clearly questionable. At one point in the commercial, the woman doing the voiceover says Globotech is putting "Advanced Battlefield Technology" into various consumer products. 

    Adding "Advanced Battlefield Technology" to consumer products inherently puts military technology into the hands of just about anybody. By the end of the movie, Globotech is controlling local law enforcement and figuring out how to compensate the parties involved in the film's events to keep their poor decision-making under wraps.

  • Globotech's Poor Oversight Of Toys Could Also Be Applicable To Their Combat Devices

    It's a bit odd to think of a world where a major corporate entity not only houses a combat device manufacturer but also a toy company. It also raises a legitimate question: Why would the toy division of the company have access to top-secret military technology? 

    Audiences can't help but wonder if the poor oversight of Globotech's toy division extends to their government devices, as well. There is even a scene where it is discovered that the microchips used in the toys were found to have a defect by the United States Department of Defense. This means that consumers may not be the only ones dealing with flawed sentient technology; government agencies may be experiencing issues, as well.  

  • The Catastrophe Of The Film Is Happening On A Nationwide Scale

    While the first toys to be activated are taken out of their packaging before waking up, possibly explaining away their activation, the film clearly shows one of the Commando Elites, Slamfist, coming to life while still in his box. This opens up the idea that all of the toys, 500,000 of which have been shipped to stores across the country, could be sentient even though they are still in boxes on store shelves.

    Even though Globotech has initiated a recall on the product and the film follows an isolated incident in one small town, this kind of mayhem could be happening all across the United States, which would make for even more controversy for Globotech.