I saw this when it first came out in the cinema way way back in good old 1998, the air was cleaner back then. *Cough!* sorry!...anyway I didn't really like it as I recall, it was hyped up pretty strongly but didn't really live it up to it. Surprise surprise on a re-watch I have done a 180 and now do appreciate the film a whole lot more, I guess I didn't quite get the tone first time round.
Set in small town USA two sets of brand spanking new hi-tec toys are due for release but a small batch get an early chance of sales in a local toy shop. The shop is run by a humble man who has a slightly rebellious son, naturally this lad gets into some small fry high jinx (that builds) with these toys as they break loose and run amok. One set of toys are the good guys and one set are supposedly the bad guys, one group has been programmed to destroy the other and the local family is slap bang in the middle.
Basically this is a modern remake of 'Gremlins' and I never even twigged back in the day. The whole premise is pretty much the same albeit in a lighter tone of course, replace monsters with killer toys. Everything is very cliched and pretty stereotypical of small town America, the film is actually a very good little homage to those classic 80's teen flicks that involved monsters/aliens/the supernatural etc...Hell they even cast classic 80's stars Wendy Schaal and Dick Miller, who of course has starred in some perfect examples of typical 80's trashy horror comedies, including 'Gremlins' (that's not trashy by the way). Miller even plays a similar type of role to his 'Gremlins' character, direct homage to the genre right there if you ask me.
Had this been made back in the day it probably would have been pretty dark, but lets give credit where credits due, this film is also quite dark. Its not scary and its not bloody of course but there is a nice undercurrent of evil that lurks within these toy soldiers. You would think how can a toy injure me, but give these little guys a big knife or nail gun and all of a sudden you've got a problem. This is how the film works well in my opinion, they don't hold right back with the action, yeah sure most of it is kinda silly, almost cute, but there are some slightly nasty moments where they have successfully tweaked the hairs on the back of your neck.
The sadistic knife wielding 'Barbie-ish' girly dolls are a good example of this. The sequences with them involved aren't scary but its certainly heading down eerie street as they scamper around with damage to their faces and no hair. Almost a PG version of 'Chucky'...almost.
The toys themselves are a mixed for me. On the one hand the gruff, butch, muscle bound military special elite soldiers are really nicely. Love the cliched cartoonish caricatures of the typical buzz cut 80's macho action man, especially the cigar chomping ones. Not only do they look like a typical dirty dozen team with each member a master in his own field (explosives, communications etc...), but they got Borgnine, Walker, Brown and Kennedy to voice them! awesome much?!. The other two remaining soldiers are voiced by Tommy Lee Jones and Bruce Dern so really its nothing short of sheer brilliance. And again back in the day I didn't even realise.
Of course you have to remember that even though these little guys have been deliberately designed to homage their voice actors to a degree (and the action man genre). They are also suppose to be stereotypical action figures within the film, the type of toys that little boys would clearly love, look at their their names...'Brick Bazooka' 'Nick Nitro'. The characters work on two levels of the conventional stereotype.
On the other hand the Gorgonites are a very surreal bunch that didn't really fit the style of the film methinks. Their leader 'Archer' is pretty cool looking and sounds epic voiced by Langella but the rest are a crazy ass bunch of monsters that would feel more at home in a Tim Burton fairytale really. I'm not sure why they didn't keep all the Gorgonites the same type of creature as their leader Archer just with different colours or patterns on the fur (go down the Thundercat route). I did like the dark twisted appearance of one or two of them sure, almost a bit 'Evil Dead-ish' if you ask me but they just don't fit this flick.
I do recall that a lot of the hype for this film was down to the Stan Winston effects for the toys. To be fair these effects still remain solid today, gotta give kudos to the actual design and creation of all those action figures because they do look great, I'd have one. The CGI is also not too bad these days, its used for the more obvious requirements but blends in well. On the whole they managed to use both real props/models and CGI effectively together instead of just relying on all out computer effects.
This film shows me how you change as you get older, when I first saw it I couldn't care a less about it and didn't pick up on half the details. Now I can see clearly what they were trying to do and I think it works pretty well really. Its not anywhere near as good as some of the 80's classics but it can hold it head up high as a decent entry into the comedy horror genre. I say comedy horror with a pinch of salt as its not totally like that, more a watered down kiddie PG version but still good still good.