It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
“Small Soldiers” is a family picture on the outside, and a mean, violent action picture on the inside. Since most of the violence happens to toys, I guess we're supposed to give it a pass, but I dunno: The toys are presented as individuals who can think for themselves, and there are believable heroes and villains among them. For smaller children, this could be a terrifying experience.
It's rated PG-13, but if the characters were human the movie would be a hard “R,” just for the scene where characters get run over and chewed up by a lawn mower. I was a little amazed, indeed, by the whole concluding sequence, in which fireballs are lobbed, toy helicopters attack, and there's a struggle high in the air between killer toys and the movie's young hero, who are trying to electrocute one another. This is not a sequence a lot of grade schoolers are ready for.
The movie's premise is intriguing. A toy company is purchased by a defense manufacturer, and the tough-skinned new owner (Denis Leary) orders his people to make “Toys that actually do what they do in the commercials.” Toys with batteries that don't run down, and with minds of their own. His designers take him at his word, and develop lines of toys using the company's X-1000 computer chip, which is also the brains of smart bombs and other military technology.
When these toys get into the marketplace, it's war. The toy characters are divided into two camps, the peaceful and zany Gorgonites and the professional killers of the Commando Elite. The problem is with the commandos, who are humorless martinets who strut through the movie looking like mercenaries and making threats like pro wrestlers. They are truly evil, and they throw off the movie's moral balance.