Director Joe Dante (Gremlins) is a national treasure, and his lack of recognition by the general public may actually make it easier for him to function subversively. His unpretentious fantasy romps have more to say about the American psyche, pop culture, and the ideology of violence than anything dreamed up by Steven Spielberg or George Lucas. This delightful 1998 adventure about war toys running amok in suburban middle America is a synthesis and extension of most of his previous movies, with echoes of Gulliver's Travels (including some of the satire). The toys in question are the villainous Commando Elite, fashioned using a microchip from the U.S. Defense Department to mercilessly slaughter the noble if freakish Gorgonites, a set of toys programmed (like other minorities one can mention) to hide and to lose; the Ohio citizens who wind up in the cross fire are strictly generic sitcom types, but we come to care about them almost as much as we care about the toys. It's typical of Dante as a pop connoisseur that he adroitly links a creepy sequence about mutated Barbie dolls to Bride of Frankenstein. His films are about not just culture and violence but also everyday cultural violence, something we all have to cope with.
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