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RSVP / Into the Night

Troops Mass for 'Soldiers' Debut


The Scene: Wednesday's premiere of DreamWorks' and Universal's "Small Soldiers" at the Universal Amphitheatre with a party afterward in the theme park. The story of action figures running amok in suburbia was a mix of "Gremlins" on computer graphic steroids and the characters in "Toy Story" as mutant parole violators.

Who Was There: Co-stars Ann Magnuson, Kevin Dunn, Gregory Smith and David Cross; voices Christina Ricci, Harry Shearer, Michael McKean and George Kennedy; director Joe Dante; 3,500 guests including Damon Wayans, Cheech Marin, Dionne Warwick, Antonio Sabato Jr., David Carradine, Karl Austen; and studio execs Jeffrey Katzenberg, Jason Hoffs and Terry Press.

Party Action: The multi-generational activity factor rated high. Adults stood around schmoozing while kids ran loose in an almost empty theme park, got wet riding "Jurassic Park" a dozen times, dried off with the "Backdraft" flames and stuffed themselves on junk food. The evening glorified that most enduring of show business truths--give the people what they want.

Quoted: "The whole idea is how inventive can you be given a somewhat limited premise," said Dante. "What if these toys can think and they can do things that toys would do if they had access to things in your house? Where would they go? Would they use the bug spray? Would they use the chain saw?"

Another View: The film was summarized by one 7-year-old, who obviously has a future pitching scripts. "The Gorgonites and how that kid had to defeat the soldier dudes. The Gorgonites hid and the soldiers shot and the Gorgonites started to fight and they won. And how they had to get to Gorgon."

The Buzz: The film got big laughs and big applause. What more can you want from dolls with an attitude problem?

Local Wisdom: In revealing Hollywood's sacred Eternal Circle of Merchandising (cue the "Lion King" "Circle of Life" music), one exec said, "The movie sells the dolls and the dolls sell the theme park."

Observed: One clue that a sizable chunk of a premiere audience are winners of a radio promotion is when you see guys with shaved heads and gang tattoos across the backs of their skulls trying to talk their way into the VIP section.


Kenneth Turan says "Small Soldiers" starts promisingly, but the emphasis on special effects is tiresome. F1

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