Sincere, but fairly outmoded in presentation, Jon Voight's directorial debut is a brave attempt to update and urbanize a Hans Christian Andersen classic. Despite the background noise of chains and switchblades, this sweetie-pie kids film emerges as a throwback to the saccharine vehicles of
Mickey Rooney and Freddie Bartholomew.
Reeling from his dad's untimely death in a brawl, latchkey child Billy (Trenton Knight) has trouble adapting to his new environment, a violence-laden inner city school in a downwardly mobile neighborhood. While his mother (Ally Sheedy) works as a waitress, Billy resists the seductive patter of
gang recruiters like Clyde (Aeryk Egan). Upsetting resident good girl Toni (Bethany Richards) on whom he has a crush, Billy is given a toy soldier by a local store's owner, Mr. Fallon (Dom DeLuise). Magically, the Tin Soldier, Yarik (Jon Voight) comes to life, although no one can see this guardian
angel-figure but Billy. Encouraging Billy to hang out with responsible students and instilling the Knight's code of honor in him, Yarik can't prevent the easily-influenced lad from taking the rap in a shoplifting caper instigated by his friends.
After rescuing a rival gang-member from falling to his death, Billy is forced to defend his own gang's honor. Advising him not to rumble, Yarik also gives Billy a crash course in the manly arts. During the street-match, Billy outboxes his opponent Psycho (Travis Perkins) but leaves before the
gang-bang turns into a bloodbath that leaves several boys hospitalized. Cured of running with the cool ones, Billy reconciles with his mom, bonds with Toni, and fondly lives by the sagacity of Yarik, who has returned to his own kingdom and his beloved girlfriend Katrina (Evelyn Cisneros).
Despite its sanitized nature, THE TIN SOLDIER still draws a scary sketch of the hazardous existence endured by good kids in modern-day schools. That grim reality is often at loggerheads with the lugubriously-helmed whimsy doled out by debuting director Voight. Botching his own tired comedy
scenes, Voight only sporadically summons up the proper fairy-tale atmosphere.
Constrained by a repetitive script that bobs along like a lightweight "Afterschool Special," Voight sensibly concentrates on the boy's bonding with the Knight, who becomes a surrogate father figure for the bereaved youngster. Working against this pathos is the inescapable fact that Voight has
miscast himself as a comically stumbling knight worthy of the troubled youngster's respect; his timing is off and his accent comes and goes. With its gang members cast directly out of a Performing Arts junior high school, DeLuise's bothersome impression of himself, and Sheedy's impersonation of a
valley-girl Mildred Pierce, THE TIN SOLDIER is ill-served by its performers, even though the film's message to march to one's own drummer still sneaks through. It's hard to take gang warfare seriously when the punks resemble the New Mouseketeers on an anti-graffiti campaign.(Violence.)
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- Released: 1995
- Rating: PG
- Review: Sincere, but fairly outmoded in presentation, Jon Voight's directorial debut is a brave attempt to update and urbanize a Hans Christian Andersen classic. Despite the background noise of chains and switchblades, this sweetie-pie kids film emerges as a throw… (more)