Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989)


A little secret about Honey, I Shrunk the Kids was that it was written by the same guys, Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna, who did Re-AnimatorTheir early ultra-bloody H. P. Lovecraft adaptations got them noticed by Disney and, along with Ed Naha, they came up with a family adventure film.  Gordon was even supposed to direct until he got ill and, with him unable to complete the project, Yuzna was out the door as well, though still listed as co-producer.  Joe Johnston, a former art designer with Industrial Light and Magic, was hired to direct instead and had Naha and Tom Schulman overhaul the script.

I really don't know how much of the original script remains, although it is well-known that a death scene for a fifth kid while in the back yard was removed.  I'm sure some of the scarier elements were toned down, but since the duo was going for family fare to begin with and not another grand guignol film, I'm sure most of the general story remains.  I am relieved that it eventually became Honey, I Shrunk the Kids rather than the original title, Teenie Weenies.  

Wayne Szalinski (Rick Moranis) is an inventor who is trying to develop a device that can change an object's size.  The problem is that the machine largely causes things to explode.  On the day that he is to present his idea to get grant money the machine is still not working.  He has also been having marital troubles, to the point where his wife Diane (Marcia Strassman) has decided to cool her heels at her mother's, leaving daughter Amy (Amy O'Neill) in charge of taking care of the house and her little brother Nick (Robert Oliveri).  Next door Big Russ Thompson (Matt Frewer) and his family are getting ready for a fishing trip.  When his youngest kid Ron (Jared Rushton) hits a baseball through the Szalinskis' attic window his older brother Little Russ (Thomas Wilson Brown) forces Ron to fess up.

What they don't know is that the baseball has activated Wayne's machine and, by accident, made it work.  Soon they are all shrunk to a quarter inch tall and put out with the trash when Wayne comes home to find the mess that was left.  The four kids find themselves forced to journey through the length of their back yard in order to reach the house, running into such perils as insects, sprinklers and a lawnmower.  Meanwhile, Wayne realizes what happened and, with Diane's help, begins to look for the kids and repair the machine so he can restore them to their original size.  

When Honey, I Shrunk the Kids originally came out it was paired with a Roger Rabbit animation short called "Tummy Trouble".  It was almost as if Disney was more interested in continuing to market Roger Rabbit rather than this movie, but although "Tummy Trouble" is amusing it, and the others that followed, failed to make the character an ongoing thing.  The same could be said for Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.  It was one of the biggest movies of 1989, rivalling Batman.  The entire back yard adventure stands up with wonderful effects, including a stop-motion insects, and beautiful set design to simulate what something we take for granted would look like to someone of miniscule size.  It's another great performance by Rick Moranis and Matt Frewer, as the overly macho neighbor, often steals the show. 

There are sequels - notably Honey, I Blew Up the Baby - but when looking for the movie on Disney+ it's about four letters in before it pops up instead of all the direct-to-video Home Alone sequels.  It's largely forgotten amidst Moranis's other movies, such as Spaceballs and Little Shop of Horrors.  It is a shame because, though it is light entertainment at best, it is still a lot of fun to watch.  There is nothing extraordinary about it outside the effects, but it was something that an '80s family could go to without the parents cringing or having to explain a bunch of things afterward. 

One of the reasons I think the movie is dismissed these days is that we are at a point where every single aspect of a movie is nitpicked.  This is pure fantasy, and there is no grounding in science at all; the whole problem with the machine ends up being solved with a baseball mitigating the power of the laser, and there is not even any handwaving to describe why a laser, of all things, would shrink people.  Add to that the fact that shrinking a human down to that size would be a death sentence, from either starvation or freezing due to our low metabolism.  Despite the fact that we live in a time where people believe the Earth is flat, NASA uses CGI to simulate space and vaccines have nanobots to track us using 5g towers, no one can sit back and just enjoy pure fantasy.  Sure, this is not on the same dramatic level of The Incredible Shrinking Man, it is at least a lot less depressing to watch even if it's not as memorable.

Disney, unfortunately, doesn't seem to see it that way.  The version they stream appears to be an older DVD restoration rather than a 4K, even though the movie was popular enough to at one time be translated into a Disney attraction at their parks.  To be honest I enjoy it much more now than I did back then, and Joe Johnston did a great job with this being his directing debut.  It's one of the few kids movies where none of them annoy the heck out of me.  

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989)
Time: 93 minutes
Starring: Rick Moranis, Marcia Strassman, Matt Frewer, Mae Thompson, Amy O'Neill, Thomas Wilson Brown, Robert Oliveri, Jared Rushton
Director: Joe Johnston

 

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