There’s a hall in the Headquarters of Industrial Lights and Magic where, back in the Eighties (I do not know whether it is still there), they had a long row of posters for the movies they’d worked on. When Honey, I Shrunk the Kids came out they added it to the wall, even though they hadn’t worked on it, because it was directed by one of their former employees, Joe Johnston.
Mind you, it was a tiny poster.
The basic story here is fairly straightforward: we have Wayne Szalinski, an eccentric inventor of the absent-minded variety, played with a lot of geeky charm by Rick Moranis.
He’s one of those rarities, a successful actor who put his family first and set his career aside for their sake. While I admire and respect his decision, I have to admit that I really miss him in these sorts of films!
He’s been working on a shrink ray, with the idea that you could shrink a payload to make sending it into space much cheaper. While he talks about reducing the space between the subatomic particles, he never really tells us whether shrinking things also reduces their weight (or to be more accurate, never explains how it reduces their mass, as it does seem to be assumed in the story).
And, of course, his kids and the neighbor kids all get reduced to flea size, and left at the far end of the terrible jungle that is the average suburban lawn…
Perhaps the most curious part of this one is finding a “Story By” credit for Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna. Stuart, of course directed Reanimator just four years earlier, with a script by Yuzna. It turns out that he was originally scheduled to direct Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, but left the production. It is really hard to imagine Gordon doing a children’s film, although it is true that we do have an often unfair tendency to pigeonhole people based on their first successes. However, the only other directing credit he had under his belt at the time was From Beyond and he did go on to make quite a few other horror films.
We also have Matt Frewer as the Father of the neighbor kids, just one year after the Max Headroom series folded. He’s already looking a lot older than he did as Edison Carter, although still youngish. It seems strange now, after his impressive career as a character actor, to picture him as a leading man: somehow, as he balded, his face seems to have gotten bonier. He’s really not given that much to work with here, but does manage to bring a little life that old chestnut of a character, the tough jock dad who doesn’t seem to listen to his kids but does come through for them in the end.
Mind you, how he does it is at least different.
While I’ve always had a very soft spot for this film, it has one of those strange Eighties quirks that seemed decidedly uncomfortable even at the time: the boy playing young Russ Thompson looks just awful, thanks to his aggressive, glam rocker eye makeup. This is one of those things that seems disturbing when you see some of these films again: somehow, one thinks of The Stuff, where the two boys have so much mascara they almost end up looking like raccoons, or, far worse, Mark Hamill in the Star Wars Christmas Special, who has to be seen to be (*shudder*) believed!
Joe, of course, followed Honey, I Shrunk the Kids with The Rocketeer, and several other consistently entertaining films, many of them SF or fantasy. While I don’t exactly consider him a great director, he does have a knack for making watchable films and for his deft handling of special effects (and if you really want to appreciate just how good he was, just watch his Jumanji back to back with the new one. Uggh). For a “little film” it has an awe-inspiring number of effects sequences, although they are used well (and more sparingly than it seems). Johnston rewrote large parts of the original script because it was too ambitious, but still gives us a flight on the back of a bee and an all out battle between an ant and a scorpion. It comes as no surprise to see both Phil Tippett and David Allen in the credits — or to learn that the giant Cheerios were, in fact, foam-covered truck tires.
Although the best image in the entire film might be the method Wayne uses to safely search the lawn for his kids.
Joe also insisted on giving the characters a bit more depth, although I think that says more about Stuart Gordon’s script as there isn’t much to them other than a few tropes.
And, of course, you can tell how successful it was because, in true Disney fashion, it spawned two sequels and even a TV series. Not that I’m recommending watching any of them. I’ve avoided them so far and see no reason to regret it.
One odd note here is that James Horner got in trouble for using Raymond Scott’s familiar piece,”Powerhouse”, throughout the film without permission, something we don’t expect from such a well-regarded composer. However, it is best remembered from all those Warner Brothers cartoons featuring factories and machinery — and yet Carl Stallings never game Scott credit or attribution either.
I know this isn’t a great a film. But then, not every film can be. However, it remains something almost as good, a fun, family film which young viewers will love.
And that is rare enough.
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