Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989)
Written by Ed Naha, Tom Schulman, Stuart Gordon, and Brian Yuzna
Directed by Joe Johnston
There are some movies from my childhood where I wonder if they were as big a deal to the rest of the world as they seemed to me at the time. So often, a lot of movies turn out to be a thing your family owned a copy of, so you watched and rewatched it. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids was actually as big as I remember it as. Its box office returns are the equivalent of $457 million in today’s money. Pretty good for a movie that cost only $18 million to make. It was the directorial debut of Lucasfilm special effects artist Joe Johnston, and it was at the height of Rick Moranis’s career.
Wayne Zelinksi (Moranis) is a scientist and inventor who is convinced he can build a shrink ray. He imagines a future where transporting food and people will become almost free as their mass no longer requires additional fuel. But he just can’t get the device to work. His wife is annoyed with Wayne; she still loves him but is exhausted from being the home’s primary breadwinner. Wayne is off one morning to a presentation, and mom is gone, so that leaves teenage Amy and her little brother Nick. They go about their Saturday morning chores as the next-door neighbors, the Thompsons, prepare for a weekend camping trip.
Russ Jr and Ron Thompson end up in the Zelinksi’s yard after Ron hits a baseball through the attic window where the object has fixed the overheating issue with the shrink ray. Nick and Ron enter and are hit, shrinking them down. Shortly after that, Amy and Russ Jr come up to see what’s taking so long and meet the same fate. When Wayne arrives home, he unknowingly sweeps the kids up in a trash bag and deposits them on the far side of the back yard. The quartet must now journey across a jungle-like terrain, avoiding predatory creatures and the elements, hoping Wayne can find a solution and bring them back to normal.
As far as family films of the late 80s/1990s go, this was one of the better ones. It doesn’t overstay its welcome, clocking in at just over 90 minutes. It’s the perfect length to set up the situation, create exciting scenarios to explore what it would be like to shrink down and wrap things up before the kids in the audience start to lose interest. The characters are given just enough development to have clear story arcs for everyone throughout the picture. There’s some excellent spectacle, but the movie doesn’t let its science-fiction hook overtake the family story at the core.
While Rick Moranis is the marquee’s biggest name, I don’t think he could be considered the main character. Amy and Russ Jr. are essentially the protagonists of the film, and they are not the most charismatic of actors in those roles. The teenage love story between them is pretty dull per Disney standards, and you don’t even really care if they get together or not. It seems like pretty small stakes when you are running against the lawnmower’s pull as it runs feet above your head. When you look at the number of good teen actors in Hollywood around this time, it seems like they hired unknowns for budgetary reasons.
The special effects are a mixed bag by today’s standards. As it always seems, the practical effects hold up better than anything with a green screen or digital from these early days. The production design is impressive, with an oversized backyard being recreated in such detail. Having a director who worked in that field probably helped ensure the technical elements were done well. However, the original director was going to be Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator), and I can only imagine the energy he would have brought to the picture that is definitely lacking in the final product.
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids is a straightforward premise executed quite well. It’s definitely not perfect, but I think it’s done good enough that it would hold up to the scrutiny of modern kids audiences who have seen slicker digital effects. It’s funny that we haven’t seen a remake of this attempted with modern technology, but it’s sort of better that way.