Directed by: Joe Johnston
Premise: A scientist invents a machine that can shrink objects to the size of an insect. His children and the neighbor kids are accidentally shrunk and stranded in the backyard. They must make their way back to the house while facing animals, lawnmowers, and other backyard terrors.
What Works: When critics and cinephiles complain about the contemporary movie marketplace, the most frequent criticism is that Hollywood has given itself over to PG-13 blockbuster action movies. This usually leads to bemoaning the lack of adult-oriented human dramas but the other demographic largely ignored by Hollywood are families. Animated features are abundant but live action PG rated adventures like those that Disney produced throughout the 1950s and 60s are almost nonexistent; they’ve been supplanted by increasingly violent PG-13 pictures, usually based on comic books. Viewers have to look back a quarter century or more to find that kind of movie such as Disney’s 1989 feature Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Despite its goofy title, this film is a satisfying adventure movie that ought to appeal to both children and their parents. This is a clever adventure that finds ways of turning the backyard into a jungle and makes it credibly threatening. The young cast of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids is one of the film’s best assets. The kids, played by Thomas Wilson Brown, Jared Rushton, Amy O’Neill, and Robert Oliveri, are distinct characters with specific story turf and yet they are all more than stereotypes. The movie begins by establishing that the neighboring families have a tense relationship and their children don’t know each other at all. When the four young people are accidentally shrunk by the father’s invention and marooned in the backyard they have to band together to overcome obstacles and over the course of their journey they gradually become friends. The performances by the young people combined with the special effects make the movie work. The effects of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids are quite good. The set design is convincing enough to maintain the illusion and especially memorable is an ant that the kids befriend and ride for part of their journey back to the house. Insects don’t have the physical features that make them readily empathetic the way dogs and cats do but nevertheless the filmmakers find ways to bond the human characters and the ant. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids is also notable in that its filmmakers demonstrate a willingness to put the kids in real danger. The film was written by Stuart Gordon, Brian Yuzna, and Ed Naha, who had a background in horror films such as Re-Animator and From Beyond, which may account for the physicality and the occasional ickiness and scariness of the movie. Honey I Shrunk the Kids was directed by Joe Johnston, a protégé of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, and the combination of Gordon, Yuzna, and Naha’s horror sensibilities refocused through Johnston’s more mainstream background made for a picture that was suitably intense without being overwhelming or condescending to the family audience.
What Doesn’t: The parents of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids aren’t as well drawn as the kids. Rick Moranis plays the inventor and Matt Frewer is the blue collar, alpha male neighbor. The fathers are often cartoonish. Moranis is kind of dumb, especially for someone who is supposed to be a genius inventor, and Frewer is like the obnoxious neighbor of a 1980s television sitcom. The mothers, played by Marcia Strassman and Kristine Sutherland, have almost nothing to do except sigh and keep their husbands in check. In the course of the movie, the parents bond together. This is intended to parallel their children, but the parents don’t really do anything to warrant a new friendship and so the very end of the movie comes across a little forced.
DVD extras: None.
Bottom Line: Honey, I Shrunk the Kids is a fun movie and an effective example of a family adventure film that is entertaining for both kids and parents.
Episode: #551 (July 26, 2015)