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Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Live-action edition, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: Honey, I Shrunk the Kids

Year: 1988

Budget $18 million

Box office: $222.7 million

Plot: Inventor Wayne Szalinski is attempting to create a ray gun capable of shrinking objects, but cannot get it to work properly. His marriage to his wife, Diane, is strained because she has to the be breadwinner, which worries their two children: Amy and Nick. Their next door neighbors, the Thompsons, are getting ready for a fishing trip, but their oldest son, Russ Jr., is less than enthusiastic, as his and Russ’ interests often clash.

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Shortly after Wayne leaves for a conference, Ron Thompson accidentally hits his baseball through the Szalinskis’ attic window, which inadvertently activates the machine and blocks its targeting laser. Caught by Russ Jr., he is made to confess to Amy and Nick. Ron and Nick go upstairs to retrieve the ball and clean up the mess, only for the machine to shrink them. Amy and Russ Jr. are shrunken when they go to check on Ron and Nick.

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When Wayne returns home, they try to get his attention, but their voices are too small and he is unable to hear them. Frustrated by his humiliation at the conference and the broken window he discovers, he snaps and starts smashing the machine. He then sweeps the debris and the kids into a dust pan and takes them out in a trash bag. They escape from it, but are forced to cross the uncut yard’s wilderness to get back to the house.

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The Szalinskis grow concerned about Amy and Nick. Wayne realizes that a baseball was what caused the attic window to break since Nick does not play sports. Investigating, he realizes what happened to the kids and tries to find them, only to accidentally activate the sprinklers, causing chaotic torrents to come down on them. Amy nearly drowns when she is knocked into a pool of mud, but Russ Jr. saves her with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

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That evening, Russ and Mae are forced to call off their trip because their sons haven’t returned yet and they call the police to report them missing. Wayne tells Diane about what happened to the kids and she joins in the search. Eventually, she convinces Wayne to tell Russ and Mae, who are extremely skeptical.

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Meanwhile, the kids’ hunger is saved by one of Nick’s discarded oatmeal creme cookies, but their meal is interrupted by an ant scouting it. Ron decides to tame it in order to take them home and they quickly grow attached to “Antie” and try to set him free, but he instead decides to follow them like a pet. As night falls, the kids find a Lego to camp in for the night and Russ Jr. and Amy kiss after admitting their feelings for each other. However, they are attacked by a scorpion, which traps Ron in the Lego. Antie comes to rescue Ron, but is fatally stung before the kids unite and wound the scorpion, driving it off.

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The next morning, Tommy, Nick’s friend, returns to mow the lawn. The kids barely escape, seeking shelter in an earthworm burrow, and Wayne and Diane stop Tommy just in time to save them when they are blown out of the burrow by the lawnmower’s blades. Quark the dog chances upon them and while the kids are riding him into the house, Nick loses his grip and falls into Wayne’s bowl of Cheerios; he is nearly eaten before Quark bites Wayne in the ankle, making him aware of Nick and the others’ presence.

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Back in the attic, the kids make Wayne realize that the laser was generating too much heat, causing things to explode, until it was blocked by the baseball. He corrects the mistake and Russ volunteers as a subject for a successful test. The kids are then returned to their normal sizes and reunited with their parents, all making up with each other.

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Months later, at Thanksgiving, the Szalinskis and Thompsons, now close friends, are toasting over an enlarged turkey. Russ Jr. and Amy are dating now, while Ron and Nick are friends, and Quark is eating from an enlarged Alpo bone. Nick finally gets a joke that Russ Jr. told him about learning CPR in “French” class, at which he laughs.

Background: The project was originally brought to Disney Studios by Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna. Gordon was hired to direct the film and Yuzna to produce. The film was written as Teeny Weenies by Stuart Gordon, Ed Naha, and Brian Yuzna. Tom Schulman was later added as a screenwriter. Gordon originally prepped the film but had to drop out as director shortly before filming began due to illness. Joe Johnston was brought in to replace him.

As Teeny Weenies seemed to appeal more to a child demographic, the name was changed to Grounded to appeal to a more mature audience. That name was later rejected in favour of The Big Backyard. The script was written with Chevy Chase in mind because of his popularity in National Lampoon’s Vacation. He was filming the second sequel 1 and was too busy to portray Wayne.

Special effects were heavily used for the film, such as the electronically controlled ants and bees. For the most part, the production team tried to use practical effects that would work in camera. For the scene where Wayne lands in the Thompsons’ pool, Moranis jumped off a flying board in the form of a teeter-totter on a swing set. A stuntman pushed the board, sending him flying through the air and landing on a mat. Scale models were also used for the bee scene, with miniature Russ Jr. and Nick plastic figures attached. Forced perspective was used in the giant cookie scene, to make it seem bigger. The bristles were actually pieces of foam that were carved and tied to a rig system.

Attached to it was Disney and Amblin Entertainment’s first Roger Rabbit short, Tummy Trouble, executively produced by Steven Spielberg, produced by Don Hahn, directed by Rob Minkoff, and also composed by James Horner.

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The film was the directorial debut of Joe Johnson. He began his career as a concept artist and effects technician on the first Star Wars film. 2 He became one of four to win an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects for Raiders of the Lost Ark. Other films include The Rocketeer, The Pagemaster, Jumanji, October Sky, Jurassic Park III, Hidalgo, The Wolfman, Captain America: The First Avenger and Not Safe for Work. Johnston helmed reshoots on the film The Nutcracker and the Four Realms due to its director Lasse Hallström being unavailable.

Music: The music was composed by James Horner

Cast: We have already profiled both Rick Moranis 3 and Matt Frewer from other films.

 Marcia Strassman as Diane Szalinski. She is best known for her roles as Nurse Margie Cutler on M*A*S*H, and as Julie Kotter on Welcome Back, Kotter. She had roles on Booker, and the television series Tremors. Kristine Sutherland as Mae Thompson. She is best known for her role as Joyce Summers on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Thomas Wilson Brown as Russell “Russ” Thompson, Jr. He began his career at the age of 11 by playing “Augie” in Silverado. He appeared in Knots Landing, Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael, Beverly Hills, 90210, CSI, Daybreak, Nash Bridges, and Walker, Texas Ranger. Jared Rushton as Ronald “Ron” Thompson. He has appeared in Big, Overboard, Pet Sematary Two and as Chip on Roseanne. Rushton currently plays guitar in the rock band Deal by Dusk

Amy O’Neill as Amy Szalinski. O’Neill made her first appearance on television at age 13 in an episode of Mama’s Family. She continued working on television shows such as Matt Houston, Night Court, Highway to Heaven, The Twilight Zone, Family Ties, The Young and the Restless, Desperate for Love, I Know My First Name is Steven, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Room for Romance, The Young Riders, and Gabriel’s Fire. Robert Oliveri as Nick Szalinski. He is also known for playing Kevin, Winona Ryder’s little brother, in Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands.

Voice acting legend Frank Welker provided other vocals

Critical Reception:

  • Caryn James, of The New York Times, gave a positive review, saying: “As sweet, funny, and straightforward as its title.”[citation needed] Variety gave another positive review stating, “[It’s] in the best tradition of Disney — and even better than that, because it is not so juvenile that adults won’t be thoroughly entertained.”
  • A rare negative review came from Roger Ebert, of the Chicago Sun Times, who stated: “The special effects are all there, nicely in place, and the production values are sound, but the movie is dead in the water.”

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Sequels

  • In 1992, Disney released the first sequel, Honey, I Blew Up the Kid, with Moranis, Strassman, O’Neill, and Oliveri reprising their roles as Wayne, Diane, Amy and Nick Szalinski. As the title suggests, Wayne succeeds in enlarging his two-year-old son, Adam, to gigantic proportions as one of his size-changing experiments goes awry. It is the film debut of Keri Russell.
  • In 1997, Disney produced the second sequel, Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves, as a direct to video release. Rick Moranis was the only returning actor from the previous films who reprised his role, with Amy and Nick having gone off to college and Quark’s disappearance never being explained. Many new characters were added such as Wayne’s brother, Gordon, and his family. This time, the parents are shrunk and need to be rescued by their kids.
  • The last incarnation of the franchise was the television program Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show. Peter Scolari took over as Wayne and Nick and Amy both returned as characters, roughly the same age as in the original film, and played by new actors. Its plots involved other Szalinski inventions and wackiness would ensue.
  • In February 2018, it was announced that live-action remakes of several films are in development as exclusive content for Disney+, with one of those named in the announcement as being Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. It was later confirmed to be in development, as a legacy-sequel titled Shrunk, with a plot that centers around Nick Szalinski as an adult scientist. Josh Gad will star in the film.

Legacy: A three-dimensional film called Honey, I Shrunk the Audience complete with physical effects such as wind and water was created as an attraction at Walt Disney World’s Epcot in 1994, and later Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland, and Disneyland Paris. 4 There was also a play adventure area at Hollywood Studios, that was located in the part of the park now occupied by Galaxy’s Edge

My take: This film is kind of a throwback to the Disney films of the 1950s such as The Absent-minded Professor and The Shaggy Dog. Moranis is of course a gifted physical comedian, and quite frankly, a better chouce than Candy or Chase. It’s also fun to see practical effects in the late 80s before CGI became practical.

Next Week: Sunday comic strips come alive in Dick Tracy