Little things that matter

Big adventure crossing the backyard

Published: Apr 18 2017, 01:01:am

Friday, June 23, 1989.

HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS. Writtten by Ed Naha and Tom Schulman. Music by James Horner. Directed by Joe Johnston. Running time: 92 minutes. General entertainment with the B.C. Classifier’s warning: occasional swearing.
DAD DIDN'T MEAN IT. When he swept up his attic workroom, inventor Wayne Szalinski (Rick Moranis) had no idea that there were four tiny children on the floor.
    He didn't mean to deposit his son and daughter, and the two boys from next door, in a garbage bag, nor to leave them in the lane behind their suburban California homes.
    All things considered, though, the kids are taking it remarkably well.
    Noting that their average height is approximately half a centimetre, Nick Szalinski (Robert Oliveri) computes that the 19.5 metres of yard between them and the house is equivalent to 5.5 km of dense jungle.
    Amy (Amy O'Neill), his less cerebral older sister, views their plight from a different perspective. “Nick,” she says sternly, “I’ve got six hours to get to the house, get big and get to the mall.”
    Director Joe Johnston is well-meaning. A former special-effects designer “who grew up in the fifties,” he remembers “a special kind of Walt Disney film . . . wonderful excursions that spoke to the adventurous spirit regardless of the age.”
    It was the decade of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Shaggy Dog, Darby O'Gill and The Absent-Minded Professor, pictures “not afraid to push the envelope of wonder and credibility,” he says.
    An original member of the Industrial Light and Magic team, Johnston earned his first film credit on 1977’s Star Wars. After nine years with the Lucasfilms subsidiary, he left the company to study film at USC.
    Not quite enough book learning is combined with practical experience in his directorial debut feature, the ungrammatically titled Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. (“Shrank” is the correct verb form here.)
    Not unexpectedly, it’s an effects show. Working for the new Walt Disney Company, Johnston has created a traditional Disney action fantasy, a picture that is wholesome, professional and a bit stodgy.
    Its screenplay, credited to movie journalist Ed Naha and Tom (Dead Poets Society) Schulman, adheres to the tried and true formula — the kids have adventures while the adults provide comic relief.
    As the distracted genius who invents an electromagnetic shrinking machine, fifth Ghostbuster Moranis drops the nerd act and assumes Fred MacMurray-like parental authority.
    Matt (Max Headroom) Frewer is co-featured as “Big” Russ Thompson,  Szalinski’s macho next-door neighbour.
    As the Thompson sons, “Little” Russ and Ron, Thomas Brown and Jared Rushton share in the hazards of miniaturization with the Szalinski kids. A small army of craftsmen have created effective, if mild, menace from an oversized broom, lawn sprinklers and a power mower as well as from a proportionally huge bee, ant and scorpion.
    Honey, I Shrunk the Kids offers some undemanding fun for the kids in a summer otherwise heavy with pictures for the teens and young adults.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1989. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: Nineteen eighty-nine was a busy year for Toronto-born Rick Moranis. In June he was on view in both Ghostbusters II and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. In August, he played Steve Martin’s brainy brother-in-law in the comedy Parenthood. He reprised his Wayne Szalinski role three years later in the Disney sequel Honey, I Blew Up the Kid (1992), and again in the direct-to-video feature Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves (1997). Arguably his happiest year as a movie star was 1986. He had the starring role in a major hit, director Frank Oz’s musical remake of Little Shop of Horrors, and he married Canadian-born makeup artist Ann Belsky.  
    Her unexpected death in 1991 left him the single father of two small children. He chose to wind down his Hollywood career in order to spend more time with his kids, in essence becoming a stay-at-home dad. That story has only recently been told. As plans were being finalized for the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot (in which he does not appear), Moranis became the focus of considerable “whatever happened to?” curiosity. His very private decision touched the hearts of many reporters, including Uproxx blogger Dustin Rowles. After listening to podcaster Jesse Thorne’s 2013 interview with the “Canadian comedy legend,” Rowles told his readers that “Rick Moranis is a goddamn saint." Moranis himself shrugs off such a celebrity canonization. “I was the same person,” he told Thorne. “I didn’t change. I just shifted my focus.” Rick Moranis turns 64 today (April 18).

See also: Rick Moranis made his big screen debut as the co-writer, co-director and co-star of 1983’s Strange Brew: The Adventures of Bob and Doug McKenzie. He was part of the team that director Ivan Reitman brought together for 1984’s Ghostbusters. Ten years later, Moranis played Barney Rubble in director Brian Levant’s live-action cartoon The Flintstones (1994).