Twelve Things about Honey, I Shrunk the Kids
12. Don't you love it when a childhood favourite ages really well? I lost my heart to Honey, I Shrunk the Kids when I first watched it back in the 80s, and so I'm pleased to report that after over two decades, it stands up proudly.
11. Well, okay, during your first adult look at the giant backyard, the grass will look awfully fake--or at least not as real as it looked when you saw it as a child. But in the building of those sets there must have been a sincere attempt to evoke the sense of wonder, for when that is real, everything else follows. Give it another few seconds and you'll believe in the backyard again.
10. Maybe I should have said: "Give it another twenty minutes." For Honey, I Shrunk the Kids starts out slooooow . . . It's making me suspect that the real reason they chose a title which gives away the entire premise (unlike the two considered during filming: The Big Backyard and Grounded) was that they knew the first few scenes alone weren't going to hook anyone. And so the title had to play barker outside the tent--which I'm sure it was cool enough not to mind doing!
9. Yet the build-up isn't totally pointless. It establishes that we're dealing with two stories here, one within the other. The backyard adventure is--appropriately enough--the smaller one, framed within a bigger story of relationships between parents and children, and between neighbours who think they have nothing in common. And I think the adult parts were written with as much sensitivity and wit as the kid parts.
8. As for the science . . . which is already making me wonder if I should have used quotation marks around it . . .
Absent-minded scientist Wayne Szalinksi is responsible for one of the earliest "physics" lessons I ever had. Thanks to him, I know that all matter is made up of both density and empty space, and that it is theoretically possible to shrink something by proportionally reducing the amount of empty space between its molecules. Ooooh, right?
Then a few years later, Beakman's World came along to debunk movie science with TV science.
but I will probably never know real science.
I refer to the episode in which Beakman explains that a human being proportionately shrunk to a height of half an inch would not be able to use his vocal chords normally. So he wouldn't merely have the shrunken children's problem of getting their parents to hear their newly-tiny voices, but actually be unable to make a sound at all! Which makes all the best Honey, I Shrunk the Kid scenes completely impossible and also breaks my heart.
(Beakman said other things, which may have been related to breathing and eating, but I can't remember them. The trauma to my imaginative life was too great.)
7. In short, I can barely do science . . . but I often do lit crit. So let's look at the more literary elements of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, starting with the characters.
The children might have been based entirely on stereotypes, but they do a decent job transcending those categories after they become too small for their swag. Take away Amy Szalinki's telephone, Russ Thompson's walkman, Nicky Szalinksi's homemade shrink ray model, and Ron Thompson's baseball bat . . . and you've stripped away all the superficial reasons which have kept these life-long neighbours from being friends.
6. It doesn't hurt that they get to have a "survival weekend" experience to speed up the bonding. The scare with the sprinklers even leads to a "baptism of mud," complete with symbolic rebirth, for one of the characters. My younger self wasn't very impressed by this mini-adventure: as the character in question philosophises, "Mud is still mud, no matter how small you are." Today, I think it is one of the most significant scenes in the entire movie.
5. Mud is still mud when you're tiny (although Beakman may beg to differ), but ants are something else. You all remember Anty, right?
What I most love about Anty is that he has personality. He's "not like the other ants" in that he's a bit of an outsider--the kind who'd rather throw in his lot with some fish-out-of-water strangers than go back to the colony where he's just another cog in the system. Bless him!
4. Other memorable moments include the discovery of the Oatmeal Creme Pie and the Lego 1x2 brick. As a child growing up outside the US, I knew Lego on sight but had never "met" Little Debbie. So if you had asked me before last weekend what cookie the Szalinski and Thompson children find in the backyard, I would have said it was an Oreo. =P Thankfully, you can get the brand wrong and still get the story right--like understanding Hansel and Gretel without having tasted gingerbread.
Yet the fact that there are brands at all can give the story another layer of meaning, as film critic Michał Oleszczyk, who also grew up outside the US, explains in his retrospective review . . .
With "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids," our latent commodity fetishism could go on a rampage--as the eponymous kids got smaller, everything around them (lawnmowers, Lego pieces, cookies) grew larger. In a strange way, the film's main plot device mirrored our own way of looking at the imagined joys of consumer society, which seemed bigger, brighter and more exciting than the one we knew first-hand. To give you an idea of how different a world I'm talking: it wasn't uncommon for Polish people to collect empty soda cans and display them as a decorative trophy in their living rooms, and when I happened to receive a Milky Way bar from a German aunt, my dad advised me not to eat it in front of other kids, so as not to make them sad.
Though light on the 80s fashion and hairstyles, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids is apparently a time capsule for 80s materialism! Now, if you think about it, the plot doesn't absolutely need the children to stumble upon branded objects: they could have dined on fallen fruit and camped out under discarded nutshells. And the wonder could have been driven entirely by nature. But I confess that I'm not complaining!
3. What really pleased me about Honey, I Shrunk the Kids this time around is the role of the parents in the adventure. They turn out to be just as important to the story as their children--and in one case, just as poignant as the ant. And although they are occasional figures of fun . . .
. . . they are a far cry from the present decade's portrayal of parents as less intelligent and less competent than their children. The adult Szalinskis and Thompsons may spend too much time working or put on too much pressure to succeed--but these are just character flaws of people who are raising their children well.
(Roger Ebert disagrees with me, by the way.)
2. It must be said that the father-as-buffoon trope is not just a Disney or Nickelodeon thing. As I mentioned in Twelve Things about Yours, Mine and Ours (The Remake), the earliest example I can think of predates the founding of the former company by over two decades. I mean the character of Mr. Darling in J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, who can't even knot his tie properly and literally wears a dog house to work at one point in the story. But let's not be so quick to laugh at him: remember that in the stage version, ridiculous Mr. Darling and villainous Captain Hook are written to be played by the same actor.
The takeaway is that whenever you see the father-as-buffoon, you should also look for the father-as-destroyer. That is where the new Yours, Mine and Ours dropped the ball, but there is a scene in the superior Honey, I Shrunk the Kids which has all the archetypal power of the myth of Cronus and his children.
1. Another archetype we find in this film is the Fool--the character everyone thinks is the dumbest but who is actually the wisest . . .
If Quark could talk, the main conflict would have been resolved in five minutes. =P But because he doesn't talk, he gets to have a character arc of his own. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids is truly a movie for the whole family: father, mother, children, and even the pet!
Image Sources: a) Honey, I Shrunk the Kids poster, b) Beakman's World, c) Honey, I Shrunk the Kids cast, d) Anty, e) Quark