05 August 2013

+JMJ+

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.

I'm well versed in both movie science and 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 MichaƂ 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.


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 . . .

I love you, Quark!!! =D

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

17 comments:

Paul Stilwell said...

Great review! I forgot to tell you that along with watching T.M.N.T. I also watched this one, after not having seen it (like with T.M.N.T.) for a long long time.

The one thing that surprised me was how much I never noticed as a kid the depiction of the Thompson dad. I *might* agree with you about the parents, but on my latest viewing I was appalled at what they did with Mr. Thompson.

Belfry Bat said...

Paul, you don't mean how he gets taken down a peg or two in the last few minutes?

I don't know about the TV Science thing, oh Enbrethiliel, but there are a bunch of ways that the physics we observe has built-in natural length scales --- that we can't really make things smaller without changing their natures. It's an as-yet-unexplained mystery that these scales always seem to compare in the same ratios... Of course, H.I.S.t.K isn't about our physical universe, but a subcreation also inhabited by rational animals. (is... is that giving the thing more lit. cred. than is really suitable?)

love the girls said...

And on the book side,

George Shrinks also stands the test of time, our oldest is 22 and our youngest 3.

Well written, and even better illustrations.

http://brothersjudd.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/reviews.detail/book_id/865

I can't say how the children will consider it though, my oldest informed me yesterday that she detested Where the Wild Things Are.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Stilwell -- This will be an interesting exchange, then, because the depiction of Mr. Thompson was one of the highlights of the movie for me, this time around! =P I think his ridiculousness has a little bit to do with the fact that his sons--especially Russ, Jr.--would have a slightly-to-very distorted view of him. As Mark Twain quipped, he himself at 14 couldn't stand his father's "ignorance," only to be amazed at 21 by how much the older man had "learned"!

I should write some more Fan Fiction to give Russ, Jr. his own Mark Twain moment. The best part would be my declaring the awful sequel uncanonical.

Bat -- Humph! The next thing I know, you'll be telling me that all the Magic School Bus stories didn't take place in our universe, either.

Of course, the fact that much of our natures can change with our size is fascinating in its own way, but so far, it doesn't seem to have led to a good children's fantasy story.

LTG -- I had never heard of George Shrinks, but thanks for the recommendation!

Angie Tusa said...

This is a movie I watched repeatedly as a child, and haven't revisited in years. Your live tweets and this review are bringing back memories of the film to me.

However my absolute best memory in relation to Honey I Shrunk the Kids is not related to watching the film at all. Taking the Backlot Studio Tour at MGM Studios in Walt Disney World, my brother and I were picked as volunteers. We got to "ride" the bee - myself on top, my brother on the side, pretending to hold on for our lives. Of course, we were so excited at the privilege of getting to do it that we looked far more excited than scared. :)

Entropy said...

Excellent review.

The one thing I didn't like about HISTK was that Amy *had* to end up with Russ because he saves her at one point, right? Watching this movie as a kid I put myself in the place of Amy and even though Russ was an ok guy, *I* didn't want to end up with him. Couldn't they just be friends?

love the girls said...

Cristina writes : "It must be said that the father-as-buffoon trope is not just a Disney or Nickelodeon thing."

Far from it, it's endemic to modern society to where it's uncommon to find fathers not portrayed, at least in part, as buffoons to where it's not even noticeable in movies such as Honey I Shrunk the Kids.

Interestingly though, destroying men according to their manhood is more noticeable than the equally occurring destroying women according to their womenhood because each is attacked where they are most vulnerable in modern society.



Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Angie -- What a great experience! =D I was surprised to learn about the tour when looking for Honey, I Shrunk the Kid images and seeing what looked like an amusement park; but it was an obvious "spin-off," wasn't it?

Entropy -- Thank you. =) And I do agree that Amy's kissing Russ felt very forced. What about that other guy she wanted to meet at the mall? Even assuming that the "baptism of mud" truly changed her, it seemed like a really quick and silly progression for her character. (Confession: when I was a kid, I also put myself in Amy's place, and I did want to end up with Russ. =P Like, why did you never notice the cute boy right next door, Amy???)

LTG -- A few years ago, when another blog friend and I were discussing why YA author Madeleine L'Engle's child heroes all fall flat as characters in the novels where they appear as adults, she pointed out that this seems to be inevitable in children's stories. There's no way to let the children be the heroes without diminishing their parents a little. This can be done by killing the parents, making them the villains, separating them from their children, or making them ridiculous. Modern movies and TV shows don't necessarily want to have orphans all the time or to make parents look too horrible, so making them seem incompetent (but still loving!) must seem like the best compromise.

I know you're looking at it in the light of a bigger attack on society, but at the moment, I just notice how it shows up in literature. So as much as I wish I could address your points more directly, I don't really have much to say about them!

love the girls said...

Cristina,

Was Nancy Drew's father diminished? True, the mother is absent, but the father who is present in the story is treated with respect.

The father in Honey I Shrunk the Kids didn't need to be a buffoon, in fact making him out to be one while at the same time clever enough to find the children is actually a weakness in the story line.

love the girls said...

Adding on. Or what of Anne of Green Gables that was recently discussed.

Anne is the best children's characters ever developed, and her guardians are not diminished.

Or what of Lotty and Lisa? Their story is intertwined with their parents.

Or Betsy, Tacy and Tibs?

Their parents were all treated well without diminishing the story line.

"And Violet wondered what would happen when orphans were 'out'" is one of my favorite lines in literature, and while the adults are diminished the diminishing is not diminishment of parenthood but is instead social commentary against modernist diminishing.



Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

As I mentioned earlier, there are many ways to diminish the parents. The most obvious way is to kill them off, and we see examples of that in both Nancy Drew and Anne. But it would be a little too predictable--even laughable--to have orphans all the time. (I recall that one pop culture issue of the 1990s was: "Why does Disney hate mothers so much?") So modern children's writers decided to rely on another convention: having the parents around but making them ineffectual. (These days, you can play "Spot the Mother" on every Disney channel show!) Give it a few more generations and perhaps this trope will be as quaint as all those Victorian (and pseudo-Victorian) orphans--and be abandoned not because it is wrong, but simply because it is tired.

I've only read L.M. Montgomery's first two Anne novels, but someone who has completed the entire series says that it is a little depressing how much Anne fades into the background after her daughter Rilla becomes the protagonist. It makes sense to the story and doesn't harm Anne's dignity, but it's still traumatic to someone who loved Anne first. Again, there are many ways for the adults "to decrease" that their children may "increase" (if only because this is already the natural way of things); but saying that one set of stories doesn't have to use a certain convention just because another set doesn't, doesn't hold water for me. The argument should be that they are objectively bad or ugly; not that they are not necessary.

I can't comment on the other characters you've mentioned because I haven't read their books.

Returning to Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, remember that Wayne Szalinksi is the classic absent-minded professor type, meaning he has the genius it takes to build a working shrink ray but isn't very competent when it comes to everything else. This is played for laughs, but it's quite consistent--and though he cannot find his children by combing the backyard, he is the only one who can rescue them by repairing the ray. And he actually isn't sharp enough to find them in the end! Quark has to bite his ankle before he notices the tiny boy in his spoon of cereal.

Jenny said...

I haven't seen this one forever! I'm sure my opinion of it would differ completely now that I'm older.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Well, let's hope you like it much better, then. =)

Asti said...

Haha I love this! I haven't seen Honey... I Shrunk the Kids in FOREVER but this totally makes me want to watch it. I even forgot about Anty until I saw the picture of him! Seriously, someone find me a copy of this, stat. I need to see the amazingness of this fake grass once again!

Bellas Shelf said...

I will be honest. I don't think I have EVER watched this movie! I want that young when it came out. Maybe a tween? I think I was in the "too cool for everything" tween stage.
I see it's predecessors on cable all the time and it looks entertaining, but never fully captures me.
Ill be honest if this is on and The Shining or Devils Rejects or Scarface or Friday is on another channel I'll pick another.
As you can see my movie tastes vary from the ultra gory and psychologically disturbing to the action filled and humorous.
I LOVE me sum 80's flix!
Breakfast Club, 16 Candles, Pretty in Pink, Footloose, La Bamba, Gremlins, Halloween, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, etc.
I will watch and re watch.

BTW I really liked what you said on another blog today about leaving comments. I notice diff types of blogs get diff types of comments too (book, beauty, mommy,lifestyle, etc.)




DMS said...

I loved this movie back in the day. I haven't seen it in ages. It made me think about being super small in different places and what that would be like. I still wonder about it today! :)
~Jess

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Asti -- Something to do for the weekend? ;-) Thanks for stopping by!

Bella -- Based on your list of favourites--both the Horror movies and the assorted 80s films--you and I would get along like gangbusters if we ever had a movie night! I'm a big re-watcher, too, and the "new" movies I'm most excited about discovering are those I know will lend themselves to repeat viewings as well!

Jess -- It's a great fantasy, isn't it? And it never gets old . . . even when we do. ;-P