When you’re a little kid, all you really want to do is play. You have your toys and your imagination. You have your pals. Sometimes you get to go to a park and mess with with a variety of swings and slides. If you’re really lucky, your parents will take you an amusement park filled with larger than life rides and avenues to explore.
And then there are films. A good kid’s movie can transport a child from their living room to all kinds of magical worlds. When they really connect, the desire to go hang out in some fictional land is strong enough to be almost unbearable.
Silly and now largely remembered only as a piece of ‘90s nostalgia, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids had this effect in spades. The story of four youngsters who get shrunken down to smaller than a penny and must traverse their dangerous backyard to get back home, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids was like watching your pals visit the most amazing amusement park ever. While the kids come across a number of different and interesting hurdles on their trip (ants, bees, scorpions, drops of water, a lawnmower, etc.), even their basic surrounding feels exotic and fun.
Part of this is because Joe Johnston and his team did such an amazing job on the film’s sets and effects. Blades of grass don’t exactly look like grass, but they’re physical. Audiences can see that while obviously fake, they all have that rubbery, foamy texture associated with fun amusement parks and Nickelodian game shows. If the kids fall into a puddle of water, it bears a much closer resemblance to slime, gross but also kind of awesome. The giant ant they befriend barely moves, but seems real enough to have the same emotional impact as a beloved pet.
The fun also comes from the danger involved. This backyard is a crazy enough place as it is. But kids also get to experience the strange tension that comes with a plot where loving and worried parents could accidentally kill their children at any time. They try to avoid it as much as possible, but the mom and dad in this film walk on that grass a lot more than you’d think. At one point, Rick Moranis comes amazingly close to eating his own son. While it lends the story some immediate intensity, it also plays on a morbid fantasy level. It’s scary but weirdly fun as well.
The kids (there are two sets of siblings; on the younger side you have the nerdy kid and the sporty asshole - then you have the boy and girl teens who are just destined to fall in love) are all relatively likable. A lot of this comes from the film’s script, which is more detailed than normal when it comes to character traits. The nerdy kid is sort of a clone of his dad, but his older sister is both into her family’s eccentricities and separate enough to care about other teen things like boys and going to the mall. While introduced as opposites, the same can be said for the other two kids. One is just like his dad while the other doesn’t fit into the family’s status quo.
The parents are great as well. On the nerdy side, we have Rick Moranis, whose lack of attention for his children is played more as a quirky manifestation of his obsession with science and less of a jerk dad kind of thing. At one point he sends a garbled text message down to his daughter, at which she rolls her eyes and sighs “typing with his gloves on again.” This obsession appears to be causing a divide with his wife, but that all gets solved as soon as the kids get shrunk. Speaking of the mom, there’s a really great moment when she calls her daughter on the phone and before asking about anything else, wants info on some of her boy news, indicating that the ladies in this family probably rely on each other to stay somewhat sane. The neighbors are drawn in broader strokes, but good performances by Kristine Sutherland (Buffy’s mom) and Matt Frewer (Jim Carrey before we had Jim Carrey) lend them more depth than you might think.
It’s not Shakespeare, but it’s not dumb either. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids was engineered to give kids a vicarious thrill ride, and that’s exactly what it does. In this age of CG effects, it feels like such a film would be impossible to make right now, at this quality anyway. Giant computer generated blades of grass might look cool, but they’re not going to create a place you can actually imagine traversing. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids created a world, and every kid I knew wanted to go there, giant scorpions or not. Just think about that giant-ass cookie they get to eat.