note: I am very much aware that I’m way behind and the summer movie season is over but I’m gonna keep going and finish this Weird Summer retrospective. Enjoy! Please?
July 17, 1992
HONEY, I BLEW UP THE KID is the first sequel to the 1989 Joe Johnston directed Walt Disney hit HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS. Last time, eccentric inventor Wayne Szalinski (Rick Moranis, STREETS OF FIRE)’s machine accidentally shrunk his and the neighbors’ kids to, by one kid’s estimation, “the size of boogers.” This time he accidentally causes his new toddler son Adam (played by twins Daniel and Joshua Shalikar) to grow in spurts until he becomes basically a kaiju.
It’s directed by Randal Kleiser (THE BLUE LAGOON) and written by Thom Eberhardt (writer/director of NIGHT OF THE COMET) and Peter Elbling (Mr. T’s Be Somebody… or Be Somebody’s Fool!) & Garry Goodrow (The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour). A story credit goes to Goodrow (who was also an actor in Shirley Clarke’s THE CONNECTION), so I suspect that means he was the one who wrote BIG BABY, an unrelated giant baby script that was rewritten to fit into the HONEYverse. In that sense, the HONEY saga is much like the DIE HARD series.
There are also “based on characters created by” credits for Stuart Gordon & Brian Yuzna & Ed Naha (Gordon was set to direct the first one until his doctor said it would give him a heart attack). Gordon would’ve probly been off doing FORTRESS around this time, so I don’t mind that they didn’t give him a shot.
Disney also ended up paying $300,000 to Paul Alter (the original director of Family Feud), when he convinced a jury that they stole the idea from a giant toddler treatment called NOW, THAT’S A BABY! that he submitted to them in 1980. I don’t know, man. I don’t know.
After the events of the first film, Wayne, his wife Diane (Marcia Strassman, FAST GETAWAY), daughter Amy (Amy O’Neill, …WHERE’S RODNEY?) and son Nick (Robert Oliveri, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS) decided to never tell anyone about the shrinking incident and move to Vista Del Mar, Nevada. Amy immediately leaves for college, and we don’t see her again, reportedly because there was no comparable character in the BIG BABY script. Whoops.
Wayne now works for a company called Sterling Labs, developing the technology further to try to make an enlarging ray. His boss Hendrickson (John Shea, FREEJACK) openly hates and disrespects him, so Wayne seems to represent the pure artist who’s in it for the love, working with people who don’t understand or appreciate his vision. The movie doesn’t really address the obvious immorality of Wayne giving such dangerous technology to people who absolutely can’t be trusted to use it ethically or responsibly. For a while it works as a critique of people who are oblivious to their complicity in bad shit, though that’s clearly not the intent.
At almost the hour mark, though, they bring in the namesake of the company, Clifford Sterling (Lloyd Bridges, JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO), as if he’s gonna be a bastard. Instead he fires Hendrickson and teams up with Wayne to try to stop/save the giant baby, acting like a kindly old grandpa. Don’t worry, we got nice guys like this running all the military contractors. It’ll be fine.
(Also they pull a DIE HARD 2 and give Mom a reason to sock Hendrickson in the face.)
Meanwhile, Nick is going through a teenage crisis because he has a huge crush on a girl named Mandy (first time actor Keri Russell, later known for stealing Jack Noseworthy from Carla Gugino in a Bon Jovi video, not sure what she did after that), and worries that he’s too much of a nerd for her to like him. He tries to talk to her while at his job selling hot dogs at a Las Vegas water park (Wet ’n Wild, 1985-2004), but it ends in humiliation. Fortunately, she’s also slotted to babysit Adam the night he turns giant, so they get to know each other better (I guess) while going on a size-changing adventure together. It’s actually every teenage boy’s dream that he would spend an evening trapped in a giant baby’s overalls with his crush.
As with the first film, much of the fun is in seeing then-modern effects processes applied to an old fashioned shrinking/growing movie. Of course the compositing doesn’t look completely real, but these days that makes it kinda charming. Though you can see the seams, it’s still impressive to see all these shots of Adam running around the house almost reaching the ceiling. There’s one part where I think they used an actor in a giant baby suit and if I’m right about that it’s pretty cool how convincingly baby-like his movements are.
The other thing that’s impressive is how much of an actual baby performance they got out of these two kids who must be under 3 years old. It seems like Moranis got a really good rapport going with them because there are scenes where the kid is talking baby talk but going back and forth with Moranis like it’s a conversation.
It sounds like to many involved the idea was “wouldn’t it be fun if a baby was giant like Godzilla?” But unlike the first film, there’s not enough to explore with this premise to keep it from getting tiresome pretty quick. HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS is, in my opinion, a solid family fantasy adventure type movie. Its simple goofy premise (a badly hit baseball hits Dad’s shrink ray, makes the kids tiny and forces them to take a dangerous journey across the backyard and into the house to try to get Dad’s attention) is executed colorfully with all kinds of inventive FX of the late-pre-digital era (stop motion, puppets, oversized sets, forced perspective). And it really taps into childhood daydreams because it turns familiar backyard items into a fantastical world (giant blades of grass, ants, bees, toys, dogs, etc.). This sequel has some of the fun FX but the premise just isn’t as cool – a toddler turning into a kaiju is cute, but not feature length cute. They don’t want him to destroy the city or bite people’s heads off or anything, so there’s not that much for him to do. It’s one of those movies where the last act is you watching a bunch of people watching a thing happen. And the character in the odd predicament can’t speak complete sentences, so we have to spend more time on Dad just running around trying to fix it. To squeeze in some of that kid point-of-view and people eating oversized candy they make up a pretty dumb subplot about Nick and Mandy being carried around in the baby’s pocket.
Oh, by the way, can you guess whether or not there’s a part where Japanese tourists see Adam and point and say “Godzilla!”? And if so, would you think they would be holding cameras and take pictures? If you grew up in this era I bet you know the answer.
I found this movie about as tedious as anything in the Weird Summer series so far, but thankfully there were a few little things that appeal to my interests and kept me semi-occupied. As I’ve mentioned in reviews of VEGAS VACATION and PERDITA DURANGO, I enjoy seeing scenes shot on Fremont Street in Las Vegas, since I’ve spent some time there, and this one sets the whole climax there, right by Binions and the Golden Nugget and the cowboy sign (which they make talk – it makes no sense).
The Szalinski house is stocked with Wayne’s various fanciful inventions, one of which is a toast-making Rube Goldberg device in the kitchen that’s definitely reminiscent of the one in PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE. I mention that because that’s another movie that Kleiser sequelized (with BIG TOP PEE-WEE, a great movie that is very underrated because it’s not BIG ADVENTURE). In further Pee-wee connections, John Paragon (Jambi) and Suzanne Kent (Miss Renee) both have bit parts.
SNL’s Julia Sweeney (GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH) gets the first line in the movie – she and Linda Carlson (Newhart) play unnamed “Nosey Neighbors” who think the Szalinskis are weird and consider reporting their weird mechanical mailbox to the Vista Del Mar Standards Committee. And TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2’s Bill “Chop Top” Moseley is in one scene as a federal marshall.
As per usual I tried to study the posters on the walls of the kids’ bedrooms for period detail. To show Nick is a nerd he has some astronomy related posters, to show he’s a teen he has a UNLV basketball poster and some of his favorite musicians, which apparently include Steve Vai (he plays, or at least pretends to play, guitar) and circa Apocalypse ’91: The Enemy Strikes Black Public Enemy!
I also noticed that Nick and Mandy both have a poster for some weird group called The Party, and I thought it was to show that they share tastes in music, but it turns out it was corporate synergy: when I looked it up I learned they were a Disney-Channel-created pre-fab pop group made up of All New Mickey Mouse Club cast members. The name was made up by some kid who entered a contest, and then they said it stood for “Positive Attitude Reflects Today’s Youth.” They opened for Taylor Dane, Vanilla Ice and Color Me Badd, and appeared on an episode of Blossom. Their biggest hit was a cover of Dokken’s “In My Dreams.” They also had a kind of Prince rip off song produced by Dr. Dre!
In the end of course Mandy kisses Nick on the cheek “for saving my life” (boys love fantasizing about that shit). Similar to REVENGE OF THE NERDS III, Nick is accepted as a nerd. “You’re kind of different, Nick. Like your dad,” she says. “But when you think about it, I guess the world needs people who are different. People who see things a little differently, I guess you could say.”
That’s very charitable of her, especially considering that earlier the same day when she first saw the enlarged baby she fainted, and when she woke up Nick had her tied up and gagged and then he pulled down the gag and fed her some water before untying her. I hate to deride weirdos, especially in this pro-weirdo review series, but this kid is definitely the bad kind of weirdo. Get the hell out of there, girl. Definite future super villain.
HONEY, I BLEW UP THE KID opened at #1 (as wide release kids movies often do) and though it ultimately made less than half what the first film did, that was still 3 times its budget. It got mixed reviews, which is fair, and maybe charitable. I don’t blame them for trying, but it’s a good argument for not everything needing a sequel.
In 1994, Kleiser and the cast (including the twins) reunited to make the Disney World attraction Honey, I Shrunk the Audience!, which replaced Captain EO. It was actually really clever – a 3D movie (plus in-theater effects like giant fans blowing on you) simulating that you’re in the audience for a scientific demonstration that goes awry and sends enlarged insects and stuff flying around the theater. So it’s not shot like a movie, it’s done as one stationary shot as if unfolding on the stage in front of you.
I honestly don’t remember this happening, but in 1997 the legendary cinematographer Dean Cundey made his directorial debut with a DTV sequel, HONEY, WE SHRUNK OURSELVES. Moranis returned, but the rest of the family was recast. The same year, the Disney Channel started a 66-episode run of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show, now with Peter Scolari replacing Moranis. Now, Moranis has signed on to come out of retirement for a straight-to-Disney+ sequel called SHRUNK, with Johnston returning as director and Josh Gad taking over as Nick. No word on if Keri Russell will play his ex-wife who had to go into hiding to get away from him. Filming was delayed because of Covid, but it sounds like they’re still doing it.