One of the notable features of Disney’s new streaming service Disney+, which of course makes its big debut stateside on November 12th, is that it promises to host practically every Disney film ever made. As such, this gives our team here at The DisInsider the chance to do some more retrospectives of classic Disney franchises like the Herbie the Love Bug retrospective that we published last year. This brings us to today’s subject, which is a franchise that was quite arguably a staple of the ’90s that starred Rick Moranis as a bumbling yet good-natured inventor whose latest invention causes all sorts of problems for his family. This franchise’s first installment also happens to be celebrating its 30th anniversary this year and is currently being set up for a reboot starring Josh Gad that will debut on Disney+. Yes, we’re talking about the franchise known as the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids series, which provided Moranis one of his most famous roles as Wayne Szalinski and consisted of two feature films and one direct-to-video release. However, it would also notably spawn a TV series that aired in the late ’90s (even though Moranis wasn’t involved with it) and a few notable attractions at Disney’s theme parks. Disney’s Hollywood Studios used to have a playground themed after the original film and a 4-D show titled Honey, I Shrunk the Audience ran for several years at Epcot, Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland, and Disneyland Paris. However, for the purpose of today’s retrospective, we’ll be focusing primarily on the films though there will be a little section dedicated to Honey, I Shrunk the Audience at the end. Thus, without further ado, be careful not to step directly in front of the shrinking machine as we look at the three feature films that make up Disney’s Honey, I Shrunk the Kids franchise.
HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS (1989)
The original Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, released in 1989, served as the official directorial debut of Joe Johnston, who of course would later go on to direct films like Captain America: The First Avenger, Jumanji, and The Rocketeer. But before all that, Johnston officially got his start in the industry as a visual effects artist for ILM, meaning that he had a considerable hand in developing several of the effects for the original Star Wars trilogy and Raiders of the Lost Ark. As such, it’s safe to say that he was a solid choice to direct this effects-heavy film about an inventor whose shrinking machine accidentally shrinks both his kids and his grumpy neighbor’s kids. While there are a few effects here and there that have dated a bit, Johnston and his team deserve quite a lot of credit for all the creative ways that they manage to put their characters in literal larger-than-life situations, from oversized sets to the use of stop-motion animation. All this and a generally breezy pace make up for the film’s more generic familial drama (e.g. a misunderstood son, marital problems between the inventor and his wife, etc.). That said, the film does feature a solid ensemble cast. Rick Moranis headlines the project excellently as Wayne Szalinski as does Marcia Strassman as his wife Diane and Matt Frewer and Kristine Sutherland as their neighbors, the Thompsons. Meanwhile, Amy O’Neill, Robert Oliveri, Jared Rushton, and Thomas Wilson Brown impressively manage to hold their own as the Szalinski and Thompson children, respectively, especially considering that the whole film revolves around them. Because of this, it’s easy to see why Honey, I Shrunk the Kids continues to be a fondly remembered live-action outing from Disney to the point where, upon its release, it was even the highest-grossing Disney film of all-time at that point (probably due in part to a Roger Rabbit short that ran alongside it). And considering that this was also the year that Walt Disney Animation produced one of its most iconic films, The Little Mermaid, 1989 was very much a big year for the House of Mouse.
HONEY, I BLEW UP THE KID (1992)
To answer your first question… yes, Disney managed to get away with having a title like that in 1992. To answer your second question… no, this is not about kids literally getting blown up. Instead, it’s just the opposite of what happened in the first film, as Wayne accidentally exposes his youngest son Adam to his shrink ray’s growth setting, causing Adam to grow to over 100 feet tall. Just like the previous film, Honey, I Blew Up the Kid (directed this time by Randal Kleiser, who directed the classic musical Grease and would later do the film segments of Honey, I Shrunk the Audience) features some fun visual-effects work to juxtapose the ever-growing Adam with the various locales that he goes through. It all culminates in a solidly entertaining finale where he ‘rampages’ (a term used loosely since he’s just a baby) through the Las Vegas strip. And sure, it could be argued that the visual effects work isn’t exactly as impressive as it was in the previous film since it simply revolves more around an infant going around shrunken sets. Still, a lot of the visual effects in this film do manage to hold up just as well as those from the first film. Plus, if there’s one advantage that this film has over its predecessor, it’s that everything has a better emotional hook to it given the necessity of the family keeping Adam safe (although it could’ve given the older sister Amy more to do since this was technically spawned from a different screenplay, which meant having to write Amy O’Neill out entirely save for a cameo). Also, dare I say that the humor is a little more consistent in this one? In short, the usual consensus towards Honey, I Blew Up the Kid is that it’s a generally inferior follow-up to Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. And yet, I’d argue that, at the very least, it’s ‘just as good’ as the original.
HONEY, WE SHRUNK OURSELVES (1997)
Our last film for today is the third and final film in this little franchise, Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves. As the title suggests, this one follows the route of the first film by having Wayne, Diane, Wayne’s brother Gordon, and his wife Patti be the ones who get shrunk, thus forcing them to try and get their kids’ attention, especially after the kids decide to throw a party in their parents’ ‘absence’. The film notably served as the directorial debut (and admittedly only directorial effort to date) of veteran cinematographer Dean Cundey, who’s been responsible for the camerawork of classics like Halloween and Jurassic Park. Originally, the film was intended to be a theatrical release before it was downgraded to a direct-to-video release, meaning that its budget was cut from $40 million to $7 million. As such, it’s easy to see that the visual effects in this film aren’t as impressive as those from the first two films. Most of the shots where the parents are shrunk are just them in front of a green screen while other visual effects are the very definition of ‘90s dated’ (see the 1997 remake of The Love Bug for further proof of that). For what it’s worth, though, the film does still offer a lot of fun sizing gags even if it basically just rehashes most of the key moments from the original, whether it’s characters having to fend off a bug or them trying to avoid getting eaten. It’s also worth noting that, perhaps due to the various behind-the-scenes changes that were going on, Marcia Strassman did not return to reprise her role as Diane while Amy and older brother Nick were written out entirely save for passing mentions. Because of this, Adam (who’s also recast since he’s older in this film) is the only one of Wayne and Diane’s kids featured here and is thus paired with Gordon and Patti’s two kids Jenny and Mitch instead. And while it would’ve been nice if they had kept the original cast so that some sort of continuity could be maintained, Eve Gordon is a solid enough replacement for Strassman while Stuart Pankin and Robin Bartlett provide solid support as Gordon and Patti.
But perhaps the most interesting aspect of this film (from my perspective, at least) was that, technically speaking, this was the film that served as my official introduction to this franchise. Yes, the first Honey, I Shrunk the Kids film that I ever watched wasn’t the original or Honey, I Blew Up the Kid; instead, it was Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves, which was mainly due to it airing a lot on Disney Channel back in the day. After that, my further experiences with this franchise mainly stemmed from two things. The first was watching a few episodes of the short-lived TV series (which I won’t be covering here but will note that some episodes of it can be found on YouTube) that starred Tom Hanks’ Bosom Buddies co-star Peter Scolari as Wayne. There were also the various times that I went to see the Honey, I Shrunk the Audience 4-D show at both Epcot in Walt Disney World and Disneyland up until its closure in 2010. It wasn’t until sometime in the early 2000s when I watched Honey, I Blew Up the Kid for the first time, meaning that it too was one that I had more experience with than the original and could also partially explain why I feel that it isn’t the ‘inferior follow-up’ that it’s often viewed as. So how long did it take me to watch the original Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, you ask? Well, aside from catching the tail-end of the film on Cartoon Network one night around the early 2010s or so, I didn’t fully watch the film until recently when I was preparing to do this retrospective. Luckily, this didn’t end up impacting my thoughts on the film in any way since, just like the Herbie films, this is another Disney franchise that was generally consistent throughout its run. And while Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves is the weakest of the bunch due in part to it being downgraded to a direct-to-video release, it’s still a pleasantly nostalgic affair for those who grew up with it.
Before we conclude today’s retrospective, let’s delve a little bit into the history behind this franchise’s connection to Disney’s theme parks with…
HONEY, I SHRUNK THE AUDIENCE
Honey, I Shrunk the Audience opened at Epcot in Walt Disney World on November 21st, 1994 in the Magic Eye Theater of the Imagination Pavilion. It would later open at Disneyland’s Tomorrowland Theater on May 22nd, 1998, Tokyo Disneyland (where it was renamed MicroAdventure!) on April 15th, 1997, and Disneyland Paris on March 28th, 1999. In every location, it replaced Captain EO, the Michael Jackson-starring 4-D film directed by Francis Ford Coppola and produced by George Lucas. Honey, I Blew Up the Kid director Randal Kleiser returned to direct the film segments of the show and the main cast of that film (Moranis, Strassman, Oliveri, and twins Daniel and Joshua Shalikar (who played Adam)) returned to reprise their respective roles. Eric Idle joined the cast as Imagination Institute chairman Nigel Channing, who would then factor into the Imagination Pavilion’s controversial re-imagining with the short-lived and much-maligned Journey into Your Imagination, which was then quickly replaced by the not-as-maligned but still all-around polarizing Journey into Imagination with Figment. In the attraction, the Imagination Institute is hosting their annual Inventor of the Year ceremony, with this year’s honoree being none other than Wayne Szalinski. However, during a demonstration of his infamous shrinking machine, Wayne accidentally shrinks both Nick and the audience, resulting in them enduring all sorts of wacky hi-jinx while Wayne tries to fix the machine. This includes, among other things, nearly getting eaten by Nick’s pet snake Gigabyte, having the entire theater picked up by Adam, and dealing with more than a hundred copies of Adam’s pet mouse Photon. And while the audience is ultimately unshrunk, the show ends on a comedic note when it’s revealed that Wayne accidentally ‘blew up’ Quark, the family’s dog.
Honey, I Shrunk the Audience remained at the parks until 2010 when it was replaced by, ironically, the exact same show that it had initially replaced. Yes, Captain EO made its return to Disney Parks as a tribute to Michael Jackson after his passing in 2009. While it was initially announced that this would only be a temporary replacement, this would indeed serve as the end of Honey, I Shrunk the Audience. A few years later, Captain EO would end up closing as well in 2014 at Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland and 2015 at Epcot and Disneyland Paris. At Epcot, the Magic Eye Theater currently hosts a Disney and Pixar Short Film Festival attraction that showcases three of Disney Animation and Pixar’s classic shorts. At Disneyland, the Tomorrowland Theater was initially used as a preview center for then-upcoming Disney releases such as Guardians of the Galaxy, Big Hero 6, and Tomorrowland. It now currently hosts Star Wars: Path of the Jedi, a non-3D video that highlights key moments from the Star Wars franchise. In Tokyo Disneyland, the show was replaced with Stitch Encounter which, following in the footsteps of attractions like Turtle Talk with Crush and Monsters Inc Laugh Floor, allows guests to interact with the lovable blue alien/dog hybrid from Lilo and Stitch. Finally, in Disneyland Paris, it was initially replaced by the previously mentioned Disney/Pixar Short Film Festival and Star Wars: Path of the Jedi before the fourth incarnation of Mickey’s PhilharMagic opened there in 2018. Thus, the only remnants of the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids franchise at Disney World (since the playground at Hollywood Studios closed in 2016 to make way for Galaxy’s Edge) can be seen in the Journey into Imagination with Figment queue. One of Wayne Szalinski’s inventions can be seen in the queue and guests also walk by his office, where the shrinking machine can be seen behind the door in silhouette. A large photo of him is also shown alongside photos of Nigel Channing and Professor Philip Brainard, the main character of The Absent-Minded Professor. In this case, however, it’s the version of the character that was featured in the 1997 remake Flubber as portrayed by the one and only Robin Williams.
And that concludes this little retrospective on Disney’s Honey, I Shrunk the Kids franchise. Thanks for following along and be sure to sound off in the comments below with your own personal history with this franchise. And be sure to follow us on Twitter (@TheDisInsider) to stay up to date on our content, which regularly provides you folks with Disney news, reviews, lists, and everything in between.