Few companies throughout the history of the world have been so shameless in their pursuit of the almighty dollar as the Walt Disney Company. After breaking the mold in 1934, Disney has never shied away from creative marketing and release strategies to wring every last dollar out of its most beloved pieces of intellectual property. Each week, we’ll look at the House of Mouse’s various sequels, prequels, spin-offs and various misadventures relegated from the silver screen to the small screen. Is there any artistic merit to be found? Or was each film mostly conceived as an excuse to print more money? Join me as we search for the answers from the wonderful world of Di$ney.
Why does this exist?
It almost feels like a forgotten relic by now, but 1989’s Honey, I Shrunk the Kids was a massive family hit, spawning another theatrically-released sequel (1992’s Honey, I Blew Up the Kid) and a notable chunk of real estate at Walt Disney World. The film was part of the boon of visual effects-heavy films like Back to the Future and Blade Runner that really showed off how advanced the digital technology had become.
Based on the early success of their animated home-theater productions, Disney wanted to toss off one of its live-action properties in order to gauge interest in a direct to video release. Save for maybe another Mighty Ducks or Homeward Bound film, another entry in the Honey-verse is better suited to the non-essential sequel treatment than many of the other projects that Disney had released in recent years.
What’s going on here?
After somehow remaining autonomous with his shrinking device that could literally alter the fate of the world, Wayne Szalinski (Rick Moranis) manages to shrink — you guessed it — himself, his wife, Diane (Eve Gordon), and his brother and sister-in-law (Stuart Pankin and Robin Bartlett).
This presents a golden opportunity for their kids — Mitch, Adam, and Jenny (Jake Richardson, Bug Hall, and Allison Mack, respectively) — to enact some classic Home Alone-style hijinks like filling a balloon with chili and inviting all their tween friends over for a party.
The script (written by Karey Kirkpatrick, Nell Scovell and Joel Hodgson) tries to provide some moments of introspection by the parents to see how much their kids have changed and blossomed, but all of these scenes are perfunctory and are typically punctuated by some cringe-worthy shenanigans. Indeed, the film reeks of the Disney Channel’s “aw-shucks” sense of humor and gaps in logic — not to mention the acting styles — that were so prevalent in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
How much of the original is preserved?
Rest assured, there’s definitely some shrinking going on! Moranis also nobly returns to the franchise while the rest of the original cast has abandoned him, leading to a very strange disconnect where it’s unclear exactly whose kids belong to whom. Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves still holds onto the same sense of adventure that comes with being a tiny person in a gigantic world, but the secret of the franchise lies in more than surface-level spectacles.
Whereas I Shrunk the Kids was aimed at the entire family, We Shrunk Ourselves is squarely aimed at the younger generation, with set pieces around a game of Truth or Dare and a ride around a Hot Wheels track. Re-watching I Shrunk the Kids for this, I was struck by the very real sense of danger that the kids experienced. The third act sees the foursome very nearly getting sucked into the blades of a lawnmower. Aside from a few requisite pratfalls, We Shrunk Ourselves just doesn’t take the same risks. I’m sure Disney wanted the home audience to feel safe and have fun, but removing those moments from the film robs it of any memorable stakes.
Does this ruin the original film?
Part of the magic of the original film was in its use of practical effects, which significantly outweighed the use of CGI. Sure, some computer trickery was necessary to show the differences in scale, but a large portion of the sets looked and felt real. While the sequel still retains a decent portion of practical effects, We Shrunk Ourselves takes the era’s deference to CGI to another level.
The end result looks serviceable enough, bearing in mind the limitations of the technology at the time. Consider that Jumanji came out only two years before We Shrunk Ourselves and relied on CGI to a much higher degree. The latter makes the former look like a B-grade monster movie from the 1960s in comparison.
I have fond memories of watching bits and pieces of the Honey films, and I’m sure many ’90s kids do, too. Beyond the appeal of a kid-friendly version of The Incredible Shrinking Man, it’s hard to put my finger on what exactly worked so well for the original film. The performances aren’t great, the story never explicitly deals with any deep-seeded issues about adolescence, and there were plenty more strong Disney live-action films from which to choose back then.
We Shrunk Ourselves never totally justifies its existence because it never fully improves on any of those aspects, but it at least tries to make a statement about parents trusting their kids. Maybe We Shrunk Ourselves could have found the courage to embrace the darkness at its roots, but it feels like Disney’s kid-friendly approach shrunk the film’s potential.
- Next Time: Christmas is coming early this year as we explore Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas.