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  Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Backyard Safari
Year: 1989
Director: Joe Johnston
Stars: Rick Moranis, Matt Frewer, Marcia Strassman, Kristine Sutherland, Thomas Wilson Brown, Jared Rushton, Amy O'Neill, Robert Oliveri, Carl Steven, Mark L. Taylor, Kimmy Robertson, Lou Cutell, Laura Waterbury, Trevor Galtress, Martin Aylett
Genre: Comedy, Science Fiction, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 3 votes)
Review: There is the usual chaos going on at the Szalinski household, with inventor dad Wayne (Rick Moranis) busying himself in his attic workshop with his latest creation, a machine which he hopes will shrink objects and restore them to their previous size - think of the benefits to industry if he manages to succeed. Meanwhile, his daughter Amy (Amy O'Neill) is making breakfast - or trying to at any rate - and his son Nick (Robert Oliveri) is tinkering with his own invention which he tries on Cork the dog. But where is mom Diane (Marcia Strassman)? She spent the night elsewhere, after another argument... what could bring this family back together?

The clue is in that machine upstairs, naturally. Shouldn't that title be Honey, I Have Shrunk the Kids? Or Honey, I Shrank the Kids? Anyway, here's the film which restored the good name of Disney's live action comedies designed for family audiences, as it turned into a sizeable hit for them which all ages were happy to go and watch. A mixture of amiable laughs, family values and decent special effects, for the most part, proved a winner and signalled the studio's renaissance in the late eighties and early nineties, which was not, as if often thought so in hindsight, restricted to their animation department.

The plot is simple, a clever high concept that can be explained easily by looking at the title. Horror fans take great satisfaction in pointing out that two of the brains behind Re-Animator, Brian Yuzna and Stuart Gordon, were heavily involved in working out that storyline, although there's little of their typical extreme nature here (they were dismissed at some point) other than a few potentially scary for the youngsters giant insects. Well, they're not really giant, it's simply that the kids are so small that they appear giant in contrast, as the four hapless victims of the shrink ray have to make their laborious way up the back yard to reach the house, not a simple task when you're a quarter of an inch high.

How they get that way is that the neighbours' kids, reserved, unsure Russ (Thomas Wilson Brown) and brash, obnoxious Ron (Jared Rushton) venture over to apologise for breaking a window - the attic window where the baseball in question has set off the machine and made it work properly, as they discover when they go up to take a look and are promptly shrunk by its ray. One thing leads to another, dad comes back after a professional rejection, beats up the contraption in a fit of rage and sweeps up. That the parents' generation are letting down their offspring is neatly summed up in the manner in which Wayne plonks the kids in a garbage bag at the bottom of the garden.

Apparently stranded, they have to alert Wayne to their predicament while avoiding the dangers of their now jungle-like environment. As this goes on their parents come to terms with the fact that they have been neglecting their children, a feeling that grows ever more keen when they realise they might have lost them. But don't worry, none of this gets too heavy with the adults played by seasoned comic performers to bring out the absurdity of the situation, assisted by a selection of neatly designed sets that represent an ant's eye view of the garden. On the subject of ants, there is one which is tamed by the kids in an unlikely but very Disney example of anthropomorphisation, yet even this cutesiness doesn't harm the film much. It is a little too pat, but its heart is in the right place and if some effects don't stand up to today's rigours, then they did use stop motion for many of them, which is always welcome. Great title sequence, too. Music by James Horner.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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