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Film review: Honey, I Shrunk the Kids

Published: Saturday, July 15 1989 12:00 a.m. MDT

First off, let's set the record straight — "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" is very much a kids' picture, and kids will love it. Parents won't be too bored, but this one is aimed squarely at the small fry, and the three-star rating is for that primary audience.

On the other hand, it's hard for a jaded, cynical, over-the-hill movie critic to expect his criticisms to be taken too seriously by kids who want a zany no-brainer or parents who want to shuttle the kids off to something safe, something without any gore, sex, nudity or profanity.

If those are the criteria, "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" fills the bill.

In what is virtually an update of Fred MacMurray's "Absent Minded Professor," Rick Moranis stars as a distracted academic scientist experimenting in his attic, driving the neighbors nuts and forgetting his personal responsibilities.

Moranis is terrific, much more down-to-earth and rooted here than with the equally hilarious but cartoonish nerd he plays in "Ghostbusters II."

Moranis is experimenting with a laser device that will shrink objects if he can get it to work, though all he's done so far is explode apples.

When he goes off to try and sell the thing at a conference, however, a neighbor kid hits a baseball through his attic window, it hits the machine and promptly shrinks Moranis' two kids and the two next-door kids to the size of gnats.

Unaware of all this, Moranis returns, sweeps up and throws the kids out with the trash. But these are resourceful '80s kids, so they escape from the trash bag and try to get home by crossing the lawn, which to them has become a virtual jungle.

The latter trek makes up the bulk of the film, a sort of "I Was A Teenage Shrinking Kid," as they encounter the dangers of a sprinkler system that sets off a virtual monsoon, an ant they tame and ride part of the way, a deadly scorpion that does battle with the ant, a giant cookie that keeps them nourished, a lawnmower on the attack, etc.

"Honey" does sink into sappy sentiment, especially with the tamed ant, that seems a throwback to some of the dumbest Disney fare from the '50s, but more often it's a funny, silly, even exciting adventure for younger audiences with a nice pro-family message that doesn't get in the way.

Matt Frewer, old "Max Headroom" himself, gives his goofy, macho neighbor some wonderful comic touches, and Marcia Strassman and Kristine Sutherland, as their respective wives, are also good. The four kids, who are the real focus of the film — Thomas Brown, Jared Rushton, Amy O'Neill and Robert Oliveri — are believable and amusing. But Moranis is the one who holds it all together, and he gives much more dimension to his character than is written into the script.

"Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" is rated PG for violence.

-"TUMMY TROUBLE" is a Roger Rabbit cartoon that precedes the feature, a rapid-fire fully animated short in the same style as the manic cartoon that preceded "Who Framed Roger Rabbit." And just so you remember that these characters are actors who live in Toon Town, the end of the 7 1/2-minute short offers a funny live-action/animation punchline to keep the myth alive.

The cartoon is so wild and fast you can't possibly take it all in in just one sitting, which is both good and bad. The audience at the screening I attended didn't seem to fully understand what it was they were seeing and consequently seemed a bit stymied by it all.

This may be a bit intense for very small children, but others should love it. For myself, I'd like to see it again if only to catch all the little in-jokes I'm sure I missed. Those I didn't miss included the hospital doors for everything from zoology to archaeology, the insurance vending machine in the lobby, Jessica Rabbit's cameo as a nurse, Mickey Mouse's shoes, a surprise visit by Droopy . . .

Suffice it to say, "Tummy Trouble" is one wild ride. And it just may have you yearning for another Roger Rabbit feature. In the meantime I'm happy just to have cartoons in the theaters again.

"Tummy Trouble" is rated G.