Inventors are responsible for some of the greatest inventions of all time, and some devices that society depends on have come from people who just started tweaking around with machines in their garage, hoping to make something interesting. But how many creative things become successful? In the famous 1989 Disney movie Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, scientist and inventor Wayne Szalinski created a ray gun that worked a little… too well!
In this kooky, live-action Disney film, scientist and inventor Wayne Szalinski got a bit more than he bargained for while trying to make something exciting in his home. Not only was he shocked to learn that his invention actually worked, but he was astonished to learn that it turned his and his neighbor’s kids into shrunken versions of themselves! In 1989, moviegoers lined up around the block to see just how the Szalinski and Thompson kids handled their strange situation!
The Movie Was Directed by a Famous Horror Director
Stuart Gordon is a well-known filmmaker who is known for directing some of the scariest movies of all time. He is far from anyone’s first thought for the perfect director for a Disney movie. How would someone who is known for absurd horror movies be seen as the best option for directing a family-friendly flick?
Well, the director of horror films like 1985’s Re-Animator and 1987’s Dolls, about a dangerous and deadly collection of dolls (operating with the tagline, “They Walk. They Talk. They Kill”), found himself entering fatherhood. As a result, he decided it was a great opportunity to test out the world of kids’ movies.
Stuart Gordon Worked With Other Horror Writers to Create This Movie
After spending his days directing movies about scientists bringing the dead back to life, director Stuart Gordon’s fatherly instincts kicked in, and he became a dad. He decided it was time to make a kids’ movie so his child could enjoy his work! Along with Brian Yuzna, who worked with him on Re-Animator, and Ed Naha, who wrote Dolls, the three created an iconic family-friendly film.
The three put their heads together and came up with an idea for a film about an unlucky inventor who accidentally shrinks his children, then proceeds to throw them in the garbage. Gordon pitched it to the bigwigs at Disney, and they absolutely loved it. The next thing he knew, he was given the green light and was heading toward directing an iconic film franchise.
They Almost Picked a Different Name
Could you imagine going to the ticket stand and asking for admission to see a film called “Teenie Weenies”? Yeah, didn’t think so! Well, that’s almost what happened with this quintessential flick from the late ’80s/early ’90s. This wasn’t just a play on the characters getting shrunken to such a tiny size, though.
The original working title, “Teenie Weenies,” was a nod toward a comic strip from the early 1900s by William Donahey. This comic strip was about a group of tiny, innocuous characters. Fortunately, the Disney executives on this project hated the title and decided that they needed to come up with something else.
How Did They Come Up With the Name?
Disney executives despised the title “Teenie Weenies,” but really – who could blame them? They felt that the name would have deterred adult viewers. Gordon and his team changed the title to Grounded, then The Backyard, before ultimately figuring out that those names were by no means going to be the best option for this film.
Instead, the film creators decided to take a legendary line from the screenplay and turned it into the official title. The whole premise of the movie was about a scientist who accidentally shrinks his children to a tiny size; why not make the most of it and put that dilemma in the title? It just makes sense for it to be called Honey, I Shrunk the Kids!
Disney Was Nervous About Stuart Gordon’s Family Film Debut
Disney was incredibly excited about this project, but they didn’t exactly have faith in their director’s ability to direct a family-friendly feature. In one of his many interviews, he said that, “Disney was worried that I was going to kill all the kids. And I kept saying, ‘No, I’m not going to kill them. But I want the audience to think they might die.'”
Disney executives were very nervous about the special effects, mostly surrounding the creatures in the movie. They were especially nervous about Anty, the heroic ant, but were (hopefully) met with a pleasant surprise upon seeing the final cut. They didn’t want the ant to look as real as it did.
They Based Anty on E.T.
Or at least, they wanted the character to look less like a real ant and more like an E.T. kind of creature. “I said, ‘Well, E.T. scared more kids than an ant does,'” the director stated. To convince them to keep Anty as it was, he brought the executives to the workshop where crew members were assembling the creature.
Anty was a large robotic puppet, and in order to convince the executives that he wasn’t going to be too scary for viewers, he made Anty nuzzle them like a horse. He wanted to show that Anty could be as friendly as they wanted him to be, which is exactly what happened. They were convinced!
Stuart Gordon’s Last-Minute Replacement
Unfortunately, moments before filming was set to start, Stuart Gordon became sick. He was too ill to stay on set, and Disney was unable to delay filming. They brought in Joe Johnston, known for his specialty visual effects. He’d previously done visual effects on Raiders of the Lost Ark and all three Star Wars films.
“Originally, I was going to direct it. I did all the prep work, the storyboarding, the set design, got all the way up to casting, and I had dropped out because I got sick. So, it was disappointing… I was happy with it. I think Joe Johnston, who ended up directing it, did a good job,” he said in an interview.
He Finally Got to Direct It… as a Television Show
Though Joe Johnston did a great job with the project, it is understandable that Stuart Gordon would be disappointed that he didn’t get to contribute to a project he was looking forward to. He was confident in Johnston’s ability to do a good job, especially in his first directing gig.
Johnston’s work directing Honey, I Shrunk the Kids landed him directing jobs for The Rocketeer, Jumanji, Jurassic Park III, and recently Captain America: The First Avenger. Good for you, Joe! Gordon finally got his opportunity 10 years later to direct Honey, I Shrunk the Kids for one episode of the television show. It ran for three seasons in the late 1990s.
The Movie Was Filmed in Mexico City
Though the movie takes place in suburban Fresno, California, it wasn’t filmed there. Their neighborhood looked like the real deal; however, it was far from that. The entire neighborhood – several houses, white picket fences, freshly manicured lawns – was built on a movie set in Mexico City!
The whole set was erected on a backlot at Mexico City’s Churubusco Studios. This location was established back in 1945 and was the focal point of Mexican film production in the 20th century. It became a favorite of directors and producers who wanted to be as cost-efficient as they could.
The Magic of Churubusco Studios
This Mexico City studio wasn’t a stranger to big blockbuster movies being filmed on their premises. Scenes from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Total Recall, and Free Willy were shot at this very studio, which is an impressive fact in itself. This Disney classic was certainly in good company.
The set work at this studio is a force to be reckoned with, but there are some holes here and there. If you look closely at some scenes, you can see beams in the back lot wall. These beams had been painted blue to stand in as the sky. They had us totally fooled!
Anty Took Many People to Operate Him
Anty was the courageous and noble ant that befriended the Szalinski and Thompson kids. Unfortunately, Anty meets his demise in a fight with a scorpion, but his actions are never forgotten. As for helping the creature live his best life, it took a lot of manpower to make Anty come to life.
The special effects team had built multiple versions of Anty, including a miniature version for stop-motion sequences. The scenes in which Anty interacts with the actors required a ton of manpower to make it come to life. You’d never believe the effort needed to make sure a large puppet run!
Different Parts of Anty Were Operated by Different People
Most of Anty’s interactions with the actors required a lot of effort from the production crew. The robotic puppet required different crew members to operate every body part, specifically the legs, head, eyes, and antennae. That’s a lot of manpower to bring a single puppet to life!
In a making-of documentary, miniatures assistant Peter Zamora divulged details about how it came to life. “It takes somewhere between seven and 12 people to make the ant run,” Zamora shared. That’s a whole lot of people to make a small critter run successfully!
Marcia’s Hair Changed Colors
Two weeks into filming, actress Marcia Strassman received a note from a Disney head. She played Diane Szalinski, the scientist’s wife and the mother of half of the children who were shrunken. This note came from Disney head Jeff Katzenberg, and you’d never guess what he asked her to do…
Katzenberg asked her to change her hair color from reddish-brown to blonde. She complied and kept her hair the same color for the sequel, 1992’s Honey, I Blew Up the Kid. Naturally, she wondered – won’t everyone notice the difference in hair color?
Katzenberg Didn’t Care
Naturally, Strassman was worried about what the change in hair color might do for the project. The answer? People barely noticed! Even now, you could be reading this and wondering, “how did I miss that?” Well, you’re not alone there. It was so subtle that it was quite easy to miss.
“We said, ‘But we’ve been shooting for two weeks,'” the actress told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “And [Katzenberg] said, ‘No one will notice.’ And no one did. No one noticed that my hair is two totally different colors in that movie.” Maybe we’re not as great at paying attention to detail as we thought!
The Set Designers Used a Lot of Foam
Looking at the props on set, you’ve probably wondered, “how did the set designers make that?” Well, the massive blades of grass and the giant broom bristles were constructed by the set designer’s expertise at fashioning latex and polyurethane foam. This material made it easier to create giant versions of everyday objects.
Some of these large objects included a broom, some grass, a giant cookie filled with cream, a giant cereal bowl, and a giant leaking water hose. While most of the outsized versions were created from craft material, one item had a very real component. Can you guess what it was?
The Cookie Cream Was Real
Yeah – you read that right. The enormous cream-filled cookie was partially made of latex and foam, as well as giant globs of actual cream for the kids to shovel into their mouths! The set designers must have really loved the actors playing the children because that was so kind of them!
It would have been extra cool for the production team to arrange a giant cookie that was 100% edible, but you can’t win them all, right? Those playing the shrunken kids, as well as every other actor on set, must have had a field day when they learned that this huge prop was edible!
The Giant Cereal Bowl
Production for Honey, I Shrunk the Kids started back in September 1987, two years before the movie itself came out. The prop craftsmen spent more than nine months assembling the large-scale props needed for production. One prop stood out more than the others – yes, even more than the giant cookie filled with cream.
One of the most unforgettable king-sized objects was the giant bowl of cereal. Just how large was this bowl, you ask? Oh, it was huge – the size of a swimming pool – what else would you expect for a kid who had to unwillingly swim in his father’s bowl of cereal?
How the Pool-Sized Bowl Was Made
This giant cereal bowl had many different parts that needed to be assembled. To start, large inner tubes were painted and textured to resemble a cereal like cheerios. These large cereal “o’s” were set adrift in 16,000 gallons of artificial milk. The milk was made of chlorinated water, pigment, and a food product thickener.
The cereal bowl itself was constructed to be the same size as a swimming pool, and there’s little information out there confirming that it wasn’t a giant swimming pool. Naturally, it needed to be huge if the characters would find themselves swimming in the bowl!
The Bumblebee Flight
Movies in the 1980s didn’t quite have the same level of visual effects that movies produced today in the 2020s do! That certainly didn’t stop the production team behind Honey, I Shrunk the Kids from trying to make big stunts happen when and wherever possible! One example of this is the bumblebee flight.
Nick Szalenski and Little Russ Thompson took a ride on the back of a bumblebee that not only looked like a blast but was pretty ahead of its time for the technical specifics that had to be organized to make it happen. The sequence required a giant bee model to be fashioned for close-up shots, but that’s only the beginning.
Making the Bumblebee Flight Happen
In addition to the giant bee model for the actors and cameras that could make the bee look like it was really zipping around the yard, the visual effects team added another unique element. They added a small (and expensive) robotic bee with miniature versions of the actors on it.
Visual effects lead Tom Smith added this tiny $30,000 robotic bee to be spliced in with close-up shots while using a green screen. As it goes with green screens, everything had to be touched up in post-production. More digital special effects were added to make the final sequence. “We were able to cut them quickly enough and mix them up so that it gives the incredible sense of flight when you see it,” Smith stated.
The Impressive Opening Sequence
Disney was initially known for animated features, so it only makes sense that they would have an animated sequence somewhere in their live-action film. The opening credits, where actor’s names are listed and so on, was one of the first of its kind for a few different reasons.
The sequence itself was created by Kroyer Films and was one of the first to combine hand-drawn animation with 3D models. This was still years before much of the special animation we see in animated flicks today, but alas was still groundbreaking for the time.
The Team Behind the Animated Sequence
The team of animators that created this opening sequence would go on to do some incredible work in their careers. Not only did they make history doing something that had not yet been done in animation, but some of them even went on to work on some of the most recognizable animated movies of today.
Andrew Stanton was one of the aforementioned animators, and he went on to work on Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, and WALL-E. Stanton worked alongside renowned animator Eric Stefani, the brother of pop music sensation Gwen Stefani. Kroyer Films itself went on to produce animated sequences for Troop Beverly Hills and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
The Opening Sequence’s Lawsuit
There are so many songs out in the world; naturally, some songs might have overlap. Well, the animated opening credits had a score written by James Horner, and his work sounded very similar to another song. This other song was the 1937 song “Powerhouse” by jazz composer Raymond Scott.
Scott passed away in 1994, and his estate sued Disney for not crediting the appropriate composer. Though this brings many arguments to light, the studio decided to settle the case out of court. They also made sure that Scott’s estate would receive the appropriate royalties moving forward.
They Didn’t Expect It to Be So Successful
When Honey, I Shrunk the Kids premiered in theaters, it made at least $14 million in its opening weekend. By a long shot, it was the biggest opening ever for a Disney film. The studio was ultimately surprised by the success on opening weekend, especially because it wasn’t a sequel.
The movie itself had received mixed reviews from critics, so they really didn’t know what to expect on that front. They had no reason to believe that it would be a flop, but they had no indication that it would go on to become the success that it did. Studio heads at Disney were in shock.
The Movie Earned Tons of Cheddar
“Our tracking showed that there was awareness of the film out there, but there was nothing to make us think it would do what it did,” former Disney head Jeffrey Katzenberg stated in an interview at the time. The movie would go on to earn a ridiculous amount of money in the end – can you guess how much?
All in all, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids would earn more than $130 million domestically and $92 million worldwide. That’s a huge chunk of change, and if Disney wasn’t happy about that, we don’t know what would make them happy! It’s great to have lowered expectations that were fortunately exceeded!
Thanks for the Support, Batman!
Back in the day, people had to wait in line to get tickets for what they wanted to see. They couldn’t just sit at home and stream anything they wanted; people did, however, have to strategically plan their schedules to make sure that they would be able to see any movie they wanted to, regardless of tickets selling out.
When Honey, I Shrunk the Kids was released to theaters, it came out on the same day as another film that people were more excited about. The film opened on June 23rd, 1989 – the same day as Tim Burton’s Batman. The new Batman flick would finish number one in the box office, but they managed to unintentionally help the Disney film along the way!
Those Who Couldn’t See Batman Opted to See Honey, I Shrunk the Kids
The whole world was ready for Tim Burton’s Batman film, and they waited around the block for days in the hopes of getting tickets. Some folks weren’t so lucky to get tickets to see the movie, but their trip to the cinema wasn’t a total waste – there were tickets still available for this new Disney film!
That’s right, Batman’s release the same weekend as Honey, I Shrunk the Kids actually seemed to help the film do well. Those who missed their opportunity to see the Burton film bought tickets to the Disney movie, giving Honey, I Shrunk the Kids a necessary boost to get to the box office number two spot.
It Helped Revive an Old Disney Animated Short
Again, the experience of watching a movie in theaters was and still is a completely different experience than that of the many streaming platforms of today’s day and age. Disney took advantage of people depending on theaters to revive their first “short” in just around 25 years.
Moviegoers might remember seeing the animated short Tummy Trouble, starring Roger Rabbit. It was seven minutes in length and was a follow-up to the recent film Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which came out the previous year. They thought it would help boost viewership, which it certainly seemed to!
The Film Earned an Award for Bad Grammar
So, the word “shrunk” is not quite grammatically correct. It should be “shrank,” and let’s just say that some folks took the movie title a little too personally. SPELL, the Society for the Preservation of English Language and Literature, had some thoughts on the use of an incorrect word in the title.
SPELL awarded the film one of their infamous “Dunce Cap Awards” for its incorrect use of the word. Disney executives were not happy about that and fired back to clarify that the mistake was intentional. It was taken from a line in the movie, and it didn’t seem to bother people coming to see the flick itself!
Where Are They Now?
Box office success doesn’t always translate into a flourishing career. The younger cast – aka the kids who shrank – didn’t really go on to do more in the entertainment industry. Robert Oliveri and Jared Rushton quit acting almost instantly, and Amy O’Neill only had one other major role in 1993’s White Wolves: A Cry in the Wild II.
The adults in the film found a bit more success – Rick Moranis was already at the top of his game, and the others didn’t do too badly either! Matt Frewer played Big Russ Thompson and worked a ton in movies and television afterward. Marcia Strassman also made waves in entertainment before her tragic passing in 2014.
Where Is Rick Moranis Now?
Actor Rick Moranis was known for appearing in many comedies across the board. He was best known for Ghostbusters, Little Shop of Horrors, Spaceballs, and Parenthood. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and the subsequent sequels, Honey, I Blew Up the Kid, and Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves were his last live-action films.
He hasn’t done a live-action film since the franchise, and he took a long break from acting when his wife passed away to devote time to watching his children. Since then, he has done some voice work for the Brother Bear movies and told The Hollywood Reporter that he’s not really retired; he’s just really picky!
Remembering Marcia Strassman
Actress Marcia Strassman played Wayne’s (Moranis) wife Diane in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. She was a gorgeous model, singer, and actress, best known for her role on M*A*S*H* as Nurse Margie Cutler. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and its sequels were her biggest movie roles, as she primarily worked in television.
Strassman’s story came to a close in 2014 when she sadly passed away from breast cancer at the age of 66. Her fans remember her appearances in Murder, She Wrote, Highlander, Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, and Welcome Back Kotter. We’ll never forget you, Marcia – rest in peace!
What’s Matt Frewer Up to Now?
Matt Frewer played the next-door neighbor known as Big Russ Thompson. He was already well known for his role as Max Headroom, an artificial intelligence character from a British show and movie of the same name. His acting credits following Honey, I Shrunk the Kids were nothing short of fantastic.
Frewer has since maintained a successful acting career with numerous memorable roles. Some of them include roles in Watchmen and Orphan Black, in addition to voicing Panic in Disney’s animated film Hercules. He has remained relevant in Hollywood through his roles in Altered Carbon and The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair with Patrick Dempsey.
What’s Going On With Kristine Sutherland?
Kristine Sutherland played Mae Thompson, Big Russ’s wife and the mother of the other shrunken children. Sutherland played Joyce Summers on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, playing Buffy’s mother. She played the role for years before her tragic final appearance in the show’s fifth season.
After Sutherland’s days on Buffy, the Vampire Slayer were over, she set up a photography studio, specializing in portraits. She hasn’t given up acting, having roles in several television shows and indie movies. In 2020, she appeared in the indie flick Before/During/After. She’s thriving!
Amy O’Neill Moved On From Acting
Before Amy O’Neill took her role as Amy Szalinski, she was known for her role as Molly Stark on the legendary soap opera, The Young and The Restless. She had a very promising career as a child actress, but after her time on Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, a switch flipped, and she was suddenly not as passionate about acting as she once was.
After her role in the hit Disney film, O’Neill decided to take another direction in her life. She was not looking to stay in Hollywood as an actress and had to figure out what her next best move was. She decided to take up performing arts and circus skills and joined a troupe where she’s still performing!
Robert Oliveri Had Enough
Actor Robert Oliveri played the youngest Szalinski kid, Nick. His acting stint didn’t last long, primarily because he didn’t have much interest in keeping up with the demanding routine of life on set. After his role in this iconic Disney movie, he played the role of Winona Ryder’s little brother in Edward Scissorhands.
Oliveri did return to the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids franchise briefly. They produced a short called Honey, I Shrunk the Audience. Afterward, he was done with acting and did not want to take on any further roles. He went to school in Georgia and now is living his best life, out of the spotlight, with his wife and two kids in Florida.
Thomas Wilson Brown Is Thriving Today
The actor known for his role as “Little Russ,” one of the neighbor’s children, has grown a lot in the many years since appearing in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. After his role in the Disney flick, he landed a recurring role in Knots Landing.
After Knots Landing, he starred in Welcome Home Roxy Carmichael, alongside Winona Ryder. He also had a small part in Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor. He’s still working, working between television and indie films, as well as some producing work along the way. He’s grown up – he’s well into his 40s now!
Jared Rushton Had Enough of Hollywood
Little Russ wasn’t the youngest in his family – leave that to Ron Thompson, the youngest of the Thompson clan. He was a classic child star in the 1980s who snagged some important roles in other movies around the same time. One of those roles was as Tom Hanks’ friend, Billy, in Big.
Rushton started out strong in Hollywood, landing other significant roles such as one of Kurt Russell’s kids in Overboard. He landed other T.V. roles as well as a small part in Pet Sematary 2. He quit acting in 2000 and now plays guitar in a band called Deal by Dusk.
Where Can I Watch Honey, I Shrunk the Kids?
Fortunately, we live in the 21st century – meaning we can watch just about anything at any point in time! There are countless streaming services these days, making it that much easier for us to watch what we want to, wherever we are in the world.
Your best option for streaming the legendary film Honey, I Shrunk the Kids is through Disney+ and Amazon Prime. With so many films coming onto and departing Netflix, it’s hard to say if it will be available on that platform by the time you read this story. Happy streaming!