From the Cyclops of The Odyssey to the giants of Gulliver’s Travels, Big Boy stories always had an odd, empowering thrill. And Big Boy movies like Honey, I Blew Up the Kid offer a double whammy, since they tap into one of the primal pleasures that draws us into theaters in the first place — the magic of watching characters who are literally larger than life. Those ghostly figures on the screen have always had the allure of a good myth. Devising a film about a human grown to godlike proportions simply makes the connection explicit.
But I’m making Honey, I Blew Up the Kid sound like a Joseph Campbell book, when it’s just an enjoyable slice of pop pizza. It was also, in theaters at least, one of the handful of sequels that stayed on a par with its original film, in this case, 1989’s Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. In the move to home video, however, the second movie loses the largeness of image necessary to its goofy power; on the small screen, you might as well call it Honey, I Shrunk ‘Honey, I Blew Up the Kid’.
Which is not to say the movie is a bust on video — just that this is one you should have caught in a theater. It remains an engaging live-action cartoon about a prototypical wacky-inventor dad (Rick Moranis) who accidentally trains his matter-expanding machine on his 2-year-old son, Adam (played by twins Daniel and Joshua Shalikar). It’s not the variations on this setup that make Kid work — all the byplay with a yuppie-scum scientist (John Shea) and a benevolent lab CEO (Lloyd Bridges) is simply annoying — but the unique confluence of fine FX and a pair of kids too young to be anything but natural. The shalikars are clearly having a blast here, and the beautiful technical work brings the audience right into their big little world.
If the film’s Las Vegas finale — in which Big Adam treats the Strip’s neon signs as so many Big Toys — seems familiar, that’s because it borrows liberally from the climax of The Amazing Colossal Man, a deathless drive-in cheapie that — not uncoincidentally in the world of video tie-ins — hits the stores the same week as Honey, I Blew Up the Kid.
Admittedly, The Amazing Colossal Man is the kind of unremitting late-’50s sci-fi dogfood that gets regularly mocked on Comedy Central’s Mystery Science Theater 3000. Star Glen Langan chews up the plywood sets as Glenn Manning, an Army colonel who suffers a growth spurt after being irradiated during a plutonium bomb test. Soon he’s 60 feet tall, bald, clad in a diaper, and rapidly going insane. Bad-movie fans will find more than enough fake science, laughably straight-faced dialogue (”How soon will the tent arrive?” ”It’s being flown in from circus winter quarters in Florida”), and Big Accessories (dig that six-foot-long hypodermic needle). Yet the inherent power of the Big Boy story sill leaks through. That’s because Colossal remembers the main point of the Big Boy myth — that Big Boys are miserable.
See, all that power is an illusion. The Cyclops gets blinded; King Kong is machine-gunned off the Empire State Building; Manning goes psycho, falls off the Hoover Dam, and is cursed to return as a different actor wearing lumpy horror makeup in the even chintzier sequel, War of the Colossal Beast. Aside from one king-size crying fit, though, Kid‘s Adam has it easy. He gets both his size and mom back; to him, it was all a neat dream that turned a little scary in the end. That wrap-up is perfectly in keeping with the movie’s light tone, yet I can’t help thinking that the Big Boy myth is getting its sting removed for an era that can’t handle unhappy endings. Honey, I Blew Up the Kid is fizzy but ultimately a little too benign. Honey, I Blew Up the Surly Adolescent — now, that might have caused some damage.
Honey, I Blew Up the Kid: B
The Amazing Colossal Man: C-
War of the Colossal Beast: D