After three feature-length films devoted to size-changing, it was sadly realistic to expect that size-change on Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show to be the exception rather than the rule. Given that the part of Diane Szalinski was being played by the bodacious Barbara Alyn Woods, however, even a single F/X or handheld shot with Diane and tiny people was worth monitoring hours of inanity.
In fact, the shrink ray featured in the pilot, “Honey, We’ve Been Swallowed by Grandpa,” but Diane was stuck in the family van for the whole Fantastic Voyage parody, and there was no G/t interaction. We had a better shot with “Honey, I Shrunk the Science Dude,” with tiny Wayne and his brother mistaken for Happy Meal toys and taken home by a young boy, but they stopped just short of interacting with the boy’s mother, and Diane was absent for almost the entire episode.
In the middle of the first season we got a glimpse of the show’s potential in “Honey, I Got Duped.” At the research firm where he works, Wayne acquires a rival in Bianca (played by Valarie Pettiford). To meet this professional threat, Wayne clones himself to increase his productivity, but his clone has certain weaknesses, including a susceptibility to being bamboozled by Bianca, who convinces the clone to shrink the original Wayne and deliver him in what looks like a jewelry box.
Later, Wayne’s family learns what has happened and arrives to rescue him. We could have had a nice F/X encounter between Diane and tiny Wayne on the desk, but instead we got the crane POV shot alternating with Diane talking her tiny husband obscured by the box.
That was it for the first season. For a Disney production, the show didn’t seem averse to showcasing Barbara Alyn Woods’s charms now and then with risqué outfits, but even on the rare occasions when the shrink ray showed up, they never found the money for an F/X shot with Diane.
The second season’s only bright spot was at the end of “Honey, I’ve Joined the Big Top,” when Wayne uses the shrink ray to defeat the nefarious carnies. Perky (played by Lynda Boyd), one of the less villainous circus folk, asks Wayne what happened to the bad guys, and Wayne hands her a soda cup containing the tinies. Perky decides to feature them in her “flea circus,” and Wayne give his blessing to her plan.
Unfortunately, Perky walking away and grinning down into the soda cup was just a throwaway gag, and the rest of the season came and went without any further celebration of the notion of shrinking people for fun and profit. The original creative team departed after the second season, and it seemed that the third season would be the last. They brought in Ed Naha from the feature-film franchise (and whose credits also include The Adventures of Sinbad), and there seemed to be no limit to the obscure science-fiction stories they parodied and winked at. Peter Scolari also came in for some ribbing related to his early TV career.
Finally, the axe fell and the series’s cancellation was made official. One episode of the third season, however, did give us (almost) what we’d been waiting for. The final episode to be aired was “Honey, Whodunit?”, but from the tone and conclusion it is clear that the penultimate broadcast, “Honey, I Shrink Therefore I Am” was intended to be the season finale.
The main plot of “I Shrink” revolved around Wayne wrestling with whether his career as a wacky inventor was doing more harm than good, and there was also a sub-plot about Diane waiting to get medical confirmation of her possible pregnancy and fretting over how she should break the news to Wayne. But it was the C-plot that surprisingly resulted in the best F/X depiction of giant-tiny interaction of the whole series.
Two of the series’s secondary characters were the Jake, local police chief, and Ms. Trudi, a ditzy neighbor of the Szalinskis. Jake and Trudi fitfully developed a romantic relationship over the series, and in “I Shrink” Jake has resolved to propose to Trudi, and Wayne and Diane agree to help arrange the perfect romantic dinner to help the awkward police chief find his nerve. Please note that Trudi is played by Cathy Trien, who at the time was married to Peter Scolari (Wayne).
In a rather obvious homage to the film franchise, “I Shrink” has Amy and her doofus boyfriend wander up into the Szalinskis’ attic and get shrunk by the malfunctioning shrink ray, followed by Wayne and Jake. Obviously, Jake misses his dinner date with Trudi, and Diane is torn between consoling the irate Trudi and staying alert to a call from her doctor.
Diane finally gets the news she’s been waiting for, but she gives up on Jake and Wayne showing up at the restaurant, so she and Trudi go back to the Szalinski home, where Quark the dog alerts Diane that something has gone wrong. Rapturously for F/m size fans, neither Diane nor Trudi blunders into the berserk shrink ray, and instead Wayne finally deactivates the malfunctioning device, leaving both Diane and Trudi at full-size.
Imagine an F/X shot from counter-top level, behind tiny Wayne as his giant wife (and that sweater!) lean down towards him…[sigh]…okay, back to what they actually shot.
Diane is able to restore all the kids to full-size wherever they are around the attic, but since Wayne is up on the counter where he’s been struggling with the shrink-ray controls, she needs to move him back into the ray’s firing arc. Tiny Jake is already on the floor, but even though Diane knows he’s there she waits until she can deposit tiny Wayne nearby (alas, no F/X shots of Wayne in Diane’s palm or being set down on the floor below her short skirt and folded, stockinged legs), but even then she doesn’t enlarge the tiny men. Instead, we’re going to amplify the awkwardness of Jake’s proposal to Trudi by having him insist on doing it while still tiny, as he might lose his nerve in the time it takes to be restored to full-size.
There’s a simple green-screen effect when Trudi’s giant head lowers into the frame with Jake and Wayne, but it could almost as easily have been a forced-perspective shot. It’s a cute comic exchange, and when Trudi jumps for joy the tinies are bounced off their feet. But what intrigues me is that there’s no reason for Wayne to be in the shot. Jake doesn’t need him for encouragement, all their lines would work just as well if Wayne were full-sized, and the sight gag works better if tiny Jake is all alone in the frame confronting Trudi.
This is my (highly self-indulgent) theory: Either Peter Scolari or Cathy Trien or both are closet size-fantasists, and knowing that the series was going to be cancelled, they contrived to get tiny Wayne into a shot with full-size Trudi for their own personal gratification (and, incidentally, ours). Too bad Barbara Alyn Woods couldn’t be brought on board…
Honey, I Shrunk The Kids pretty much set the standard for size-difference in live-action children’s entertainment. As digital and green-screen technology improved and became cheap and commonplace, almost every Disney Channel production that thematically allowed for it included size-changing plotlines. I’ve never subscribed to the theory that exposure to size-difference themes in TV and movies directly causes size-fetishes to develop, but I do think that such media can make for ready inspiration for young minds already swimming with feelings and ideas that might not otherwise find a focus.