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18 Big Facts About Honey, I Shrunk the Kids

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What would it be like to be a quarter of an inch tall? Moviegoers in the summer of 1989 were eager to find out. They flocked to theaters to watch as the Szalinski and Thompson kids dodged refrigerator-sized drops of water, befriended a giant ant, fought a fearsome scorpion, and feasted upon a massive cream-filled cookie. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids is often viewed as the quintessential live-action Disney film, but its roots are firmly in the horror movie genre. Here are a few surprising facts about the 1989 classic.  

1. THE HORROR DIRECTOR BEHIND RE-ANIMATOR CAME UP WITH THE IDEA.

Stuart Gordon wasn’t the first filmmaker one would think of to direct a Disney film. With a background in experimental theater—including a trippy, in-the-nude version of Peter Pan—he made his name with campy horror films like 1985’s Re-Animator, about a scientist who brings the dead back to life, and 1987's Dolls, about a murderous collection of dolls (tagline: “They Walk. They Talk. They Kill.”). After he became a father, Gordon decided to make a kids’ movie. Along with Brian Yuzna, who had worked with him on Re-Animator, and Dolls writer Ed Naha, Gordon came up with an idea for a film about a hapless inventor who accidentally shrinks his children and throws them out with the garbage. He pitched the idea to Disney, who loved it and gave Gordon the green light to direct.

2. ITS ORIGINAL TITLE WAS TEENIE WEENIES.

The title was a nod to William Donahey’s comic strip from the early 1900s, which followed the adventures of a tiny, inoffensive band of characters. Disney executives hated it, thinking the title would turn off adult moviegoers. So Gordon and company changed the title to Grounded, then The Backyard before deciding to borrow a line of dialogue that Wayne Szalinski utters to his wife, Diane. 

3. DISNEY WAS REALLY NERVOUS ABOUT THE FILM.

Although Disney was excited about Gordon’s idea, they weren’t exactly confident the horror director could deliver a family-friendly feature. "Disney was worried that I was going to kill all the kids," Gordon said in one interview. "And I kept saying, 'No, I’m not going to kill them. But I want the audience to think they might die.'" Disney’s trepidations extended to the movie’s creature effects—most notably Anty, the heroic ant.

The studio told Gordon they wanted Anty to look less like a real ant and more like E.T. "I said, 'Well E.T. scared more kids than an ant does,'" according to Gordon. To convince the brass, Gordon invited them to the workshop where crew members were putting the finishing touches on the robotic puppet. Gordon made Anty nuzzle him like a horse to show how friendly the creature could act. And just like that, the executives were convinced.

4. JOE JOHNSTON REPLACED GORDON AT THE 11TH HOUR.

Just as production on the film was set to begin, Stuart Gordon became sick and had to leave the set. Unable to delay the shoot, Disney brought in Joe Johnston, a visual effects specialist who had worked on Raiders of the Lost Ark and all three Star Wars films. It was his first directing job. After the success of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Johnston went on to direct The Rocketeer, Jumanji, Jurassic Park III, and, most recently, Captain America: The First Avenger. Gordon, meanwhile, finally got his shot at directing Honey, I Shrunk the Kids—albeit 10 years later, helming one episode of the television show, which ran for three seasons in the late 1990s.

5. IT WAS FILMED IN MEXICO CITY.

If you thought the Szalinskis's suburban California neighborhood and backyard looked like the real deal, well, think again. The entire set—including several houses, complete with white picket fences and manicured lawns—was erected on a back lot at Mexico City’s Churubusco Studios. Established in 1945, Churubusco was the epicenter of Mexican film production in the 20th century and a favorite of cost-conscious American producers, with scenes from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Total Recall, Free Willy, and numerous other films shot there. The set work is very convincing, but there are a few seams showing: If you look carefully in the scene where the mailman is walking the neighborhood, you can see the beams in the back lot wall, which had been painted blue to stand in as the sky.

6. ANTY TOOK UP TO 12 WORKERS TO OPERATE.

The heroic ant, who befriends the pint-sized Szalinski and Thompson kids and (SPOILER ALERT) tragically dies fighting off a scorpion, took a lot of effort to bring to life. The special effects team built multiple versions of Anty, including a miniature for stop-motion animation sequences. Most of the scenes in which Anty interacts with the actors involved a large robotic puppet whose legs, eyes, head, and antennae were all controlled by separate crew members. “It takes somewhere between seven and 12 people to make the ant run," Peter Zamora, the film’s miniatures assistant, said in a making-of documentary.

7. MARCIA STRASSMAN’S HAIR WAS TWO DIFFERENT COLORS.

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Two weeks into filming, Marcia Strassman, who played Diane Szalinski, received a note from Disney head Jeffrey Katzenberg requesting she change her hair color from reddish-brown to blonde. Strassman complied, and she kept her hair that color for the sequel, 1992’s Honey, I Blew Up the Kid. "We said, 'But we've been shooting for two weeks,'" Strassman 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."

8. THE SET DESIGNERS USED A LOT OF FOAM.

From giant broom bristles to towering blades of grass, the movie’s set designers were masters at fashioning latex and polyurethane foam into outsized versions of everyday objects. To show the kids getting swept into Wayne Szalinski’s dustpan, designers attached the giant foam bristles to a hanging screen that swept across the stage. The enormous cream-filled cookie, meanwhile, was also made out of foam, with globs of actual cream mixed in for the kids to shovel into their mouths.

9. THE BUMBLEBEE FLIGHT REQUIRED SOME TECHNICAL WIZARDRY.

By 1980s movie standards, and even current ones, the bumblebee ride that Nick Szalenski and Little Russ Thompson take is impressive. Creating the sequence required a giant bee model for close-up shots with the actors, along with an extended shot by a camera that zipped and dove around the Szalenski backyard. Pretty standard stuff, but visual effects lead Tom Smith added a third element: a small, $30,000 robotic bee with miniatures of the actors on top. The fine movements of the robotic bee were spliced in with the close-up shots against the green screen, then touched up with some added digital effects in post-production to create 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 said.

10. THE ANIMATED OPENING CREDITS WERE GROUNDBREAKING.

The movie opened with an animated sequence showing two tiny children running from a record needle, a typewriter, and other menacing everyday objects as title credits cleverly materialized. According to the graphic design site Art of the Title, the sequence—created by Kroyer Films—was one of the first to combine hand-drawn animations with 3D models. The team that created the sequence included Andrew Stanton, who would go on to work on Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, and WALL·E, along with Eric Stefani, an acclaimed animator and brother of Gwen Stefani. Kroyer went on to produce animated sequences for two other films that year: Troop Beverly Hills and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

11. IT WAS ALSO GROUNDS FOR A LAWSUIT.

The musical score that accompanies the animated credits, written by James Horner, sounds very similar to the 1937 song “Powerhouse,” by jazz composer Raymond Scott—a little too close, by some estimations. Scott’s estate sued Disney for failing to credit the composer. The studio settled the case out of court and made sure the estate received its fair share of future royalties.

12. DISNEY REVIVED THE LONG-DORMANT ANIMATED SHORT.

Those who saw Honey, I Shrunk the Kids in theaters may remember the animated short Tummy Trouble, starring Roger Rabbit, that preceded the film. The seven-minute romp—which also features Baby Herman, a swallowed rattle, and a trip to the hospital gone awry—was the revival of the short films that studios often played before a feature presentation. It was Disney’s first “short” in nearly 25 years, and one of several that the studio released aimed at boosting the popularity of classic characters like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck with younger viewers.

Given the popularity of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, released the previous year, Disney figured its goofball hare would also boost viewership for Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Indeed, Disney gave the two productions equal space on promotional posters and print ads, despite the difference in run times.

13. IT WAS A SURPRISE HIT.

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids’s $14 million haul on opening weekend was the biggest opening ever for a Disney movie—by a long shot. It was also a surprise for the studio, considering the movie wasn’t a sequel, and had received mixed reviews from critics. "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," then-Disney head Jeffrey Katzenberg said at the time. In all, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids would earn more than $130 million domestically and $92 million in worldwide release.

14. BATMAN CONTRIBUTED TO ITS SUCCESS.

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids opened on June 23, 1989—the same day as Tim Burton's Batman, which finished number one at the box office and had fans lining up around the block to see it. According to the Los Angeles Times and other sources, many theatergoers who couldn’t get in to see Batman opted to see Honey, I Shrunk the Kids instead, helping to boost that movie to number two at the box office.

15. IT EARNED AN AWARD FOR POOR GRAMMAR.

As any English major could tell you, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids is not a grammatically correct title (it should be “Shrank”). This earned public ridicule from SPELL, the Society for the Preservation of English Language and Literature, which awarded the film its Dunce Cap Award for 1989. A Disney executive was quick to fire back that the mistake was deliberate, as it’s taken from a line of dialogue in the film (and the error certainly didn't do anything to hurt the movie's box office haul).

16. THE SOUNDTRACK CAME OUT 20 YEARS LATER.

Aside from the film’s opening theme, which became tainted by controversy, the music from Honey, I Shrunk the Kids isn’t particularly memorable. Thus the film’s score wasn’t subsequently released as a soundtrack. But composer James Horner, who had previously scored Aliens and Cocoon, became increasingly popular in the years to come as he scored films like Field of Dreams, Braveheart, Titanic, and Avatar. Demand for the score also rose as Honey, I Shrunk the Kids became a reliable cable rerun. So in 2009, tiny music label Intrada put out a limited run of 3000 copies of the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids soundtrack. It’s sold out, but if you just have to have such classic tracks as “Watering the Grass” and “Lawnmower," you can nab a used copy for around $50 on Amazon.

17. ONLY ONE OF THE YOUNG ACTORS IS STILL WORKING.

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For the young actors in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, box office success didn’t translate into long-term career success. Robert Oliveri and Jared Rushton, who played young Nick Szalinski and Ron Thompson, respectively, gave up acting in the 1990s. Same with Amy O’Neill, whose only other major role was in 1993’s White Wolves: A Cry in the Wild II (though she popped up in an uncredited role on Baskets earlier this year). Only Thomas Wilson Brown, who played Little Russ Thompson, continues to appear in films and TV shows, and only sporadically at that.

The adult ensemble, meanwhile, fared somewhat better. Matt Frewer (Big Russ Thompson) has worked steadily in films and TV series like Orphan Black and 12 Monkeys, while Marcia Strassman, known for roles in M*A*S*H and Welcome Back, Kotter, made regular appearances on shows like Tremors, Highlander, and Providence, until her tragic death from breast cancer in 2014. And then there’s Rick Moranis, who went completely off the radar in the mid-1990s to focus on raising his two kids after his wife passed away. In recent interviews, he has said that he would return to acting if the right role comes along. His last movie came more than 10 years ago as the voice of Rutt in Disney’s Brother Bear and Brother Bear 2.

18. IT’S BASICALLY A HORROR MOVIE.

Consider the evidence: It’s got an obsessive scientist, giant bugs, a near-death by lawnmower, and the Freudian nightmare of a father nearly eating his son. The nod to horror films of the past was intentional on the part of Gordon, who sees the movie as an homage to fright-night flicks like Attack of the Crab Monsters and The Incredible Shrinking Man. In recent interviews, he’s quick to lump it in with other horror movies he’s made. “Really, it’s not that different than Re-Animator,” Gordon said. “It’s about a mad scientist and an experiment that goes wrong, and so forth. The potential for severing some heads was there when you have a giant ant coming at you with those big mandibles. Who knows what could happen?”

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11 Brilliant Gifts for the Young Explorers in Your Life
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If your favorite kids can’t stop asking “why,” if they love running their own experiments, and if they never stop learning new things, these 11 gifts are a great place to grow their curiosity even further.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. FLACK KIT; $300

Imaginations will soar as high as this DIY airplane once it’s assembled. This kit comes with everything necessary to build this RC airplane, from the radio to the charger. All they'll need are a few simple tools, like a screwdriver, and your enterprising young engineer can pilot their first plane. No soldering of parts required.

Find It: Brooklyn Aerodrome

2. WONDERHOOD GRAND HOTEL BUILDING SET; $60

This deluxe building set from Wonderhood Toys—a company devoted to helping foster the next generation of women architects—includes 24 illustrated panels. The pieces can be connected together in different combinations in order to create a hotel building, complete with an elevator. The STEM-friendly kit also comes with two figurines, so that kids can play with their creation once they’re done designing and building it.

Find It: Wonderhood Toys

3. FIRE TABLET; $50

It might be too early give the younger set in your family a smart phone. Fortunately, the Fire Tablet is the perfect middle ground between allowing the curious kid in your family space to learn and explore on their own and being able to keep a close eye on what they’re doing. Amazon Freetime can be downloaded onto the budget-friendly Fire Tablet, which is a subscription program that only grants kids titles they’ve been given access to and allows parents to set daily screen time limits on the tablet.

Find It: Amazon

4. SOLAR SYSTEM EXPLORATION BOARD GAME; $29

Designed by a NASA scientist who has led a major space mission, this award-winning board game introduces kids to space science ideas and concepts. As they compete, players tackle the in-game challenges of developing and launching various space missions. Other players may sabotage your space exploration attempts with government shutdowns and hardware memory swipes, reflecting the real-life struggles of launching a successful mission to space.

Find It: Amazon

5. THINK & LEARN CODE-A-PILLAR; $31

Future coders and programmers can get started early with this caterpillar-shaped toy from Fisher Price. Kids learn while rearranging code-a-pillar’s body segments and figuring out what combination will make it move forward or backward, left or right.

Find It: Amazon

6. SOLAR PHOTOGRAPHY KIT; $15

Help a young artist harness the power of the sun into prints. The instructions for this budget-friendly kit are simple: Set an object or transparency on the sunography fabric included in the kit, let the sun shine down, and then remove the object for the coolest tan line ever.

Find it: Uncommon Goods

7. LITTLE PASSPORTS SUBSCRIPTION BOX; $18 per month or $180 per year

Take your favorite adventurer on a once-a-month trip around the world without ever leaving home. This subscription box service introduces preschoolers to geography through themed lessons. (There's also an option for older kids.) The first box comes with an orange suitcase, world map, an activity booklet and passport stickers, and every monthly box after that contains activities and souvenirs surrounding that month’s theme, such as art, food, landmarks or celebrations.

Find It: Little Passports

8. DA VINCI MINIMAKER 3D PRINTER; $168

It may be small, but this miniature 3D printer can whip out 6-in. creations at 100mm/second. It’s also easy to use, thanks to its 9-point calibration detection, which assures a level print bed. Your curious kid will also have access to loads of resources, like online courses and 3D modeling software specifically designed for beginners. Of course, if they want to hit print right away, there are thousands of 3D models available on the company’s website.

Find It: Amazon

9. AUTHOR'S KIT; $44

As every writer knows, nothing is more exciting than seeing your name in print for the first time. With each author’s kit, your young writer creates a story and dialogue to go along with a wordless illustrated book. Then, the company prints it and sends a copy, complete with author’s bio, to your doorstep. Every author’s kit also includes writing games, an official author’s certificate, and an idea pad to get them inspired.

Find It: Write Brain Books

10. MECCANOID G16; $145

Every tech whiz kid dreams of building their own personal robot, and now they can. MeccaNoid stands 4 feet tall and includes programmable LED eyes, voice recognition capabilities, and 10 motors, which allow it to smoothly move its arms, head, and feet. Although young programmers have three methods for programming the robot, MeccaNoid also comes with 3000 preprogrammed phrases.

Find It: Amazon

11. PROPS IN A BOX; $60

Help budding actors and directors get their movie or play off the ground with whimsical backdrops and quirky costumes. Each box has props for two distinct characters, a backdrop to hang, and access to the Props in a Box moviemaker app.

Find It: Props in a Box

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40 Educational Facts About Sesame Street
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On November 10, 1969, television audiences were introduced to Sesame Street. In the near-50 years since, the series has become one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame Street facts.

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius.

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2".

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS's funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmire, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

Photo of Elmo from 'Sesame Street'
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24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s executive producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame Street's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.

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