Wayne Szalinski (Moranis) develops a protoype of a 'matter-shrinking' machine in his suburban attic, only to have it zap his children into miniaturised beings. He searches for them, while they try to make it to safety in a newly-hostile environment.
Stories which tinker with the laws of physics have particular appeal for young people. Take Flubber, for instance, the magic chemical invented by Fred MacMurray in a series of Absent-Minded Professor movies of the early 60s. Flubber allowed you to defy gravity. One squirt of it on their gym shoes and the school basketball team pogoed their way to unprecedented victories. Stories of boys who can fly, seven-year-old athletes who travel at twice the speed of sound, teenagers able to hear voices across vast distances: to people who feel disadvantaged by their size its all most appealing.
Disney deny that they are re-inventing the 60s formula for a 90s audience but Honey I Shrunk The Kids is quite clearly pitched the entire family, wrapping up the special effects that todays pre-adolescent has come to demand in the form of a domestic sitcom that their parents can enjoy. Its set - as these things invariably are - in a suburban street where the Szalinski familys chaotic menage sits next to that of the Thomson home, run with military precision by that stern apostle of the outdoor life, Big Russ.
In the attic of the Szalinski home sits a vast Heath Robinson-style machine which, Professor Szalinski (Moranis) solemnly promises in the face of comprehensive derision, will shrink any kind of matter. He can prove it mathematically but he cant demonstrate it; until, that is, the fateful day when a stray baseball hits the right combination of levers and unexpectedly shrinks his kids and Big Pusss two boys down to bite-size pieces, whereupon they not surprisingly get swept up and chucked out with the garbage.
Once Moranis has gotten over the euphoria of finding his gadget actually works, he has the sobering task of relocating his children without squelching them in the process. Fashioning a massive see-saw out of various household objects strapped together with washing line and donning a football helmet with magnifying glass attached, he glides a few inches above the ground in the gathering gloom, scanning each blade of grass for any sign of his quarter-inch offspring.
They, meanwhile, are lost in a frightening world of vast, weird plants and household rubbish, battling for survival against massive smouldering cigarette ends and giant predatory ants as they trek across the vast, inhospitable plain of the garden to try and reach the house. Effects range from the worlds largest cookie on which they feed through the vast bowl of Cheerios in which young Nick Szalinski almost comes a cropper to the 25,000 gallons of mud down which the hapless four nearly ski to their deaths. They fly on the backs of bees, they adopt the worlds first domesticated ant and - because this is a young movie with some concessions to character and motivation - they find reserves of courage they didnt know they had.
In his first feature director Joe Johnston achieves a happy balance between the FX and the humans, particularly focussing on the tension between the irrepressibly breezy Big Russ and the uncharacteristically introverted apple of his eye Little Russ. Empires seven-year-old was all in favour and the giant creepy crawlies were frightening enough to provoke a shiver without traumatising anyone. After an oddly low-key beginning, which gathers pace on the actual shrinking, the adults came aboard as well, chuckling - in some cases quite heartily - all the way to the final showdown in a swimming pool full of breakfast cereal.
The Fly for kids: inventive, funny, and pacey enough for that rare breed, the family audience.