CD Review: Honey, I Shrunk The Kids (3000 edition)

By • March 23, 2009

Composer: James Horner
Label: Intrada
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
Grade: A

Among the many reasons why 80’s genre films continue to hold a firm place in many a geek’s heart is the sheer, kid’s stuff enchantment of such films as TRON, THE GOONIES, THE LAST STARFIGHTER and even, God forgive me, HOWARD THE DUCK. But when it came to a composer with a lock on that sound of wonder, few have continued to be as prolifically talented as James Horner, whose scores for movies like STAR TREK II, COCOON, WILLOW, KRULL and *BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED inspired many impressionable moviegoers to become today’s graying soundtrack fans. Each score was united by Horner’s full-throttle use of the orchestra, a Korngoldian sense of over-the-top adventure, and a classicist’s use of thematic melody and creativity that continues to this day in such Horner fantasy scores as THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES.

There was no perhaps no better way for Horner to sum up his fantastical 80’s scoring work than with 1989’s HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS, a virtual potpourri of the “Horner sound,” and a score that spazzes out with the sheer, hyperkinetic energy of a kid unleashed in a musical candy store. It’s a place where a five hundred-piece orchestra lies next to a big band ensemble, with another room full of tinkertoy doodads left to explore. In HONEY, that kid went crazy, emptying the stylistic shelves in an amazingly controlled explosion of musical invention.

Those nutty fireworks start right off with Horner’s “Main Title” and “Strange Neighbors,” music that accompanies an animated title sequence, and the introductory antics of mildly crazed inventor Ed Szalinsky. Like Danny Elfman’s opening sequence to PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE, Horner conveys a playhouse feel by ratchets, big band brass, Nino Rota-esque rhythms and a pipe organ. It’s a the musical equivalent of a Rube-Goldberg contraption, a sound that stems way back to composer Raymond Scott, whose classic 1937 tune “Powerhouse B” treated the orchestra like a chugging steam engine (complete with a harmonica “toot” here). It’s a brassy retro approach, and theme that inform much of the wackier moments in HONEY (and would be re-popularized later with the hip use of Scott’s music for the REN AND STIMPY cartoons), making the score a particularly fun delight. And where Horner the big band sound for codgers meeting aliens in COCOON and *BATTERIES, Horner’s jazz swing here is all about malfunctioning mad science, capturing the creaky home-made devices which give the film its title.

What really keeps HONEY emotionally grounded is Horner’s terrific command of a majestic, symphonic sound. His strings, pianos and twinkling percussion are the musical equivalent of a child looking up at the stars, realizing there’s a wondrous world out there- one which they’ll soon be a part of. Except in HONEY, those miniaturized kids are looking up from skyscraper-sized blades of grass. And as much fun as Szalinsky’s syncopated brass blats are as he’s either looking for his charges, or inadvertently coming close to smooshing them, it’s Horner’s orchestra that makes the kids’ adventures simultaneously scary, and fun as they try to get back to size at home. His melodic glue can play the percussively pounding danger of a “Scorpion Attack,” unite the kids with the tearful desire to be with their parents in “Night Time,” or take a rambunctious, western ride on the back of a friendly insect with “Ant Rodeo.” It’s a similar mixture of effects, humor and adventure that made HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS into a Disney fantasy for the ages (and an approach that would become a terrific formula for ILM wiz-turned-director Joe Johnston in such latter films as THE ROCKETEER and JURASSIC PARK III).

In the 80’s, Horner was also just as busy with exotica as he was with kid’s stuff, and HONEY gave him his first real chance to cross both worlds, as the ethnic wind instruments he used in scores like VIBES and WHERE THE RIVER RUNS BLACK now turned the Szalinsky backyard into an Amazonian jungle. South American pan flutes and the Japanese Shakuhachi make the gigantic greenery even more eerie and imposing. And where a pipe organ is used to comic effect early in the score, Horner unleashes the instrument in all of its Bach-worthy force later in “Lawn Mower,” a deliciously over-the-top approach that makes getting turned to mulch into a Grand Guignol fate. HONEY is constantly pulling this musical bait and switch of playing the dangers with full musical force, But for all of its thrills, screwball cacophony and moments of true darkness, HONEY is united by a sense of yearning and tenderness, a gift for lush, orchestral emotional that also brought a real, moving heart to such Horner scores in the 80’s playing grounds as THE LAND BEFORE TIME and FIELD OF DREAMS.

When it comes to that decade’s magical world of genre filmmaking, bigger never sounded better than in HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS. And for nearly twenty years, it’s remained one of James Horner’s most-requested scores. Now after releasing such other soundtrack grails as Jerry Goldsmith’s complete scores for ALIEN and THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL, Intrada records does another Indiana Jones-worthy job of rescuing HONEY from a vault that few thought any label would get into. Sounding off with a spectacular audio fidelity and informative liner notes by Jeff Bond, HONEY’s release is everything collectors could have hoped for- and will doubtlessly make them salivate for the other Horner treasures that have long lain in state next to Walt, goodies begging to be brought to light by Intrada. Be sure to grab this limited CD edition before it disappears quicker than Disney’s first DVD releases of SNOW WHITE and THE LITTLE MERMAID.

Score your shrink-on here

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