We’ve nearly reached the long-awaited release of Ant-Man and the Wasp, which means it’s time for more big-time action in very small packages…
When it comes to sci-fi and fantasy premises that touch gently on real-world scenarios, those which would put protagonists into microscopic peril are a particularly fun sub-genre all their own. Ever since a girl named Alice chugged from a bottle marked “Drink Me”, shrank down to mere inches and disappeared through a tiny door into a magical land, the concept of being tiny and forced to confront big challenges has been woven into tall tales in print and on screen. This week’s Friday Five singles out some additional movies that we love that feature shrinking shenanigans that lead to movie magic. Get ready, folks… it’s time to GET SMALL.
One of the first and best genre epics about goin’ teeny-tiny in the name of SCIENCE, Richard Fleischer’s 1966 film was originally conceived as a 19th Century Jules Verne-style adventure; the script was brought up to present day and added a Cold War element to the experiment of shrinking down the crew of a submarine to microscopic size to venture into a scientist’s body and repair his brain. While by today’s standards the realism of the inside-the-body sequences definitely seems quaint by comparison, Fantastic Voyage‘s director had unique previous experience; Fleischer studied medicine and human anatomy in college, so the visuals likely were vastly closer to the real thing than they might have been otherwise!
The Incredible Shrinking Woman
I know, you were expecting to see 1957’s seminal The Incredible Shrinking Man instead, right? There’s no doubt, it’s a great movie… but I’m here to argue that 1981’s The Incredible Shrinking Woman is better than you remember. First of all, you have literal comedy legend Lily Tomlin in the lead, playing an ordinary housewife who is unintentionally exposed to chemicals from her husband’s (Charles Grodin, also comedy royalty) company and suddenly she keeps… getting… SMALL. It’s got great, prescient subtext about the dangers of corporate greed vs. the general public’s well being. Yeah, the third act where she teams up with a super-intelligent gorilla to escape lab experimentation is totally over the top, but this is a forgotten gem. Check it out.
Real talk: Joe Dante’s 1987 epic of miniaturization is one of the great underrated comedies of the 1980s. Directly inspired by Fantastic Voyage, it’s also one of the great buddy movies of its day, with dynamite chemistry between Dennis Quaid as the failed astronaut signed up for a shrinking experiment, who is accidentally injected into hapless grocery clerk Martin Short and then… MAGIC happens. The contrast between Quaid’s stifled heroics and Short’s inestimable gift for physical comedy is terrific. (Short physically transforming into Star Trek: Voyager‘s Robert Picardo then back again? Bizarre hilarity.) Bonus: Meg Ryan as the no-bullshit heroine, well before she became a star. Pure gold.
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids
Since he pretty much retired to become a full-time dad in real life, there’s been a real nostalgia for the heartfelt comedy presence of Rick Moranis. We may yet see more of him soon. (He signed up for Netflix’s upcoming SCTV reunion!) In the meantime, it’s a great time to revisit his 1989 turn as Disney’s befuddled scientist dad – in the great tradition of Flubber creator Fred McMurray – whose experiment puts his kids in peril and he’s ready to face the challenge of making sure they and their friends get home safe. Your mileage with the sequels may vary, but the original is undoubtedly a classic.
The Secret World of Arrietty
While Studio Ghibli is most immediately associated with the landmark work of Hayao Miyazaki, this 2010 entry from director Hiromasa Yonebayashi is one of their finest. Based on Mary Norton’s 1952 novel The Borrowers – which was also adapted into a 1997 British film of the same name – Arrietty isn’t so much about shrinkage as it is about small people attempting to exist in a larger world, their survival based on determining true acts of kindness versus ulterior motives. This is also a fine example of both the original Japanese version as well as the English dub (featuring voice work from the likes of Will Arnett, Amy Poehler and Carol Burnett) being totally worth your time.