If you want to feel old, “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” is turning 30 this summer (!) The influential live-action Disney movie, which spawned two sequels, a television series, several Disney theme park attractions and continued rumblings of a big budget remake. To mark the occasion (and the fact that you can watch “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” right now on HBO Now), we were lucky enough to chat with Matt Frewer, who played hot-headed neighbor Russ. Frewer was incredibly forthcoming and our chat covered the shoot in Mexico City, what it was like to work with Rick Moranis, and the time he was booed at Walt Disney World.
There’s been a lot of discussion about the original script for “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” which was much darker. Did you get that or were you presented with what you ultimately shot?
I was presented with the version we ultimately shot. I came into it fairly late on in the process. In fact, I might have been one of the last main characters to be cast. It was all last-minute. And once I was cast I packed my bags and went south of the border to Mexico, not to escape the shooting but to start shooting.
That’s where it was shot? You could never tell.
Mexico City, yeah. There was this whole suburban neighborhood that was created in Mexico. If you ever felt homesick, he just wandered out your front door and could go to a another friend’s house. It was great.
Did they say why they shot in Mexico? Was it a tax thing?
I think it was strictly taxes in the end it was fantastic because the crews were terrific and it was great. We had a great time hanging out down there. It was a lot of fun.
In the years since this film, Rick Moranis has become kind of a mysterious figure, not really appearing in many movies. But what was it like working with him?
We had a wonderful time together. He’s a different cat because you expect him to be funny all the time and “on” all the time. And he's not. He's very bright, well considered, articulate fellow and we had a great time. That said, we had a few drinks in some restaurants in Mexico City. I won't go into too much detail but it was a lot of fun we had a great time together. In the years since “Honey,” his wife unfortunately died and he took some time to raise his kids as a single dad. And he’s been fairly picky about the work that he does. So he’s been on the sidelines for a little while.
When was it that you first realized that this was more than a movie and was more a cultural phenomenon?
Once you get the ride at Disneyland, you suddenly go, “Oh my god this has entered the mainstream consciousness.” We have no idea it was going to be what it was. Aback then in the pre-digital, all-analog phase, oversized props were actually oversized props and you didn’t have the CGI assist. The whole set felt like this enormous playground. It was purely fantasy time and you have no idea of the cultural impact until well after the event. It was a great and welcome surprise and hats off to Joe Johnson, who did an amazing job on it.
Johnson has a very rich background in visual effects and design. Did he help you understand what this thing was going to look like when it was finished?
Joe talked us through it the whole time. He is so visual and has such an amazing eye. I remember going up to his house after the shoot, my wife and I, and his wife (at the time) was playing Pictionary. And you have to draw a tree. I tried and quickly do a stick tree and it was Joe’s turn and he came up with a 3D oak tree with roots. If you didn’t think this guy was a visionary and a flair for the visual while you were shooting, you certainly did while playing Pictionary. He was amazing.
You brought up the Disney attraction Honey, I Shrunk the Audience, but there were two more “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”-related attractions at Walt Disney World. What do you remember from visiting?
What I remember most was going to Disney world on a VIP tour. And my daughter was very young and she insisted on going on Space Mountain four times. But of course on the VIP thing you get to skip the line. And the first time around, you know, people were like, “Hey Matt, how ya doing!? Love your stuff!” And then the second time, you know, a couple of people go, “Hey man, I really like your stuff.” And then by the third time some guy yelled out, “I HATE YOU.” So that was my introduction to “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” fans the slippery slope you're on.
Did you ever hang out on the oversized set when you weren’t shooting your stuff?
My favorite thing was the Cheerios. It was amazing. It was like a giant life preserver. The other great thing was the ant puppet. We had a Mexican puppeteer team and they would animate each leg and the head. It was a trip to watch them. It was like Muppets gone wrong.
You’re one of the few actors who has appeared in a live-action Disney movie and an animated Disney film (as Panic in “Hercules”). Do children recognize you by your voice more than anything else?
I do, every so often, but Panic’s voice was such an amped-up version of mine I have to be pretty excited in public for a kid to recognize me. But it was so fun to be a blue, potbellied version of myself and I loved working on it. I mean, it was extraordinary seeing the talent on display. They’d come back with your line renderings but they’d have your gestures and a single line prototype and it was amazing. They were able to capture you and filter it through this little potbellied devil. It was very fun seeing it.
There’s talk of a remake of the movie called “Shrunk” being developed. Why do you think this story endures?
I think it hit on the wonder of what’s in your back yard. You don’t have to go to the Amazon jungle to spark a kid’s curiosity. It harks back to the old days of Disney and where there was a real innocence and it was before post-modern, irony and cynicism. I think it harks back to a younger, more innocent time.
You can watch “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” now on HBO Now.