FX-honcho Joe (Jurassic Park III) Johnston made a mighty splash back in 1989 with his directorial debut, the Disney sci-fi romp, Honey, I Shrunk The Kids. Starring Rick Moranis as the madcap inventor and misguided family man, Wayne Szalinski, whose newest device inadvertently zaps his kids, and those of his long-suffering neighbour, Big Russ (Matt Frewer), down to microscopic dimensions, the special effects cavalcade was a wonderful homage to the “altered size” sub-genre of fantasy that had been prevalent in the forties and fifties. Harking back to the likes of Ernest Shoedsack's Dr. Cyclops (1940), Gordon Douglas' awesome Them! (1954), Jack Arnold's Tarantula (1955) and, of course, his later classic, the immortal The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), as well practically the entire oeuvre of Ray Harryhausen (but particularly Mysterious Island from 1961), Johnston's visual helter-skelter packed in the usual Disney morals about banding together and learning to get along in order to overcome adversity, but delivered knock-out effects, engaging child actors and a thrill-a-minute tale that rattles along like a locomotive, with blistering scorpion attacks, aerial shenanigans courtesy of a passing bee, lawn-sprinkler tsunamis and a ferocious lawn-mower pursuit, near-death in cereal-bowl and heroic ant/human camaraderie. But one of the best ingredients was surely James Horner's flamboyant score, which perfectly encapsulated the manic goings-on and became a character in its own right.
Never properly released on CD, although a few bootlegs have done the rounds, film score champions Intrada have now released it on their own label in this fabulous limited edition. The album is produced by James Horner and Simon Rhodes and was performed by the London Symphony Orchestra at Abbey Road Studio 1 between December 22-29 1988. For Horner fans, this has been a long time coming. But, they can rest assured, it has been worth the wait. Already a cult composer by the time of “Honey's” release, and having worked in almost every genre, Horner was an excellent choice to find the voice for this crazy adventure. But even his most ardent followers must have been surprised by the sheer merriment that he brought to the score. With his trademark torrents of horn, brass and percussion still very much in evidence, this was James Horner in full-on, cares-to-the-wind “fun” mode.
Famously, Horner's Main Title theme is a homage to the lusty, half-deranged 1937 “Powerhouse B” jazz-warp-out from Raymond Scott, the type of insanely catchy and thoroughly gregarious music that often accompanied Warner's vintage cartoons. Horner reworks the material into something that has a sort of screwball sci-fi feel to it. Swooning, drunken saxophone, electric organ, furiously patted bass, playful swirls for brass and swerving strings hammer away at the senses, with cello and double-bass keeping pace with a smoky, warm taint. This theme, in various alternate renditions, will play out right across the score, usually denoting the daft antics of Wayne Szalinski and his charmingly goofy contraptions. The second track, Strange Neighbours, is a perfect delight that ramps this theme up a notch or two on the toe-tapping-o-meter. This is precisely the whacked-out, zoo-style jazz that frisky-feline,Tom, and his cool-cat buddies play in their rag-time band to keep poor Jerry awake in one of those classic Tom and Jerry cartoons. As this cue bumbles along, it is hard not to imagine the tight-lipped mouse's head contorting to the relentless "bash-and-crash" sound of it all. But the weird thing is that this stuff is so damn catchy that when I opened my eyes at the end of these first two tracks, I found that I'd bounced out of the room and was half-way up the stairs, the music having literally carried me away. For the detractors of James Horner's immediately recognisable style and self-plagiarism, this is a wake-up call to the composer's rich and varied talents.
Track 3, Shrunk, takes these fun-loving “lounge” motifs and melds them expertly with material that is, shall we say, a lot more familiar. There are unmistakable shades and reflections of his action themes from Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, Krull, Aliens, Commando and even Wolfen, which most Horner fans would expect to hear in one of his scores from this period anyway. His large-scale symphonic passion for rhythmic adrenaline is justly celebrated, and if he self-poaches from his already-guaranteed pulse-pounding back-catalogue then it is only because the hyper-exhilaratingly propulsive nature of the material demands such thunderous marches. He struck out on his own with those driving, relentless barrages of percussion for Aliens and Khan, his anvil-clanging signature motif and glistening use of bells and chimes in conjunction with it would reach a musical crescendo with his epic score for Titanic, of course, but the seeds of such wonderful chaos were sown long, long before. Thus, even though Shrunk may be a whole lot of fun for the most part, just listen to that irrisistable slaughterhouse of a charge that roars along during the second half of the cue. With fabulous momentum and a synapse-singeing sudden twist from tappity-tap comedy to all-out bombast, this is one of those cues that you are aware is building up all around you yet still catches you off-guard once the massive roll of brass, percussion and strings pluck you off your feet and hurl you along within its headlong rush. The motif is still Bugs Bunny/Road Runner-esque, but there is an undeniably grown-up surge swept up along with it. Tremendous stuff, folks.
Pan-pipes are also something of a familiar motif for Horner, with them appearing most notably in Legends Of The Fall, The Missing and Willow, but they make a terrific contribution here in Track 4, A New World, which seeks to create an aura of eerie mystery and wonder as the kids are forced to investigate their intimidating new environment. Shivering organ textures and evocative jungle-style effects tremble about the cue, supplying a sense of space, shadow and trepidation as the quartet venture out into the now colossal garden. Undulating bass-lines and ethnic wind-instruments create a landscape that is both hypnotic and dangerous. Creeping notes make you wary, but mini-melodies on flute and pipe keep the air one of exotic mystique.
Scorpion Attack, Track 5, is vintage Horner - a thoroughly galvanising action cue that rocks with savage, unstoppable venom as, in the film, a horrific scorpion launches a predatory assault on the kids as they shelter within their Lego barricade. If the main title music is a powerhouse of delirious cartoonic tomfoolery, then this cue is its deeply disturbed cousin who has broken out of the attic and clearly isn't in the mood for jazz. Commencing with rumbling piano, snare and side drums, Horner's serenade for the insect's determined ferocity pulls out all the stops, its frenzy reaching every corner of the orchestra. Aliens-style militaristic drum rolls batter at the foundations of a bank of shrill brass that, itself, ripples glassily in terror. Menacing horns urge the battle onwards, providing heavy and violent surges that could almost signify the galloping horses of a race, or a hunt perhaps - and there is, indeed, an element in here that is reminiscent of Jerry Goldsmith's awesome cue, The Hunt, from The Final Conflict. Villainous brass bleats and blurts whilst low-strings slither and coil. Horner would visit this strenuous level of almost-doomed excitement and heroic darkness in A Perfect Storm, as well. There is no-one else who can capture both skin-prickling fear and desperate heroism in quite the same way as Horner - think of a shorter and slightly less aggressive version of Ripley's Rescue from Aliens and you are in the right ominous, yet gung-ho territory.
Test Run is more of that pesky, free-wheeling main theme. A harmonica, various rattles and a tambourine, a toot-tooting trumpet and a half-submerged xylophone gee things up, giving the piece a bit more of a Casey Jones-style, engine-driver vibe. Flying Szalinsky, the next track, offers us an even loopier version, this time making the most of that gorgeous electric organ that wobbles and whirls with keyboard-sweeping brrrrurrrpsss that can't fail to amuse. Track 8, Night Time, slows things down with a warm melody that essays Horner's Celtic-love. Delicate and sweetly lulled by pan-pipes and flute, there is a degree of Field Of Dreams-style Americana and dreamy optimism to be found here. French horn, cellos and violas come in to accompany the lilting, mellow tune, the cue surprisingly intricate yet smooth. Yeah, like it's gonna stay that way ...
Watering The Grass comes next and this is another big cue that effortlessly juggles fun and action in one massive, swelling voyage of sax-melted, brass-churned, string-seared and bass-battered delirium. However, Horner changes tactics halfway through and softens things up, ushering the danger and the urgency into the background to allow space for glistening ambience, gentle strings and a slow, airily sustained canopy that once again reminds us that this wild new world is also a place of entrancing beauty. More creativity follows in Ant Rodeo, for the scene when the kids befriend a passing ant and, after breaking him in, ride him through their adopted world like a champion steed. Horner's music is largely bright and cheerful and there is a decidedly Western slant to it, a light-hearted Copland/Bernstein approach that is thigh-slappingly catchy and topped with brevity as well. The Machine Works, Track 11, commences with a jaunty slice of the Main Theme's orchestration, but then allows a neat saxophone interlude to croon and warble before being elbowed aside with a trumpet doing a terrific impersonation of an elephant call. These individual and diverse themes don't sound as though they would work together, but this mixture of jazzy unpredictability, strident action and winsome evocation of nature flows extremely well.
Lawn Mower is another lengthy piece that tells its own story. Starting off with beauty and tranquillity - pipes and a flute sweep overhead, an elegant and Celtic-laced melody threading across the roof of the score - the track then slams into pipe and electric organ, flurried strings and a brass sizzle that shifts the once peaceful tone into one of gradually building menace. Low notes and a growing staircase of stabbing brass herald the biggest rendition of Horner's nod to “Powerhouse B”, although the mode is somewhat more threatening than we have become used to. Clacking wooden-block percussion, electrically charged violins, tumbling drums and yet more demented organ reverberations end the track on a crazily agitated note. The pace isn't allowed to slacken in Track 13, Eaten Alive, either. Massive organ chords and a sinister metronomic low bass beat follow on from a brief, but welcome reminder of Wrath Of Khan's more enthusiastic Enterprise grandeur, and then, beckoned into action with some scintillating cymbal clashes, we hear trumpets, trombones and horns blasting their way in, forging a driving rhythm that races pell-mell for the finish-line as, on-screen, the kids are brought back into the house on the family dog's nose and young Nick (Robert Oliveri) is almost swallowed on his dad's spoonful of Cheerios. Once again, Horner takes the comedic element of the situation and combines it with tension to create a wonderful crossover track that keeps you on your toes with constant orchestral invention.
Big Russ Volunteers is a brief moment of underscore that tinkles gently away with snatches of the main themes, before then swelling into a whiplash crescendo of sacrificial heroism. And then the album bows out with Thanksgiving Dinner, which is an ebullient, all-out finale that brings back the main title theme in one of its most uplifting and riotous guises. Yet, before this, Horner starts the track with a wonderfully haunting and lyrical section that is allowed to float whimsically over the top. Recalling the likes of both Willow and Krull, this is fine fantastical fare, but you just know that it can't last - those frantic strings, that grinning organ and those energetically tickled ivories won't give in without a fight. Surprisingly, about two-thirds of the way through, we are treated to a rendition of the lilting bridge-cue that features in the Main Title for Commando - the bit that denotes that Arnie's ultimate killing-machine, Col. John Matrix, is actually just a doting daddy for little, karate-learning Alyssa Milano. And then the track, and the album, sidles away on a receding chorus of trumpet-calls, shaker and slowly unwinding trombone.
Short by James Horner's compositional standards, the score for Honey, I Shrunk The Kids is, nevertheless, a dynamic tour de force that is jam-packed with energy, drive and brassy vigour. It juggles fun with fear, wonder with lunacy and combines such an eclectic range of instruments and motifs that you'll find its crazy, jazzed-up delinquency running through your head for days afterwards. Devoutly cartoonic in design and positively brimming with rambunctious zest, this is one of those scores that can't fail to bring a cheesy grin to the face of even the sternest philistine. Although a perfect accompaniment to Johnston's movie, Horner's music is also exquisitely suited to album presentation. The disc's producer, Simon Rhodes, has done a wonderful job of fashioning the composer's cues into a more linear and descriptive musical arc. The sound quality is clear, bright and infectiously optimistic. Intrada also supply richly illustrated 14-page booklet of notes about the score and the movie from Jeff Bond and Rhodes.
Full Track Listing -
1. Main Title 1:59
2. Strange Neighbors 1:49
3. Shrunk 5:37
4. A New World 3:31
5. Scorpion Attack 3:34
6. Test Run 2:08
7. Flying Szalinsky 1:59
8. Night Time 5:04
9. Watering The Grass 4:13
10. Ant Rodeo 3:45
11. The Machine Works 2:05
12. Lawn Mower 5:45
13. Eaten Alive 2:44
14. Big Russ Volunteers 1:24
15. Thanksgiving Dinner 5:27
Total Time: 51:10
Intrada scores big with Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, one of their most requested titles and a definite Holy Grail amongst score collectors. The production on the album is superb and the re-jigged running order makes for a terrific listening experience. Horner's metallic action overdrive compliments the zany elements perfectly, ensuring that this score is a riot from start to finish. Filled with enormous “feel-good” vitality and bolstered by strong thematic rhythm and a wonderfully giddy sense of fun, this is the sort of music that can raise the spirits of even the most manic depressive. That Warner Bros. cartoon motif is addictive in itself, but you've just got to love that rib-tickling electric organ lending a garish hint of the old musical hall to the score.
This release is limited to 3000 copies worldwide, so be quick, because with a composer of Horner's pedigree and following, it can't last long.
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