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Honey, they have shrunk the film stars again

PUBLISHED: 15:32 25 January 2018 | UPDATED: 15:32 25 January 2018

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Attack of the Puppet People and Matt Damon in Downsizing. Photos: Disney/MGM/Paramount

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Attack of the Puppet People and Matt Damon in Downsizing. Photos: Disney/MGM/Paramount

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The new film Downsizing in cinemas this weekend shrinks Matt Damon to four inches high. But it is far from the first shrinking man film. Simon Parkin offers a big guide to the 10 best films about tiny people.

Kristen Wiig plays Audrey Safranek and Matt Damon plays Paul Safranek in Downsizing. Photo: ParamountKristen Wiig plays Audrey Safranek and Matt Damon plays Paul Safranek in Downsizing. Photo: Paramount

Small is beautiful - and highly desirable - in director Alexander Payne’s quirky comedy drama Downsizing which is released this weekend.

It imagines an overpopulated world where people are encouraged to shrink with the promise of living a much better life in a miniaturised town.

Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig star as a couple seduced by the idea of utopian eco-friendly living but see their gung-ho miniaturised American dream turns sour.

The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Borrowers, Fantastic Voyage and Innerspace. Photos: Universal/Working Title/20th Century Fox/Warner BrosThe Incredible Shrinking Man, The Borrowers, Fantastic Voyage and Innerspace. Photos: Universal/Working Title/20th Century Fox/Warner Bros

The “shrinking person” movie isn’t new though. The mini-genre got its start in the early 1930s and each decade has offered up its own variation on the theme.

Some have been frightening, some humorous and others just plain ludicrous — but all tap into that deep-seated fear of being diminished in a world that looms too large around us.

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989)

Perhaps the most famous size-reduction film, this Disney take on the shrinking storyline was a huge box office smash in the 1980s. Rick Moranis is preoccupied inventor Wayne Szalinski whose electro-magnetic shrinking machine accidentally reduces his kids in scale and when he tosses them out in the rubbish they face a dangerous journey where sprinklers bring treacherous storms and ants stampede like elephants. Its success led to sequels Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves (where the adults get small) and Honey, I Blew Up the Kid (complete with giant baby).

The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)

Jack Arnold directs this classic sci-fi feature adapted from the novel by Richard Matheson which was the go-to shrinking movie until Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Grant Williams plays a businessman whose his yacht passes through a mysterious cloud of radioactive mist. He is shocked to discover that he is slowly shrinking. Before long, ordinary household objects become tools in his battle for survival against previously harmless pests like spiders, and even his pet cat. The Incredible Shrinking Woman, a comedy remake in 1981 entitled saw Lily Tomlin begins to shrink following exposure to an experimental perfume.

Dr. Cyclops (1940)

Classic 1933 King Kong producer Merrian C. Cooper and director Ernest Schoedsack got back together to play the size card from the other direction with this Technicolor sci-fi horror. A mad scientist working in the South American jungle miniaturizes his colleagues when he feels his megalomania is threatened. But when he discovers that they’re slowly returning to ordinary size, he realises he has to kill them. The effects were groundbreaking at the time.

The Borrowers (1997)

The popular children’s books by Mary Norton, about a family of tiny people who live under the floorboards of a big house, borrowing whatever they need from the ‘human beans’ who own it in order to survive, have been filmed several times, but never with as much imagination and ingenuity as Peter Hewitt’s big screen adaptation. John Goodman is excellent as the evil property developer Ocious P. Potter who decides to get rid of the house, forcing tiny Pod (Jim Broadbent) and Homily Clock (Celia Imrie) to use all their resourcefulness to thwart him.

The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)

Studio Ghibli, Japan’s hugely respected answer Pixar, also took inspiration from Mary Norton’s The Borrowers for this magical animation. Arrietty lives under the floor-boards of a house with her parents and as the original story suggests, they survive by “borrowing” from the human family who live in the rest of the house. The shrunken story is perfect for Ghilbi’s penchant for magic-realism-style, coming-of-age stories, which often see young protagonists thrust into an ever-changing journey, meeting a whole host of interesting characters along the way.

Fantastic Voyage (1966)

Memorable through its unusual mix of sci-fi and Cold War paranoia. A group of medics (including Stephen Boyd, Raquel Welch and Donald Pleasence) and a submarine are miniaturised and injected into a Czech scientist, who was shot while defecting. Travelling though his body they race against time to perform life-saving surgery and escape before they return to full size, but there is the suspicion one is a traitor. The film won two Oscars and fresh from his own 13 Oscar nominations for The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro is to direct a remake.

Innerspace (1987)

Inspired by Fantastic Voyage, but intended as a comedy version, Joe Dante pitches this film somewhere between slapstick and paranoia. Test pilot Dennis Quaid is miniaturised as a result of a bungled attempt to steal the new experimental technology, then accidentally injected into the body of a deeply stressed Martin Short. The special effects were Oscar-winning though the story gets a bit silly. In-joke spotters may notice a number of shrinking film cameos including William Schallert (the doctor in The Incredible Shrinking Man).

Attack of the Puppet People (1958)

After threatening audiences with The Amazing Colossal Man and Village of Giants, cult B-movie director-producer-special-effects obsessive Bert I. Gordon again proved that size does matter with this. John Hoyt plays Mr Franz, a lonely doll maker who reduces anyone who abandons him to doll-size. But when he shrinks his secretary Sally and her new beau, they refuse to be his playthings. The effects are shonky but there are oddly unsettling scenes as the ‘dolls’ are forced to participate in a marionette show.

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Based on the story by Lewis Carroll, Tim Burton’s live-action, though CGI-heavy adaptation remains one of the highest grossing films of all time. Anyone familiar with Alice in Wonderland knows how significant the idea of shrinking is thanks to Alice’s constant growing and shrinking from ‘Drink Me’ and ‘Eat Me’ medicines. The film has lots of fun with it when Alice (Mia Wasikowska) both shrinks to miniscule proportions and grows exponentially to fill the room.

Ant-Man (2015)

Although its ambitions are larger than the incredible shrinking hero of the title, this mini addition to cluttered Marvel Comic universe, with Paul Rudd armed with a super-suit that offers the astonishing ability to shrink but increase in strength, leans heavily on deadpan humour. Director Peyton Reed has great fun juxtaposing perspectives, especially in a showdown on a child’s train set that is thrilling close-up, but laughably pedestrian actual size. Seemingly benign household features, like a running tap, become life-or-death obstacles. A sequel is coming in July.

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