Help, I Shrunk My Friends (2021)

17 Nov

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Ohh boy, how am I going to defend this one?

“Help, I Shrunk My Friends” plays like a cheesy sitcom episode that runs for an hour-and-a-half and doesn’t leave you with anything except a few cheap laughs. But I have to admit…I not only laughed, but I smiled too.

No kidding. I actually enjoyed this film as a piece of mindless fun, which at some point or another is just what I need. Maybe you’ll enjoy it too–you won’t know unless you see it.

“Help, I Shrunk My Friends” is a German import dubbed into English. (And I’m not going to sugarcoat it–the English dubbing is AWFUL.) It’s also a sequel to two other badly-dubbed family films, “Help, I Shrunk My Teacher” and “Help, I Shrunk My Parents” (don’t you love it when the titles tell you what to expect?), both equally cheesy and dopey and not really worth recommending–so why is this third movie worth recommending?

As strange as it may sound, I admire this film for growing up with the adolescent main characters. The previous two films starred prepubescent kids dealing with something odd and supernatural; this time, it’s the same group of kids, only they’re teenagers (about 15 years old), they’re swearing up a storm (and one even flips another the bird at one point), and they’re oddly enough involved in a story that serves as a parable for hormones. (Bear with me; I’ll get to that.) In a strange way, these films represent a coming-of-age “Up Series” aspect as we see these kids grow up with each film.

Now, where does the “shrinking” aspect come in? Well, all of these films take place in a prep school that is haunted by the ghost of the late warlock Otto Leonhard (Otto Waalkes), whose spells include shrinking people to about seven inches tall with help from a magical marble and a bowl. Through Leonhard’s will, the sphere spins round and round inside the bowl, then fire and smoke burst up, and shazam! You’re suddenly shrunk. (Weird, but somewhat inventive.) In this film, Leonhard’s ghost grants the power of Shrinking to our young hero named Felix (Oskar Keymer) to protect all of his magical artifacts kept on display.

But Leonhard didn’t count on the possibility of a teenage boy having trouble sorting out priorities, as Felix uses his new powers to impress the pretty new girl in school, named Melanie (Lorna zu Solms), to shrink a magical necklace for her to wear as a bracelet. (This necklace/bracelet glows when certain people are near, revealing someone’s attraction.) When Felix’s friends accuse Melanie of stealing items and get on his case since they know he’s too smitten to see their side, Felix gets mad and shrinks all four of them–Mario (Georg Sulzer), Robert (Eloi Christ), jokester Chris (Maximillian Ehrenreich), and most notably, Ella (Lina Huesker), who has a not-so-secret crush on Felix (who, of course, sees her as just a friend).

Well, it turns out they were right–Melanie has been helping an old grudge-fueled witch, Hulda Stingbeard (Andrea Sawatzki), and two teenage bullies (Cosima Henman and Tobias Schafer) steal Leonhard’s book of spells so Stingbeard can extinguish his spirit and…I dunno, rule the world or something like that. Melanie is also a kleptomaniac and has stolen the magic marble, which means it’s going to take a while for Felix to get his friends back to normal size. Thus results in a crazy adventure in which Felix must keep his now-tiny friends safe before they all must face the villains and inevitably foil their plans.

The villains are the strangest and funniest aspect of the movie. Stingbeard was seen in the previous film as an old nemesis of Leonhard’s who was shrunken and resized as a rapidly-aging (because apparently shrinking causes you to age 10 times faster) practically-skeleton-like monster who has spastic rapid movements when she’s not depending on mobility via wheelchair–she also barks orders to her young assistants to the point where I’m wondering why they even bother taking her crap for so long. The two assistants, who eventually capture the shrunken kids and treat them to deadly games of killer tops in a nicely-done sequence (btw, the digital effects here are actually quite impressive), get some good laughs as well, particularly when they bicker like your typical high-school couple.

They definitely score more laughs than the antics involving Felix’s dope of a father who becomes a chaperone for a school overnight and adds pretty much nothing when he’s asked to look after the other students while Felix and his friends save the day.

There is a charm to the way Felix, a likable young protagonist, has to handle the responsibility of protecting his ghostly mentor’s property, keeping his friends safe, even shrinking himself to rescue them from the two regular-sized bullies, and questioning whether or not to trust Melanie to help him–not to mention, the love-triangle cliche I usually can’t stand in movies is interesting here when we have Ella trying to talk some sense into Felix who is smitten by Melanie. And being a “shrinking” story, you would hope to see some fun action with differing sizes–while there aren’t many, there is a fun chase scene involving the shrunken kids riding a big skateboard to pursue the villains.

“Help, I Shrunk My Friends” doesn’t have the humor or even the smarts of “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” nor is it even something I would tell my friends to seek out immediately. Look, I’m here to tell you–this movie is silly. Don’t come at me with your comments that it’s too silly. But it’s my kind of silly and that’s why I have trouble telling you that I had a fun time watching “Help, I Shrunk My Friends.”

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