Rick Moranis is most famous for his roles in the Honey I Shrunk the Kids series, the last of which being the direct-to-video release Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves from 1997.
Moranis largely made his name with this series – the first one (Honey I Shrunk the Kids, 1989), for example, came in second to Tim Burton’s Batman in terms of box office returns when it opened, and the follow-up, Honey I Blew Up the Kid, was number one at the box office the weekend it was released in 1992.
But as was probably the case for many from my generation, I was more aware of Moranis as a personality from his earlier films of the ’80s, which seemed to frequently air on TV, such as Ghostbusters (1984), Little Shop of Horrors (1985) (adapted from a Broadway musical), and Spaceballs (1987). Even to my young eyes, these earlier films seemed much more interesting than what Moranis was putting out in the ’90s – I didn’t even bother seeing The Flintstones (1994), and when I caught Little Giants (1994) on TV in what must have been the late ’90s – excited that it co-starred Ed O’Neil of Married With Children — I was sorely disappointed.
For a while, I didn’t give him any thought. Then, a couple of years ago, home on break from college, my dad got My Blue Heaven from Netflix.
This 1990 brocomedy stars Steve Martin as a mobster moved to the suburbs under FBI witness protection; Rick Moranis is the agent assigned to help him assimilate to an unfamiliar civilian culture. My Blue Heaven wasn’t a box office success, but it’s certainly one of my favorite Steve Martin flicks, and the addition of Moranis is perfect, as if he were born to play the role of a conservative, inhibited, and nerdy FBI agent. The film seems to mark the end of an era of comedies that began in the ’80s – I’m not sure what this cycle of films is called, but it’s characterized by anything with John Candy, Bill Murray, Rick Moranis, and/or Steve Martin. Indeed, Moranis, in an interview with Sound and Vision from 2004, remarked that his films from this era were his favorites, and he preferred them to the box office successes that made him rich and famous.
On the last couple of movies I made – big-budget Hollywood movies – I really missed being able to create my own material. In the early movies I did, I was brought in to basically rewrite my stuff, whether it was Ghostbusters or Spaceballs.
By the time I got to the point where I was “starring” in movies, and I had executives telling me what lines to say, that wasn’t for me. I’m really not an actor. I’m a guy who comes out of comedy, and my impetus was always to rewrite the line to make it funnier, not to try to make somebody’s precious words work.
After discovering My Blue Heaven, Moranis again left my radar. That is, up until very recently, when the guy at the Bodega down the street said I resembled him. It has become a running joke between us, and just yesterday he asked, “So how’s the work on your big comeback going?”
I was left to wonder: Whatever happened to Rick Moranis? And moreover, where did he come from?
Moranis first gained some notoriety on the late-night Canadian show Second City Television, which aired in the early ’80s. He was most noted for his role as Bob McKenzie of the McKenzie brothers, two beer-chugging, flannel-wearing Canadians.
Moranis’ range was versatile on SCTV, and he played many other roles and did various characterizations of celebrities, including a very good one of Woody Allen. The show lead him to make the feature film Strange Brew in 1983, which starred the McKenzie brothers of SCTV. Although not at all a commercial success, the film has since become a cult classic, and helped Moranis’ career in film.
Flashfoward to 1997: with the direct-to-video release of the final installment of the Honey I Shrunk the Kids series, Moranis played his last role in a live-action film. What happened?
In 1991, Moranis’ wife died of liver cancer. This left Moranis a single parent, and eventually, it got to him. In the same interview from Sound and Vision, he explained:
Well, I took a sabbatical. I walked away from shooting movies because I couldn’t handle the travel. I’m a single parent. I had young kids, and I found that keeping in touch with them from hotel rooms and airports wasn’t working for me. So I stopped. And I discovered after a couple years that I really didn’t miss making movies. So I started doing a little more writing, and I said no to pretty much everything except voice work. I’m a couple years away from both kids going to college, and, at that point, I might go back to something, but at this point, I don’t miss the on-camera work. I got very burnt out on the process.
Moranis did not give up creative projects entirely, and in addition to voice acting here and there, he released an album in 2005 called The Agoraphobic Cowboy, which was nominated from a Best Comedy Album Grammy in 2006. One of the singles on this album, “I Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” was used for a popular TV commercial. “Now, it’s all over television, because I think they licensed it for commercial use for … what is it, a motel or something?” Moranis said in an interview with USA Today.
As of today, Moranis has not produced anything for public consumption for five years. A glance at his website shows that he lives somewhere in Manhattan and, in 2006, had two kids in college.