The Indian in the Cupboard
Everything in The Indian in the Cupboard is just a little too much, even for a children's movie. The nine-year-old hero, Omri (Hal Scardino), is a little too earnest; his parents are a little too laid-back; his friend Little Bear (Litefoot) a plastic, three-inch tall Native American who's brought to life by a magical cabinet is a little too honorable and upstanding. That said, though, the movie is still a sweet story about friendship and responsibility. Based on the classic novel by Lynne Reid Banks, the film doesn't waste much time getting to the crux of the story: When Omri places his action figures and other toys into the titular cupboard, which he receives as a birthday present, they become tiny living, breathing people (or dinosaurs or horses or Star Wars characters). As children do, Omri adapts to this amazing turn of events quickly, befriending and caring for his first "creation," Little Bear, an 18th-century Iroquois brave who is bewildered to find himself whisked from a quiet forest into the bedroom of a giant. Omri helps Little Bear build a longhouse and hunt for food, avidly reading about the Iroquois and listening as his new friend helps him understand that the cupboard isn't just a game it's given Omri the power over individual people and their lives. That point is driven home after Omri's friend Patrick (Rishi Bhat) guesses the cupboard's secret and animates a rootin'-tootin' cowboy named Boone (David Keith), a move that nearly results in tragedy. Director Frank Oz makes fine use of special effects and giant props to help Omri and Little Bear interact, and the acting is good overall (with Litefoot a stand-out), but Melissa Mathison's script is too heavy-handed. With a little less moralizing and a little more of the wonder and magic that made her E.T. script so powerful, The Indian in the Cupboard could have been more than just a decent family film. The movie plays well on DVD; the digitally mastered audio (English Dolby 2.0 Surround, French and Spanish stereo) is clear, and the anamorphic transfer (1.78:1) is strong without being so sharp that it exposes the seams where blue-screen shots meet film stock. A full-screen version is also available, as are English, Spanish, and French subtitles. Includes a chatty, informative commentary track from Oz, a still gallery of props and characters, filmographies for Oz, Mathison, and Keith, and trailers for other Columbia TriStar movies on DVD. Keep-case.