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Indian in the Cupboard

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Indian in the Cupboard

Starring: Hal Scardino, Litefoot
Director: Frank Oz
Rated: PG
RunTime: 97 Minutes
Release Date: July 1995
Genres: Family, Kids, Sci-Fi/Fantasy

*Also starring: Rishi Bhat, Lindsay Crouse, Richard Jenkins, David Keith, Steve Coogan, Sakina Jaffrey, Vincent Kartheiser

Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

Remember the fantasies you had when you were a child? Didn't you always wonder what those toys in your room would say if they could come alive? Well, Hollywood seized on this theme long ago, but their vision until now has usually been a nightmare with killer dolls and evil abounding out of every drawer. Great, make the kid scared to death of his own room. Turn his sanctuary into a house of horrors in his subconscious.

This time, in THE INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD, an imaginative director (Frank Oz) has found a magical and delightful series of children's storybooks by Lynne Reid Banks, and he delivers a tale full of joy as well as some pathos. Oz (what a great last name for a director of children's stories) is a director with an usual background. He has directed Muppet movies (THE MUPPETS TAKE MANHATTAN) and some of my favorite Steve Martin comedies (LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, and HOUSESITTER). Moreover, as an actor, he was the voice of Yoda in the last two Star Wars movies.

Before I go too far, I do have some surprising news to report. Regardless of what you might assume, there are no special effects in THE INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD! Trust me. I have seen this movie, and the little people in the movie are real. You see the show and try to convince me otherwise. Nothing that realistic could be done with special effects. It is the real McCoy; I am certain.

THE INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD tells the story of a nine year old boy named Omri. Omri is played by Hal Scardino who is a nerdy looking kid with crooked teeth - not your usual glamorous child actor. He gets an old locked cupboard for his birthday. His mother is played by Lindsay Crouse who was so wonderful in HOUSE OF GAMES, but who does nothing with her minor part in this movie. She finds him a key given to her by her grandmother. The key opens the cupboard, and later Omri discovers that whatever plastic item he puts in will turn to life.

The body of the story revolves around two toys that the cupboard transforms into flesh and blood. One is an Iroquois Indian man, Little Bear, acted by Litefoot who I am told makes his living doing rap songs. Little Bear is brave, courageous, and wise. He is the star of the show, and Litefoot delivers a great performance. Little Bear's nemesis and sometimes sidekick is an alcoholic Texas cowboy, Boone - nicknamed Boo Hoo Boone for his crying. Boone (David Keith) is foul mouthed, funny, smelly, dumb, and at first, very drunk. The interaction between the two of them is more interesting that even that of them and Omri or of Omri and his buddy played by Rishi Bhat - another type of Indian.

The easiest way to frame the story in your mind is that it is the ET for this generation albeit the film is not of ET's caliber. On the other hand, it is easily the best family film thus far this year. So many movies treat kids as dumb or rebellious. Here Omri actually likes his parents and his school, and Omri is quite bright. Watch how cleverly he solves problems. Too bad the movie didn't stop at certain points and say, okay adults, if you are so smart, how would you get Little Bear out of this fix?

Unlike another similar movie, HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS, this is not a comedy albeit we all laughed many times. This is a serious show about a magical moment in a child's life. You get to live it vicariously and savor some golden moments. The feeling of the innocence and challenges of your own childhood well up in you.

The book and hence this movie takes some wonderful and unexpected twists. The only problem I had was with the script by Melissa Mathison. Why did she have to have a dozen hells and damns? Without them, the script would have worked just as well. If your nine year old told you he was feeling "damn good" wouldn't you attempt at least to correct him or has society given up the fight against profanity? I know plenty of cuss words. Would you have liked this review better if I stuck some in every now and then for the sole purpose of spicing it up? What if this was a review to be read mainly by young kids? Would you feel like correcting me then? Finally, why do we have to be so PC these days where the cowboys must be lazy, stupid, and shiftless and the Indians noble and brave. Imagine the uproar if the character traits had been reversed.

Copyright 1995 Steve Rhodes

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