"The Indian in the Cupboard"
Opened: July 14, 1995 | Rated: G
In "The Indian in the Cupboard" the characters come to life in a way that is refreshingly vivid for a children's movies. And the toys come to life, too.
The story, about a boy who discovers locking toy figurines in an old cabinet turns them into tiny real people, stays quite simple but each character has a deliberate and appealing depth.
The boy, Omri (Hal Scardino), is completely true to the essence of a kid. When he first sees his three-inch plastic Indian come to life, he isn't surprized or scared. The look on his face says one thing -- "This is cool!"
The thought that went into this boy's character extends even to the way he walks when taking live toys to school hidden in a fanny pack -- gently and very slowly so as not to jostle his cargo.
When he first comes to life, the Indian, Little Bear (rap performer Litefoot), appropriately thinks that Omri is some kind of giant spirit that has whisked him away from his own world. But when he later realizes this giant really is a child, he becomes angry at him for playing with magic he doesn't understand.
Adding to the depth of Little Bear is his dedication to his Iroquois culture. This is not an "injun" from a 1950s Western.
The peripheral characters, like Omri's somewhat irresponsible best friend and a toy cowboy also brought to life in the cupboard, are equally well developed. In only one scene the audience begins to see the cowboy and Indian work past their cliche images of each other.
The story is is surprisingly character driven even with the flawless visual effects and clever camera work. In the end though, there is a lack of emotional connection between the characters and the audience, in spite of this focus on interaction. When Omri finally turns these people back into toys the sense of loss doesn't make it off the screen and into the theater.
Even with this shortcoming and a few other nagging questions (Why doesn't Omri try other toys, like a race car, in the cupboard?), "The Indian in the Cupboard" is a film that parents will be happy to have seen with their kids.
This review appeared in the Daily Republic, Fairfield, CA.
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