Our review of The Indian in the Cupboard (1995) (Blu-ray), published November 19th, 2015, is also available.
An adventure comes to life!
What would you do if you found out some antique furniture magically brought action figures to life? This is the exciting premise of director Frank Oz's childhood fantasy The Indian In The Cupboard. Based on the children's book by Lynne Reid Banks, The Indian In The Cupboard is the story of one boy's friendship with a tiny Indian warrior and the wacky adventures that ensue. Starring Hal Scardino (Searching For Bobby Fischer), Lindsey Crouse (The Insider), Litefoot (Mortal Kombat: Annihilation), and David Keith (U-571), The Indian In The Cupboard becomes a nicely done DVD by Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment!
Facts of the Case
For this ninth birthday, little Omri (Scardino) is given a weird cupboard by one of his brothers. He thinks it's cool, which immediately tells me that this kid is strange (I'm sure this is the same child who became overjoyed when he received socks and undies for Christmas). Omri takes the cupboard to his room and searches for a key that will unlock it. His friend Patrick (Rishi Bhat) gives him a plastic Indian figure for his birthday that Omri sets in the cupboard. After locking it up, a supernatural occurrence happens: the Indian comes to life.
After a short encounter with Little Bear (Litefoot) that doesn't go so well, the Indian and the boy warm up to each other. Omri helps Little Bear to build a house in his room, and Little Bear teaches Omri about the Iroquois Indians and their history. Everything is swell and dandy until Omri's friend Patrick gets in on the fun and brings to life a stereotypical cowboy action figure, Boo-Hoo Boone (the humorous David Keith). As most people know, cowboys and Indians mix about as well as oil and water. Soon afterwards Omri loses the key to the drawer. Talk about a string of bad luck.
What shall become of Little Bear and Boo-Hoo Boone? Will Omri find the key? And what kind of bonehead parents decided to name this squirt Omri?
The Indian In The Cupboard is enchanting entertainment. When the film was released in 1995, it was something I decided to pass on upon its initial run. At first glance it seemed to be typical kiddie fluff. I was wrong. The Indian In The Cupboard is a movie that both children and adults will enjoy equally. Like the best Disney movies, The Indian In The Cupboard depends upon having a delicate balance of enchantment and wonder for children while catering to adult tastes as well. It's a rare film that can pull off that feat (Dreamwork's Shrek and Disney's Atlantis: The Lost Empire are two fine examples that come to mind), and The Indian In The Cupboard is able to leap that hurdle with surprising accuracy.
The story is simple—a child and a mystical entity become friends. It's been done before in many a book and movie. The Indian In The Cupboard makes this premise fresh with an interesting twist, using an Indian for a new, unexplored friendship. The movie could have easily delved into untactful territory by stereotyping the Indian aspect. Instead it uses Omri's inquisitive nature and Little Bear's bafflement at his situation for a thoughtful, funny outcome. As played by Litefoot, Little Bear is just as curious about his new surroundings as Omri is of his new friend. Little Bear thinks Omri a God with powers of transportation (before he was whisked to life through the cupboard, he was on a journey in the woods with his nephew). Litefoot's character has much depth for a guy that's really just made out of plastic. The same could also be said for the entertaining David Keith. His over abundance of cowboy enthusiasm is funny and goofy, a combination of Jack Palance from City Slickers and Jim Carrey. Hal Scardino as Omri is passable, though his character tends to smile with such strange glee that it's as if he's just hit the inner circle of euphoria.
A movie like The Indian In The Cupboard depends on special effects to create a believable world, and the effects team at Industrial Light and Magic (the same guys behind Star Wars, Jurassic Park and numerous other films) do a wonderful job of making us believe that Little Bear is six inches high, standing on the floor of a child's bedroom. A scene where a Boo-Hoo Boone walks across Omri's bed becomes almost magical in its effect. The special effects are seamless, just like Frank Oz's direction. The pace rarely slows down enough to force the audience to look at their watches, and even though the film is not paced lightning quick, it still moves briskly with a sense of fun and adventure. It even has a good, wholesome moral for kids and adults alike: never make a toy Indian with a bow and arrow mad. I think those are definitely words of wisdom to live by.
The Indian In The Cupboard is presented in anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen, as well as a standard full frame version (located on side B). As with many Columbia release, the picture quality looks very good. There was hardly any grain or dirt spotted, and just the slightest bit of edge enhancement detected. The colors looked very bright and bold, with blacks being solid and dark. Shimmer was also non-present, and digital artifacting was kept to the bare minimum. A very good job by Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment.
Audio consists of a Dolby Digital Surround in English, French, and Spanish. The audio for The Indian In The Cupboard is not overly impressive, but it works for what the film is. This is not an effects heavy movie in the form of explosions or invading aliens, so the audio is not as aggressive as some other features you might pop into your player. The overall effect is crisp dialogue with effects and music mixed well. Also included are English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
The Indian In The Cupboard includes some "small" but interesting special features (get it? I said "small," just like the Indian in the…ah, let's just move on). First up is a commentary track by director Frank Oz. I was excited to listen to this track, and it was fairly interesting and informative. However, it's also as dry as burnt toast. Oz reminds me of a geology professor, prattling on and on and on…and on. He's very monosyllabic, and could put to sleep an over stimulated mule. This is not to say that the track is bad, just a bit…slow. It was interesting to find out that the house scenes were all shot at Sony Studios, proving how invaluable the production designers are. Oz also delves into the effects, which he lets us know were so complicated that he couldn't even explain them correctly (and I believe him). The track is a nice companion piece to the film, though I'm sure adults will be more fascinated by it than children will.
Next up are some bonus trailers for the filmsJumanji, Muppets From Space, Hook, Fly Away Home, and Madeline. All are presented in full frame except for Madeline which is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen. Some Filmographies on director Frank Oz, screenwriter Melissa Matheson (wife of Harrison Ford and screenwriter of the Spielberg hit E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial), and actor David Keith. Finally there is a small photo gallery, featuring behind the scenes shots of various actors and effects at work.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
With movies like The Indian In The Cupboard, it's hard to come up with negative comments about it. Sure, Omri tends to be a little to saccharine sweet at times, but overall the movie is delightful fun. Where else can you see Darth Vader, a dinosaur and Robocop laying the smack down in the same scene? I predict that the answer will be "nowhere."
The Indian In The Cupboard is sweet natured, funny entertainment for the whole family. The effects are absolutely astonishing, and the story is for the young at heart and those who ever had action figures when they were kids. Of course, if I were in Omri's position, the first figure I would have brought to life would have been Barbie. Then again, I guess it wouldn't be a kids movie if that were the case. Either way, The Indian In The Cupboard is worth the money with a good transfer, good audio, and decent supplemental material. Pint sized adventure brought bigger than life to your TV!
The defendant is acquitted on all accounts! The Indian In The Cupboard deserves to be free!
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Director Frank Oz
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