Indian Fails to Deliver Goods

Charm Is Lost in 'Action-Figures Come to Life' Story


Indian in the Cupboard

directed byFrank Oz

starring Hal Scardino

Indian in the Cupboard, a joint Paramount and Columbia Pictures release, is this summer's attempt to challenge the superhero-dominated children's entertainment of the summer with some old-fashioned, whole-some fun. Unfortunately, it just doesn't deliver what it promises.

Omri, played by Hal Scardino, is a young boy who brings his plastic action-figures to life by placing them inside a magic cupboard in his bedroom. He locks the door with a magic key, and when he opens the doors again, the figures come alive.

Omri's first friend to come to life is an Indian brave named Little Bear, who stands about four inches tall. Although Little Bear scolds Omri for playing with "magic he doesn't understand," the two quickly become friends. Little Bear teaches Omri about life in a Sioux Indian tribe.

Omri's friend Patrick also gets in on the action, bringing to life his own figure, a cowboy from the Wild West named Boone.

Little Bear and Boone get into the predictable "cowboys `n Indians" fight, with Omri and Patrick mediating until the two mini-men put aside their differences and become friends.

This story is from a popular grammar school book of the same name. In the book, the friendship between Omri and Little Bear is heartwarming and the messages about lessons people can learn from one another are invaluable.

Unfortunately for this film version, much of that charm is lost in the corny way Scardino delivers his lines.

The supporting characters are all flat and stereotypical, with Omri's older brothers being nothing more than run-of-the-mill long-haired teenage boys.

Omri's parents remain smiling and clueless about his magical adventures, even though Omri tears around the house, clomping up and down the stairs at all hours of the day and night while stealing tools and food to give to his Indian action-figure.

From a more technical perspective, Director Frank Oz would have done better to hold off on all the close-ups of Omri's face in this movie. While one of the best parts of the film was the realism of the special effects during interactions between the four-foot Omri and the four-inch Boone and Little Bear, Oz relied too heavily on filling the screen with Omri's face in order to emphasize the size difference between the boy and his friends.

Scardino's freckles and Letterman-style gap between his front teeth are cute from far away. When they take up the entire screen for the majority of the film, however, you begin to wish the director would cut to a Scope commercial and remind kids to brush their teeth.

Indian in the Cupboard succeeds by moving kids' entertainment away from kick-boxing superheroes. It's the kind of movie a parent would love to take their kids to, because they wouldn't be in danger of getting karate-chopped from the back seat during the car-ride home, or of going deaf from their kids screaming Disney tunes for the next six months. It was a great film idea. Too bad it didn't pan out.