The Indian in the Cupboard
"The Indian in the Cupboard" (PG), based on an award winning children's book and produced in conjunction with Scholastic Productions, is a lovely film for children. Among the presents that Omri (Hal Scardino) gets for his ninth birthday are an old wooden cupboard and a miniature toy Indian. His mother (Lindsay Crouse) gives him a special key, handed down from her grandmother, that just fits the lock of the cupboard. Omri puts the toy Indian in the cupboard and locks the door. Magic happens when he opens the door.
The toy Indian comes to life as Little Bear (Litefoot), a three-inch-tall, English speaking Native American from 1761. Omri tells only his best friend Patrick (Rishi Bhat) of his amazing discovery. Against Omri's wishes, Patrick puts a little plastic cowboy into the cabinet and locks the door. When he opens it, the boy finds another little person. This time it's a cowboy from the 1870s named Boone (David Keith). The boys think that they have real live toys, but soon learn that Little Bear and Boone are not just playthings. They are people like themselves, with human feelings and conflicts. The film continues as the boys and their new companions all learn to live together in peace.
"The Indian in the Cupboard" is a film about growing up. Omri gains a sense of responsibility and compassion through his relationship with Little Bear. Omri tells his friend, "You can't use people." In a school report that he writes about Little Bear, Omri describes his feelings as being like a parent's, always worrying about the well-being of the child. And yet, Little Bear is the one who helps Omri mature. During this film, the "child" teaches the "parent" as the "parent" teaches the "child." Children will probably relate to that concept, for just as they are often the ones being taught, they yearn for moments when they might have the power to teach the parent. In one scene, Omri brings an old toy Indian to life in order to take away his bow and give it to Little Bear. Upon seeing the giant Omri, the old man dies. This leads to a discussion between Omri and Little Bear that helps Omri with his feelings of guilt and his fear of dead people. It's a touching scene which might give the children in the audience a broader understanding of their own feelings about death.
The violence in the film is mild, but it has a strong and positive impact. After a fight between Little Bear and Boone in which one of them is seriously injured, both men are ashamed and remorseful. The fact that television violence seems to cause the men to become aggressive is a comment on the film maker's view of the problem of excessive violence in today's media.
"The Indian in the Cupboard" will delight most children under 12 years-old, although their teen-age siblings probably won't relate to it. Parents will be relieved to know that they are taking their offspring to a quality film.
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