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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
The Indian In The Cupboard (1995)

"They're people! Real people! You can't use people!"
- Omri (Hal Scardino)

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: July 02, 2001

Stars: Hal Scardino, Litefoot, Lindsay Crouse, Richard Jenkins
Other Stars: Rishi Bhat, David Keith
Director: Frank Oz

Manufacturer: DVSS
MPAA Rating: PG for (mild language, and brief video images of violence and sexy dancing)
Run Time: 01h:35m:20s
Release Date: July 03, 2001
UPC: 043396116429
Genre: family


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- B+A-A- B

DVD Review

I remember reading the novel Indian In The Cupboard by Lynn Reid Banks some time ago, and I also remember it leaving me with a rather strange impression. It had a very serious and, at times, dark theme to it that I thought was very interesting for a book marketed towards children. When the 1995 film was about to be released, I was worried that the general effect of the book might be lost in a movie that was likely to be overly obsessed with packing kids in the theater and delivering special effects. Thankfully, director Frank Oz and screenwriter Melissa Mathison managed to create an effective, magnificent interpretation of the story here in The Indian In The Cupboard.

Hal Scardino plays Omri, a young boy who receives an old cupboard as a present for his birthday. His best friend, Patrick (Rishi Bhat), gives him a little Indian figurine that he swipes from a school diorama. Omri manages to find a key that will lock and open the cupboard, and when he does he makes the strange discovery that when he puts a toy into the cupboard and re-opens it, the toy becomes real. In the case of the little Indian figure, he winds up with a small, but very real, Iroquois warrior named Little Bear. Omri doesn't really grasp what kind of power is at work, but he soon discovers that he has the ability to take real people out of their normal lives and turn them into little people, so long as he has the appropriate plastic figurine. Omri decides to 'keep" Little Bear and offer him a place to stay. Although overwhelmed by the situation, Little Bear eventually builds himself a small home and lives with Omri in his room.

They exchange stories and moments of wisdom, understanding each other a little better as time passes. Unfortunately, Omri makes the mistake of letting Patrick in on the secret, and immediately, Patrick wants to "make" a person. Against Omri's wishes, Patrick brings to life a rugged and clumsy cowboy named Boone (David Keith). This opens a whole new set of problems, and unfortunately, it sets in motion a series of lessons that teach Omri that he should not abuse these mystical powers with which he has been endowed. There are definitely many morals behind the story, some subtle, some not-so-subtle, and that's one of the impressive things about The Indian In The Cupboard. There's something for everyone to take away from the film, but it's not preachy or vastly dumbed-down. Although definitely made for young children, any age can appreciate the fantasy and wonder behind the core story. Many elements of the book were simplified (or removed), but I actually think this was the best course of action to take.

What really makes the story work is the superb special effects that seamlessly blend the small Little Bear with the rest of the environment. A complex mixture of huge set pieces, bluescreen work, and forced perspective show how high-tech, digital effects can actually be used in far more subtle ways than just to create monsters or blow things up. Were it not for these stellar production values, I don't think this would have worked. Audiences would have been spending too much time ignoring the flaws in the effects to focus on the highly emotional story. In addition to the production, child actor Hal Scardino deserves mountains of praise for his believable and charming performance, especially since he not only carries most of the film, but also had to do most of it while acting with pieces of tape or marking wire. Native American singer and activist, Litefoot (a.k.a. Paul Davis) also does an admiral job as Little Bear, creating an accurate portrayal of a genuine Iroquois of the period.

Indian In The Cupboard doesn't let itself get snowed under with unnecessary action sequences or anything else to try and broaden it's appeal. The story stays fairly mature and focused, which means it might not be for all kids, especially ones who are weaned on the fast pace of most commercial children's filmmaking. It does, however, deliver a substantial amount of drama and thoughtfulness for the buck.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 OneTwo
Aspect Ratio1:78:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Ratioyesno
Anamorphicyesno


Image Transfer Review: Indian In The Cupboard is a two sided disc with widescreen and pan-and-scan versions on each side, respectively. The widescreen, anamorphic transfer is very pleasing and has no major problems. Most of the film uses a very rich form of cinematography that tend to mimic sunlight and a warm, boy's room atmosphere, and it all comes across with no complaints. Unlike most Columbia DVDs, this one seems to lack any significant signs of edge-enhancement. Some scenes have quite a bit of grain in them, most of them being process shots using special effects, but they don't take any major toll on the overall impression. The pan-and-scan version is of slightly less quality. Aside from the cropping and loss of picture composition, the master looks simply zoomed in, rather than specifically engineered to be full-screen. As a result, it's more grainy and suffers from a few obvious compression artifacts. This is actually a good full-screen/widescreen comparison disc as many scenes suffer from obvious problems when cropped. The best example is a scene in which Omri is talking to both Boone and Little Bear on each side of him (about 2 minutes into chapter 19), and all of them are in the frame. In the P&S version, this scene is actually vertically squeezed, quite visibly, so you are able to see all three of them at once. Although I would recommend the widescreen version on principle alone anyway, the quality of that version is also much better.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, French, Spanishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Surround audio is primarily front-loaded; in fact I can only remember one specific surround channel sound effect. This is not a bad thing, though, as stereo effects and precise directionality are used to create a very accurate and immersive mix. Whenever the occasion calls for something a little more powerful, the mix delivers with some incredibly powerful loud jolts and thundering noises. Dialogue is impressive, and never gets obscured or goes harsh. The musical score is very "theater-like" and is pretty much the only thing that uses the surround channels for some sound-field boost. The Spanish and French tracks are basically of the same quality in terms of dynamics.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Fly Away Home, Hook, Jumanji, Madeline, Muppets From Space
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Frank Oz
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo Gallery
Extras Review: Most viewers will probably be most interested in the commentary by director Frank Oz; at least it was the feature that excited me most since I have long admired the man (especially growing up on Sesame Street). He gives a fairly technical, but interesting, run-down of the making of the picture. He paces himself well, and discusses each element as it comes up, rather than letting himself run away with details. He tries to get very specific about the effects, but I think the commentary would have gone over a bit better had someone else been there with him who was responsible for the computer work. Regardless, it's entertaining and he seems genuinely interested in talking about the film, right through to the end.
A small photo gallery has some behind-the-scenes photos and pictures of many of the actors without finished effects, giving some perspective on the production. There's a few great photos of the making of the giant sneaker used for one scene. There is also a photo of Frank Oz with Lynn Reid Banks, who apparently was a regular on-set advisor.
The disc finishes off with some standard stuff including a thin filmography section and trailers for other Columbia Tri Star children's releases. A single sheet insert carries the chapter listings.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

I was actually looking forward to The Indian In The Cupboard hitting DVD, and I'm glad it did later rather than sooner, now that higher quality transfer are becoming the norm. Although it lacks some minor features I had hoped for, it's still a satisfying edition of one my top picks for children's fantasy films.

 


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