Picks and Pans Review: The Indian in the Cupboard

updated 07/31/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/31/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Hal Scardino, Litefoot, Rishi Bhat, Lindsay Crouse, Richard Jenkins

Any substantial children's movie touches on serious subjects. This one not only drags two fifth-grade boys through crises of responsibility, racism and mortality but it also leads them to consider the existential problems of gods—and, indeed, it causes them to wonder whether or not they are gods.

Scardino and Bhat are the boys, who live in Manhattan. Scardino discovers that if he locks a plastic toy in his toy cabinet, it comes alive with a personal history. He starts with a plastic Indian (played by Litefoot, a Cherokee rapper, in his first acting role). Conflict comes when Bhat brings to life a toy cowboy (David Keith) who turns out to be a frontier racist who bickers and battles with Litefoot. The ex-toys even argue about the boys' godliness.

Scardino and Bhat, meanwhile, debate the ethics of transforming toys while protecting their creations from a rat and hiding the toy people from their friends and from Scardino's parents, Crouse and Jenkins.

Screenwriter Melissa Mathison, adapting Lynne Reid Banks's book, and director Frank Oz, the former Muppeteer, try to maintain a playful tone, but that's difficult with so many apparently life-and-death situations. Indian plays like a fairly clever, thought-provoking Twilight Zone episode stretched beyond its outer limits. (PG)

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