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The Indian in the Cupboard

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You can understand why Melissa Mathison’s experience as screenwriter of E.T. made her a logical choice to adapt Lynne Reid Banks’ 1980 children’s book into this offbeat family movie: Both are about boys who become chummy with small, magical visitors, have some adventures with them, and then set the tiny dudes free. In this case, the kid (Hal Scardino) is a New Yorker, unnecessarily named Omri, and his playmates are plastic toy figurines that, when unlocked from a wooden cupboard by a special key, turn into real, albeit pocket-size, people.

What saves The Indian from an overdose of twinkles and keeps adults awake is the bracing mix of director Frank Oz’s matter-of-fact appreciation of the non sequiturs of enchantment (Omri doesn’t waste much time gawking in reverent awe, and the big-to-little shifts in perspective are treated as if these things happened every day); Mathison’s uncutesy and often adultly funny script; and the least Hollywood-egenic cast I’ve seen in ages, whose unwinsome faces go a long way to compensate for barely adequate acting ability. B