Omri receives numerous presents for his birthday, the apparently least interesting of which are a battered cupboard and a plastic Indian. However, when Omri locks his Indian in the cupboard, he comes to life in the shape of Little Bear. Add a plastic cowboy to the mix and you have a lesson about friendship and reponsibility.
Former Muppet man Frank Oz sets himself the difficult task of coming up with a modern children's classic. As The Secret Garden and Black Beauty have already proved, in a market dominated by Disney animation, this is not an easy thing to achieve, and, despite a heavy emphasis on low key hi-tech effects, this sadly misses the mark.
For his ninth birthday, gawky Omri (Scardino) receives a number of gifts, the least interesting of which appears to be a battered up old cupboard from his brother, and a three-inch high plastic Indian from his best friend Patrick (Rishi Bhat). But when Omri locks his Indian in the cupboard amazing things begin to happen, as he wakes up the next morning to find the Indian has come to life in the form of the slightly confused Little Bear (Native American rapper Litefoot). Adding a plastic cowboy to the mix, Omri now finds he has the ultimate history lesson accessory, while, inevitably, learning the value of friendship, responsibility and magic cupboard proprietorship.
Adapted from Lynne Reid Banks' novel - itself originally a bedtime story told to her son Omri - Oz's movie benefits greatly from the casting of the young Scardino who brings a distinct freshness to the role with his unconventional looks that diverts a good deal of the film's saccharine potential. David Keith makes a spirited shrunken cowboy and Steve Coogan does a fun turn as a one-time plastic World War I medic.
Where the film disappoints most is in the visuals which should, of course, be the movie's strong point. Mixing a host of outsize props and sets with advanced blue screen work means that our three-inch heroes convincingly interact with their normal size counterparts. But it also results in half the screen being out of focus at any one time, something that eventually becomes an overwhelming irritant. Oz's movie is well intentioned if a touch too heavy on the PC side of things, but ultimately proves just too uninspired.
Oz's movie is well intentioned if a touch too heavy on the PC side of things, but ultimately proves just too uninspired.