The Indian in the Cupboard (1995) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • Omri, a young boy growing up in Brooklyn, receives an odd variety of presents for his birthday: a wooden cabinet from his older brother, a set of antique keys from his mother and a tiny plastic model of an Indian from his best friend Patrick.

  • Omri (Hal Scardino), a young boy growing up in Brooklyn, receives an odd variety of presents for his birthday: a wooden cabinet from his older brother, a set of antique keys from his mother Jane (Linsday Crouse), and a tiny plastic model of an Indian from his best friend Patrick (Rishi Bhat). Putting them all together, Omri locks the Indian inside the cabinet, only to be awoken by a strange sound in the middle of the night. Omri opens the cabinet to discover that the tiny Indian has come to life; it seems that he's called Little Bear (Litefoot), and he claims to have learned English from settlers in 1761. Omri hides this remarkable discovery from his mother but shares it with Patrick; as an experiment, Patrick locks a toy cowboy into the cupboard, and soon Little Bear has a companion, Boone (David Keith), though predictably, the cowboy and the Indian don't get along well at first. Omri comes to the realizations that his living and breathing playthings are also people with lives of their own, and he begins to wonder how much control he should really have over their lives.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • On his ninth birthday, Omri receives an old cupboard from his brother Gillon (Vincent Kartheiser) and a little Native American "Indian" figure made of plastic from his best friend Patrick (Rishi Bhat). That night, Omri goes through his mom's box of old keys and finds that a gold-colored key with a red ribbon tied to it (given to his mother by her grandmother) actually fits the keyhole of his cupboard. He then looks for an object to lock in the cupboard and settles for the Indian figurine.

    The next morning, he hears a small tapping noise coming from the cupboard. Omri opens the cupboard and finds a small living person hiding in the corner. It is actually the Indian figure who has magically come to life in human form. Frightened by his large acquaintance, the Indian pulls out a dagger and points it at Omri. Shortly afterward, Omri's father comes in the room to help Omri get ready for school, forcing Omri to lock the cupboard and keep the Indian a secret.

    When Omri arrives home from school, he is upset to discover that the Indian has returned to its original toy form. When he goes to bed, Omri once more hears the tapping noise he heard that morning. He opens the cupboard to find the Indian alive once more. The Indian is again initially frightened of Omri but warms up to him, thinking Omri is a great spirit in a child's form, as the two begin talking, slowly forming a friendship. The Indian reveals himself as an English-speaking, 18th-century Iroquois Indian named Little Bear (Litefoot) who was fighting in the French and Indian War on the side of the British. During Little Bear's stay with Omri, Omri learns a lot about the Iroquois. Omri also learns that Little Bear is a widower. Then Omri takes Little Bear outside, but Little Bear gets hurt by a pigeon, forcing Omri to bring to life his brother's First World War British Army medic named Tommy Atkins (Steve Coogan) to treat Little Bear's wound.

    After Omri gives Little Bear tools, sticks and some paper, Little Bear crafts a longhouse and eagerly talks of hunting and sharing stories with Omri over a fire, as he does with his own people. Omri decides to surprise Little Bear with another Indian figure (resembling a Chieftain), saying Little Bear can have the Chieftain's longbow. Little Bear watches in excitement as Omri brings the figure to life. However, before Omri can send the Chieftain back, he suffers a heart attack out of fear. Omri is frightened as he has never seen someone die. Little Bear is confused as to why a spirit would be frightened at the sight of death, coming to the realization that Omri really is a child. Little Bear tells Omri to send the man back, but Omri is reluctant, worried that no one will find his body if he was alone when Omri summoned him. Little Bear yells at Omri, saying that he, Little Bear, had been guiding his nephew through the woods to teach him how to be a man when Omri had taken him away and that Omri shouldn't tamper with magic he doesn't even understand. This upsets Omri. Omri locks the dead Chieftain in the cupboard, making him plastic once more, before leaving the angry Little Bear to answer his dad calling him downstairs.

    Omri's dad is upset when, after asking Omri where his saw blades went, Omri tells him that he buried them and can't remember where (Omri lied to protect Little Bear's existence). Omri's dad forgives him, saying he can just buy another set. Due to a combination of guilt and wanting to prove his maturity, Omri volunteers to go buy the new set of blades on his own. While Omri goes to the store, Little Bear is preparing the Chieftain's body, presumably still in its plastic form, for burial. As Omri leaves the hardware store, another slightly older kid knocks him into a wall and roughs him up, stealing the change Omri had left. Visibly shaken from the incident, Omri suddenly runs into Patrick, who has a plastic cowboy on a horse to go with the Indian. Patrick's mother is nearby. She notices that Omri is upset, so she and Patrick take Omri home.

    Eventually, Omri reveals his secret to Patrick. However, after they find Little Bear, who had been hiding from Omri's older brothers, Little Bear begs Omri to send him home. Ignoring Omri's protests, Patrick brings to life a cowboy from 1879 called "Boohoo" Boone (David Keith). Boone and Little Bear are initially hostile toward one another, but are forced to behave themselves when Omri reluctantly accepts Patrick's request to bring them to school. Their cover is nearly blown when Patrick almost shows Boone and Little Bear (now friends) to some classmates, and he and Omri began arguing in the hallway.

    When Patrick childishly asserts that he could reveal the men and Omri would be powerless to stop him, Omri drives home the point that the time travelers are not living toys that exist for their amusement, but people just like them. As the truth sinks in for Patrick, one of their teachers tries to mediate, and when he realizes that an object in Patrick's fanny pack is the subject of contention, orders him to open it and show him. Boone and Little Bear pretend to be plastic toys thanks to Omri's hints and laying woodenly in Patrick's hand, successfully fool the teacher.

    Back home, Omri shows a female Indian figure to Little Bear, which he intends to bring to life to give Little Bear a new wife. Just as he is about to lock the figure in the cupboard, he and Patrick (who is spending the night) are puzzled to find the cupboard is missing. Omri's brother confesses he hid the cupboard in the downstairs crawlspace as means of getting back at Omri for hiding the ball his brother keeps his pet rat in. When Omri retrieves the cupboard, he discovers that the key is gone.

    That night, Omri and Patrick, along with Little Bear and Boone, watch a program on TV that shows a relentless slaughter of Indians by cowboys. Boone is enthusiastic at the sight of his "boys" killing the helpless Indians, while Little Bear watches in horror at the sight of his "people" being massacred. Upon hearing Boone fire his revolver into the air with delight, Little Bear becomes confused and fires an arrow into Boone's chest. Making matters worse, Omri's mother warns that Omri's brother's pet rat has escaped and is hidden somewhere under the wooden floors.

    Later that night, Omri and Patrick find the key jammed between two floor boards and accidentally push it down out of sight while trying to retrieve it. Little Bear goes under the floor and manages to return the key to Omri just before he is nearly killed by the pet rat. With the key back, Omri brings Tommy Atkins back to life, so he can treat Boone's wounds. While the still unconscious cowboy is being examined, Omri realizes it is time to return Little Bear and Boone to their respective time periods where they belong. Shortly after Omri sends Tommy Atkins back to his own time, Boone awakens and forgives Little Bear. Later that night, as Patrick sleeps, Omri goes to bring the female Indian to life, but Little Bear realizes what Omri is doing, and stops him. Omri says he doesn't want Little Bear to be alone when he goes back, but Little Bear says that the Indian woman probably has people of her own, maybe even her own family, and forcing her to be with Little Bear would sadden her and in turn, sadden him. Omri agrees not to bring her to life.

    The next morning, Omri and Patrick say their goodbyes to their little friends before locking them back in the cupboard and sending them home. Just before saying goodbye, Omri has a vision of a life-sized Little Bear telling him that when he returns to his own time, he will take Omri on as his nephew. The film ends with Omri at school reading a journal entry where he assures everyone that although he will never know where or how Little Bear may be, he does not worry about him anymore.

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