Film review: Little Indian, Big City

Published: Tuesday, March 26 1996 12:00 a.m. MST

Why the folks at Disney thought "Little Indian, Big City" was an appropriate picture to pick up and try to sell to the American family-movie market is beyond me.

This French film, which has been dubbed rather clumsily by American cartoon voice-actors, was apparently thought to be a nice, sweet cross between " `Crocodile' Dundee" and "The Gods Must Be Crazy."

Instead, however, it's racist, sexist and surprisingly violent as it tells the story of a young South American jungle boy who finds himself in Paris and applies primitive survival techniques to city life — such as shooting people with poison darts — with supposedly amusing results.

But as Molly used to tell Fibber, " 'Tain't funny, McGee."

Especially when it's aimed, as this one is, at children.

In fact, the entire enterprise is so thuddingly unfunny that one wonders what the Disney folk saw in it to begin with, or why they didn't simply go for an Americanized remake — hopefully a better one.

The film was co-written and co-produced as a vanity vehicle by French star Thierry Lhermitte (whose sole American movie was a failed 1984 melodrama with Karen Allen called "Until September"). He plays Stephan, a self-centered, workaholic Parisian businessman who has been estranged from his wife Patricia (Miou Miou) for some 13 years. It seems Patricia ran away to the jungles of Venezuela to get back to basics when she couldn't get Stephan's attention.

Now Stephan wants to marry a sexy, New Age bubblehead named Charlotte (Arielle Dombasle), but he needs Patricia's signature on the divorce papers — so he reluctantly travels deep into the Amazon Rain Forest, and finds that he has a 12-year-old son. The boy, called Mimi-Siku (Ludwig Briand) has been raised as a native without any knowledge of modern, "civilized" society.

Naturally, when Stephan returns to Paris, he unhappily has the boy in tow. And just as naturally, the lad innocently causes all kinds of trouble, while Dad slowly works his way toward seeing the error of his ways.

The comedy falls flat in every scene, played way over the top in the most boisterous and obnoxious manner, ranging from Stephen's slapstick dancing as he tries to retrieve his son's pet tarantula from the boss's office, to Mimi-Siku climbing the Eiffel Tower like a monkey, to his killing pigeons with his bow and arrow.

But the film is also quite disturbing in subplots involving Stephan's partner Richard (Patrick Timsit), who arranges a business transaction with Russian mobsters, resulting in sadistic violence that transcends what parents will expect in a children's movie.

Even worse is an element of child abuse, as alcoholic Richard slaps his son around. There is also a sexual subtext to young Mimi-Siku's relationship with a local girl.

This film was a big hit in France, but here it will quickly flop. And deservedly so.

As for the folks at Disney . . . what where they thinking?

"Little Indian, Big City" is rated PG for violence, profanity, vulgarity, drugs and a nude painting.

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