Genre: Family / Adventure
Release Date: In theatres 11/11/05, available on DVD 2/14/06
Stars: Josh Hutcherson, Jonah Bobo, Dax Shepard, Kristen Stewart, Tim Robbins, Peter Billingsley
Director: Jon Favreau
MPAA Rating: PG
Reason for Rating: Fantasy action and peril
Runtime: 1 hour 53 minutes
Zathura is a space adventure that begins where many adventures do, sibling rivalry. Walter (Josh Hutcherson) and younger brother Danny (Jonah Bobo) are learning to deal with the recent divorce of their parents. Neither boy being very happy and fighting for attention from their father (Tim Robbins), Danny is constantly in his brother’s shadow. Playing a cruel brotherly joke on Danny, Walter shoves him down a dumb waiter into the basement where Danny finds an antiquated board game; yup, you guessed it…Zathura. Danny starts the game, which immediately invites a meteor shower upon their house and the boys quickly, maybe a bit too quickly, come to understand that the game is now controlling their lives. Left in charge of the boys is their uninterested and boy absorbed sister, Lisa (Kristen Stewart), who is quickly frozen into a cryogenic sleep leaving the boys to fend for themselves.
On one particular role they rescue a stranded astronaut (Dax Shepard) who promises to help them get through the game. The rivalry between the brothers only escalates as the game moves forward. It is soon revealed that the astronaut used to be a player, who is now searching for his brother within the game. Space ships, lasers, alien alligators, huge explosions, and the occasional character arc, this movie ends with a sparkling black ball that just might be the meaning of life.
This is an adaptation of Chris Van Allsburg’s children’s book, who also wrote Jumanji. Zathura definitely doesn’t have the pop Jumanji did, but I think that mostly has to do with the absence of Robin Williams. Normally, I wouldn’t draw too many similarities, but the plot of the two stories are essential identical and the similarities are thrown in your face from scene one. Stepping in for Williams is Dax Shepard who looks about to explode in this unfamiliarly subdued role, however he is believable and commands a smooth delivery throughout. The biggest test in a children’s movie for me is what children think and my kids can watch this 2-3 times a day without blinking. So, Zathura is anything but a black hole. The effects are fantastic and Favreau weaves the story together like the master he is.
The under current sibling rivalry drives the story and the divorced family scenario is a nice touch, considering today’s percentage of divorced families, a good lesson is taught here. I would have liked to see more of Tim Robbins, but his part is sadly limited. If you need a break from animated baby-sitters then you could do much worse than Zathura. Full of action and safe from expletives, this comedic space odyssey is a solid addition to your children’s DVD collection.
Hit or No Hit: Coach Mike gives Zathura a stand up double. Not the heavy hitter like its predecessor Jumanji, but hits win ball games and Zathura is a hit with the kids.