Zathura will undoubtedly be compared to 1995’s Jumanji, and for good reason, at least topically. Both stories concern a board game with magical powers and an undeniable gift for dropping unsuspecting youths in a land of very good special effects. But what Zathura has, and what ultimately makes it a better film, is a very positive message about the importance of brotherhood.
Danny (Bobo) and Walter (Hutcherson) are feuding brothers. Their parents are divorced, and their dad (Robbins) neglects them during their visits in favor of his work. The boys’ sister, Lisa (Stewart), is no better; sleeping away every day and not acting the least bit concerned about them.
After being lowered into their fathers’ dank basement via a dumbwaiter as an evil practical joke by Walter, Danny discovers a dusty old box with “Zathura” written on it. Upon closer inspection, it is discovered that “Zathura” is a game. No sooner than the first crank of the game’s creaky mechanism do the boys find themselves in outer space; their house literally ripped from the ground and free-floating in the vast atmosphere. The game has only begun.
Screenwriters David Koepp and John Kamps have done a marvelous job of adapting Chris Van Allsburg’s book of the same name. This film is loaded with cleverness and ingenuity, and there is even some black humor injected. Koepp and Kamps know that at heart this is a kid’s film, but parents will be hard-pressed to lose interest. Some of the images and themes may even come across as scary to some younger children, but this is a true adventure film, and the true films of the genre have elements of foreboding danger.
Allsburg has always incorporated memorable images in his books (just look at The Polar Express if you don’t believe me), and here director Jon Favreau and the special effects team have done a tremendous job of creating this vast alternate universe. Favreau, as some may recall, saved 2003’s Elf from certain crappiness by incorporating his own quirky style and vision. With Zathura he proves that it was no fluke, and I foresee him as a big-time up-and-coming director.
The acting is serviceable, but then again the material doesn’t call for high-caliber performances. Jonah Bobo and Josh Hutcherson spend much of the film fighting verbally, but by the film’s conclusion they are truly convincing brothers. Dax Shepard also makes a nice impact as a wandering astronaut. Kristen Stewart (the young girl from Panic Room) spends much of the film in an idle position, but nevertheless gets laughs by the time it’s all said and done.
Zathura is a highly enjoyable adventure film that is just what the doctor ordered after the disappointing Chicken Little. The film is a feast for the eyes and has an important and meaningful life lesson to tell. Jon Favreau has struck again with another entertaining and unique effort, and he’s thrust himself to forefront as far as directors for this genre go. I eagerly await his next project.
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Length: 113 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for fantasy action and peril, and some language.
Theatrical Release: November 11, 2005
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Written by: David Koepp & John Kamps. Based upon the novel by Chris Van Allsburg.
Cast: Jonah Bobo, Josh Hutcherson, Dax Shepard, Kristen Stewart, Tim Robbins, Frank Oz (voice)