Take a turn and enjoy the ride of “Zathura”
If you can’t see a science fiction adventure through the eyes of a 10-year-old boy, either because you never were one or never were the parent of one, don’t bother with “Zathura,” the latest film inspired by celebrated author Chris Van Allsburg.
For the rest of us, “Zathura” is a throwback blast of an action film– perhaps not evoking the same magic as “The Polar Express” but decidedly better than the similarly-themed “Jumanji,” two other films based on books penned by Van Allsburg.
Director Jon Favreau (“Elf”) again shows his affection for retro-inspired stories and images by not letting CGI technology get in the way of his fanciful vision. That’s not to say the effects– which include a meteor shower, a misprogrammed mechanical robot, meat-eating lizard aliens, and some stunning views of intergalactic space– are not impressive.
But Zathura feels more like a modern day Twilight Zone, crafted from the inside out and incorporating 50s-era comic book themes, while eschewing the potty humor and one-dimensional video game destruction mentality of so many films aimed at kids.
Walter and younger brother Danny (played unaffectedly by Josh Hutcherson and Jonah Bobo) are like most siblings, competitive, prone to bickering, yet mutually dependent when it comes to recreational activity.
When Walter traps Danny in a dumb-waiter and he ends up rummaging around in a creepy basement, Danny finds a curiously tinny board game. It comes complete with a key that moves rocket ships toward a finish line, and with each turn dispenses instructional cards. As in “Jumanji,” once the game begins, the boys are transported into the game’s stellar reality and their home becomes an epicenter of manic activity.
Where “Zathura” succeeds is in the excitement of what each new card will bring and how the interplay of the boys helps them figure out how to elude disaster rather than remain helpless pawns. The film takes a nice turn when a helpful astronaut (Dax Shepard) who’s been trapped in the game arrives to help the boys.
On the one hand, the boys incessant arguing can get a little tiring, but more often than not the plentiful action sequences couple with an intelligent story and don’t allow the needling to dominate. Tim Robbins has some nice moments early on as a divorced father who, despite a busy schedule, spends quality time with his boys. It’s a role that in the hands of lesser writers–especially on TV– would likely have depicted the father as abusive, apathetic, nerdy or just plain ignorant.
Parents should be informed that although the film is rated PG, it does contain the “d” and “a” words and some religious expletives that only a few years ago were only found in PG-13 movies. Now that Harry Potter is growing up and into PG-13 territory, it’s nice to see that decent PG films still exist. “Zathura” along with “Sky High” and “Millions” prove this genre can still satisfy both imaginative young adults and their protective parents.
Rated PG (Fantasy action and peril and mild profanity)