Zathura

Cast:
Jonah Bobo as Danny
Josh Hutcherson as Walter
Dax Shepard as Astronaut
Kristen Stewart as Lisa
Tim Robbins as Dad
Frank Oz as Robot (voice)
John Alexander as Robot
Derek Mears as Lead Zorgon
Douglas Tait as Zorgon
Joe Bucaro III as Zorgon
Jeff Wolfe as Zorgon

Summary:
Zathura is more than just “Jumanji In Space”. It features cool effects, impressive aliens, a great cast, and a lot of humor that both adults and kids will enjoy. However, the scary aliens and some language will make parents want to consider if it’s appropriate for younger viewers.

Story:
Zathura is based on the children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg, author of Jumanji and The Polar Express.

Danny and Walter are two brothers from a broken home. Danny is a feisty 6-year-old with an incredible imagination and no sports skills. Walter is 11, annoyed by Danny, interested in sports, and growing out of his childish ways. The two boys don’t get along with each other at all and they constantly compete for their father’s attention.

Things change when Danny discovers an old space adventure game in the basement called Zathura. When he begins to play it, Danny, Walter, their teenage sister Lisa, and the entire house are transported into space. To make matters worse, the game starts bombarding them with meteors, killer robots, and alien attackers. The only way to survive the attacks and get home is to complete the game. But can the boys learn to work together in order to beat Zathura?

Zathura is rated PG for fantasy action and peril, and some language.

What Worked:
Zathura was a heck of a lot better than I was expecting it to be. I was honestly expecting “Jumanji In Space”, but it was more than that. Granted, the premises between the two stories are very similar, but the humor, cool special effects, and twists and turns quickly make you forget any comparisons to Jumanji.

As an adult, the thing I was most impressed with was the special effects. There was nothing revolutionary about them, but the design of the robots and the rockets was pretty cool. I thought the robot looked great. As it tore through the house trying to get the kids, it was spectacular and intimidating. The Zorgon aliens were also very cool. They were a mixture of practical effects and CG, but they were better than most of the aliens shown in the Star Wars prequels. They looked like the love child between the Jurassic Park raptors and the 90′s Godzilla. The robots and the lizards are guaranteed to scare the crap out of kids and impress adults. The action and special effects really convinced me that Jon Favreau is the right guy to handle the upcoming John Carter of Mars film.

The other thing that impressed me about Zathura was the humor. There were a lot of great one-liners in the film and the banter between the kids was perfect. The occasional shouting match between the boys was both amusing and realistic. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect you can attribute many of the witty comments to director Jon Favreau. Much of the dialogue had the same feel as his performance as Foggy Nelson in Daredevil. One comment that really cracked me up was when Danny boards the Zorgon ship and yells back to the others something like, “I’m on the Zorgon ship and they’re big and ugly and they’ve got GOATS WITH FOUR EYES!!!!” You’ll just have to see it to appreciate it.

The cast of this film was perfect. The two boys were both funny and realistic in their performances. Jonah Bobo is cute and spunky as Danny while Josh Hutcherson captures the spirit of the “older brother” as Walter. I was also impressed with Kristen Stewart as Lisa. She was previously in Panic Room, Cold Creek Manor, and Catch That Kid. I think she’s going to be an actress to watch more as she gets older. Finally, Dax Shepard is good as the Astronaut. His exasperation with the kids and willingness to dive into the game with them makes him an endearing character. Also look for cameos by Tim Robbins as the kids’ dad and Frank Oz as the voice of the Robot.

What Didn’t Work:
Despite the PG rating, parents should think carefully before taking younger kids to this film. I took my 6 year old (who is not scared by much) and she hid her eyes a couple of times, but overall she really liked it. However, her 4-year-old brother probably would have been scared to death if I had taken him. Just be warned that the movie is very intense and the aliens and robots will probably scare the pee out of younger kids.

Parents should also be warned that there are some lines you wouldn’t want your toddler repeating to grandma over the holidays. Danny says at one point, “You’re such a d**k!” to his older brother. In another scene Walter tells to robot, “Get me a juice box, beeyotch!” There are some other profanities said by other characters. Admittedly they aren’t anything you wouldn’t hear on prime time television, but they’re not necessarily things most parents want their kids imitating. I was kind of surprised by it. (Now I know how my parents felt when they heard Elliot call his brother “penis breath” in E.T..)

The Bottom Line:
Zathura is a great sci-fi film and a movie that both kids and adults can enjoy. Parents will want to think carefully before taking younger kids to this movie.

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