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Overall Rating

Awesome: 10.67%
Worth A Look36%
Average: 28%
Pretty Bad: 20%
Total Crap: 5.33%

9 reviews, 21 user ratings

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by brianorndorf

"Jon Favreau has the right touch"
5 stars

While not exactly a sequel to “Jumanji,” the board game adventure “Zathura” is even more fun. A swift, exciting family film, directed with care by Jon Favreau, “Zathura” corrects all of “Jumanji’s” mistakes, and inserts a little excitement into the genre that has long disappeared.

Two quarrelsome brothers, Walter (Josh Hutcherson) and Danny (Jonah Bobo), are forced to spend time together when their father (Tim Robbins) leaves them at home to retrieve documents from work. Finding an old tin game called “Zathura” in the basement, the boys begin to play, quickly learning that this game is nothing like they’ve encountered before. Accidentally sending their home into outer space, freezing their older sister (Kristen Stewart), facing evil aliens (a giant lizard race called the Zorgons) and robots, and meeting a hungry astronaut (Dax Shepard) along the way, Walter and Danny frantically race to finish the game before their father returns home, or at least what’s left of their home.

With “Zathura,” director Jon Favreau (“Elf”) earns his title as king of family movies. I haven’t seen a filmmaker in recent years take the care and muster the courage to give the younger set cinematic experiences that they deserve in quite the fashion Favreau has. This is amazing, considering Favreau kicked off his directorial career with the profoundly adult and hilariously obscene wannabe-mobster comedy, “Made.”

It’s complicated to describe “Zathura,” since the material is a semi-sequel-but-not-really companion piece to the 1995 blockbuster “Jumanji.” Both films were born in the mind of author Chris Van Allsburg (“The Polar Express”), and they share a devilish sense of adventure, yet the films couldn’t be further apart in scope. The delightful “Jumanji” was a daylight thrill ride, utilizing state-of-the-art special effects (looking quaint these days) to richly achieve its jungle-themed chaos. “Zathura” is much smaller in ambition, taking place almost entirely in one house. It presents a massive challenge to Favreau and his production team to come up with resourceful ways to maintain the gaming suspense and whiplash pace of a film that almost never steps outside the front door.

“Zathura” is aimed squarely at 10 year-old boys with its bevy of robots, lizard monsters, and heroic astronauts. It plays to the sensibilities and daydreams of the nose-picking crowd marvelously, and Favreau doesn’t miss a beat exploring this material for all the gee-whiz moments. This “notsequel” sticks closely to the formula that made “Jumanji” such a hit: arrange the characters and the message arc early, and then let hell break loose. Opening with a living room meteor shower, “Zathura” takes off at breakneck speed, only decelerating when actor Dax Shepard (thankfully playing it straight for once) is introduced as the disoriented astronaut. Bringing in adults is typically the wet blanket for any kid film. Favreau never clouds the effortlessness of the picture, and his strict story ethic (keeping it simple) brings out a stronger sense of adventure from the material, instead of allowing the rusty wheels of labored family film formula to grind the film to a halt.

“Elf” enjoyed resuscitating dead special effect techniques, and “Zathura” finds Favreau continuing to buck the trend by keeping the usage of CGI to a bare minimum. A tale set in the heavens, there’s a million opportunities to blind the crowds with the latest in technological advances, yet Favreau opts to cool down on the computer work, and allow time for rubber suits and wires. Which isn’t to say there’s a lack of incredibly detailed outer space shots and assorted solar system mayhem, but in the crucial conflict moments, Favreau retreats to the real and delights in physical thrills instead of candied ones.

“Zathura” also finds magic in its leads. Child actors Josh Hutcherson and Jonah Bobo create authentic chemistry as the two warring brothers forced to fight for their lives and home together. Favreau keeps the actors away from obligatory cuteness, and he pulls out some strong work. Playing incredibly physical parts, the boys rarely break character as they dodge debris and fight Zorgons, trading some good barbs along the way, courtesy of the screenplay by David Koepp and John Kamps (which also finds time for a hilarious “Thirteen” reference).

“Zathura” has pure adventure, a heart that doesn’t force itself, and visuals that will fuel the dreams of children everywhere for years to come.

I hope that Jon Favreau doesn’t find his family film years merely a necessary stepping stone to a larger directing career. If “Zathura” is any indication, he seems to be one of the only filmmakers around who understands that obnoxious and crude are not always mandatory elements in a children’s film.

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originally posted: 11/11/05 16:38:35
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User Comments

9/24/14 Anees Shaik Not as great as Jumanji but, pretty good 4 stars
9/26/09 KayKay The second of the two worst movies of 2005 (the first is Son of The Mask) 1 stars
11/25/08 sweetgrrl1972 Too scary for kids, too stupid for adults and a bit with an incestuous crush in the middle 1 stars
9/03/08 Shaun Wallner Interesting Storyline 3 stars
8/13/07 Winger Disappointing. 10 years earlier they made a better movie called Jumanji. Good graphics tho. 3 stars
3/21/07 dude pretty bad 2 stars
3/06/07 Robin Hudspeth My kids loved it. Some very funny and exciting moments. 4 stars
8/24/06 AnnieG If you liked "Jumanji" - watch it again instead of getting this film. 2 stars
6/28/06 joe koski not as good as jumanji 4 stars
2/24/06 ES cool fx but a confusing ending, I had to have it explained to me and it still made no sense 4 stars
2/17/06 tatum It's ten times better than "Jumanji," a real treat 4 stars
12/14/05 Corinne entertaining, a great sequel to the first. Would see again without a doubt 4 stars
12/04/05 Haley F***in' DUH, WiseMan. It's by the same guy. And it's great stuff. :D 5 stars
11/30/05 Robert Quinn very fun film, if you liked jumanji, check it out! 4 stars
11/22/05 WiseMan JUMANJI RIP OFF!!!! 2 cups of salt 5 Cups of chicken and 6 cups of dog shit = Zathura 1 stars
11/21/05 Jeff Anderson A lot better than JUMANJI & a rare family film that's actually a lot of fun. I WAS HOOKED! 5 stars
11/18/05 Robert Braunfeld Great family movie to lose yourself in adventure 4 stars
11/17/05 PAG Not bad. Better than Jumanji. Not as good as Elf. 3 stars
11/13/05 Quigley the movie is as funny as it is visually stunning and clever. not jumanji, but very good 4 stars
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  11-Nov-2005 (PG)
  DVD: 14-Feb-2006

  03-Feb-2006 (PG)


Directed by
  Jon Favreau

Written by
  David Koepp
  John Kamps

  Tim Robbins
  Josh Hutcherson
  Jonah Bobo
  Dax Shepard
  Kristen Stewart
  Frank Oz

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