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Overall Rating

Awesome: 10.53%
Worth A Look36.84%
Average: 27.63%
Pretty Bad: 19.74%
Total Crap: 5.26%

9 reviews, 22 user ratings

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by William Goss

"Starry-Eyed Surprise"
4 stars

'Jumanji' in space. These are inevitably the first three words on anyone’s mind and off their tongue when they hear about the plot of 'Zathura.' And guess what? There is no getting around it. That’s exactly what it is. But it just so happens that 'Zathura' is more humorous, more thrilling, and more satisfying than its predecessor in practically every way. Did I mention it’s better too?

Danny (Jonah Bobo), who is “six-and-three-quarters,” just wants to play with his ten-year-old brother, Walter (Josh Hutcherson), instead of being constantly shunned by him. When Dad (Tim Robbins) leaves them in the care of their older sister (Kristen Stewart), a fight results in Danny finding the titular game stashed in the basement. Danny’s first move results in a living-room meteor shower and the house’s relocation to outer space. This could mean one of two things: either there are too many household chemicals around, or the game has come to life and they must finish it to get back home. Once more, siblings tackle the mystical board game, but instead of the jungle trouble of Jumanji, they face intergalactic obstacles, from their sister’s stint in cryogenic sleep to a defective robot to a run-in with Zorgons, lizard-like carnivores with a penchant for pyromania. Perhaps the change in venue is what helps up the ante this time around. Instead of scenes of convenient community chaos, Zathura is restricted solely to the household, never too small to hide in, but never big enough to entirely eliminate vulnerability from whatever the game throws their way. No matter what, Milton Bradley better prepare for legal action.

As with Jumanji a decade ago and The Polar Express last year, Zathura is yet another film adaptation of a work by acclaimed children’s author Chris Van Allsburg, and it is arguably the best one yet. As partially predictable as it is, mainly the sibling arc, the story is always on the move, never bogged down by boredom or heavy-handed lessons. The lack of sentimental sap keeps the film going at a decent clip, sometimes taking a breather, but never taking a break. Even more refreshing is the slight subversive streak that tends to come with the humor. Director Jon Favreau took Christmas clichés and managed to craft an unexpectedly appealing charmer out of 2003’s Elf, and he keeps up the streak by infusing Zathura with a genuine sense of adventure and peril that other family films lack.

Screenwriters David Koepp and John Kamps not only avoid labored songs, cheap innuendo, and disposable pop-culture references (save for one great remark about Thirteen), but they give the dynamic between family members a much more sincere texture. One aspect of particular note is the language that manages to slip into a PG-rated film. Within five minutes, Danny calls his brother a ‘dick’ (which Dad quickly discourages), and truth be told, any movie with the line “Get me a juice box, beeyotch!” earns a special place in my heart. For the most part, the dialogue is what will make this film above tolerable for parents accompanying their kids to a weekend matinee.

Jonah Bobo and Josh Hutcherson come across as convincing brothers, even though I still cannot figure out why Bobo’s raspy whine isn’t nearly as ear-shredding than it seems. Tim Robbins makes the most of his brief appearance, and Kristen Stewart has come farther since her role in 2002’s Panic Room. (It’s such a shame she’s only fifteen.) In fact, the potent performances of Stewart and Dax Shepard, who portrays a stranded astronaut who arrives to help the boys, help give a certain third-act revelation more impact, both comedic and dramatic.

While the acting and script are strong, a film like Zathura wouldn’t be much without special effects, and they are plenty to go around. The frequent computer-assisted shots are quite seamless, and occasionally, Favreau opts for practical effects concerning stuff like the Zorgons with terrific aplomb. The Zorgon spaceship, the malfunctioning robot, and the design of the game itself convey a decidedly retro look. Forget Chicken Little in 3-D; this movie is practically begging for the effect.

After three viewings, this movie is straddling my personal like it/love it zone, where other films that have won me over reside, such as the recent 'Dawn of the Dead' remake. Why? Because this film is as good as it possibly could have been, plain and simple. By no means do I expect everyone else’s opinion to mirror my enthusiasm, but I stand by how much sheer enjoyment I got out of it. While it may not be the year’s biggest surprise, 'Zathura' is certainly the most pleasant one.

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originally posted: 11/12/05 18:08:57
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User Comments

3/17/20 dupadoit hi there 4 stars
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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