Zathura: A Space Adventure (2005)
Release Date: November 11th, 2005 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Jon Favreau Actors: Jonah Bobo, Josh Hutcherson, Dax Shepard, Kristen Stewart, Tim Robbins, Frank Oz
year-old Walter (Josh Hutcherson) plays catch with his father (Tim Robbins), but grows impatient when his 6 year-old brother Danny (Jonah Bobo) wants a turn. It’s only fair, but the littler boy’s age prevents him from having the hand-eye coordination necessary to excel. At least Danny has a fertile imagination. But both siblings feel swindled out of their father’s affections, continually finding reasons to complain and fight about the unjustness of their living situation and the custody arrangement between their divorced parents.
When Danny accidentally spills juice all over his dad’s latest graphic design workup, teenaged sister Lisa (Kristen Stewart) is put in charge so that he can run to the office – though she can’t be bothered with getting out of bed before 3:00 in the afternoon. In no time at all, the brothers are arguing once again, leading to Danny getting locked in the basement, where he discovers a dusty old board game resting between the slats of the stairs. “Zathura: A Space Adventure” sounds like fun, but Walter is reluctant to tinker with a toy for babies. That is, until Danny plucks a card from the board, prompting evasive action against an incoming meteor shower.
Although this is obviously a derivation on “Jumanji” (written by the same author, Chris Van Allsburg), the notions of separated parents, brotherly bonding and loyalty, assigning blame, sibling supervision, and dubiety from authority figures generate new circumstances that play out as the children attempt to finish the game. Since the setting has shifted from jungle-based predicaments to space-bound misadventures, there are plenty of different problems with which to contend (as well as a number of positive cards), making this updated iteration an enjoyable supplement to the existing universe, rather than a repetitious remake (though, in its most basic form, it’s just “Jumanji” in space). Plus, their house is correspondingly roomy, contributing to extensive destruction and places to hide.
“You cheat at board games.” From the start, the child actors are exceptionally convincing. They bicker and squabble as if real brothers, possess idiosyncrasies as if improvising their dialogue, and behave genuinely in their anger and fear (and Kristen Stewart isn’t bad, either). As with the previous film, the children could have easily ruined the suspension of disbelief for this routinely absurd premise (though they don’t automatically assume that subsequent cards will result in episodes of danger, and Danny whines a bit too much). There is a Robin Williams equivalent, though his origins description is far too similar and he’s much less comedic; this adult makes an appearance in the form of Dax Shepard, a stranded astronaut (stuck in the game for 15 years), who not only requires rescuing by the boys, but also provides a bit of guidance (and a voice of reason and an impartial mediator) during future moves.
In all of these fast-paced sequences of peril, the humor is abundant, which aids in the amusement of somewhat disconnected or random situations that would otherwise be entirely nonsensical (such as when they specifically question how long their oxygen supply will last, yet they’re regularly exposed to outer space itself [doors and walls are ripped away], and when the astronaut flies around the house without his helmet). During frightening moments, the laughs are especially essential, augmenting the thrills with contrasting jokiness. When the evil aliens arrive, the picture grows a touch darker (nicely blending computer-animated backgrounds with live-action puppeteering by Stan Winston’s group), but there’s still some unexpected gags to even things out for an engaging, family-friendly, fantasy adventure.
– Mike Massie