PG for fantasy action and
peril, and some language
November 11, 2005
Kids/Family, Science Fiction/Fantasy
Josh Hutcherson, Jonah
Bobo, Dax Shepard, Kristen Stewart, Tim Robbins, Derek
BASED ON THE BOOK BY:
Allsburg (Jumangi, The Polar Express)
Sony Pictures Releasing
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By Elliott Ryan
In 1995, Robin Williams starred in a movie called Jumanji.
It was based on a book by Chris Van Allsburg about a family that
found and played an old board game that unleashes herds of dangerous
jungle animals into suburbia. The movie was deemed a bit too scary
for young children and received mediocre reviews.
Now, a decade later, director Jon Favreau (Elf) presents
a movie based on a similar children’s book by the same author
(Allsburg also wrote The Polar Express which was made
into a film last year). Switch the jungle and wild animals for
outer space and aliens. But this movie is a lot better. It also
has a strong positive message about sibling rivalry.
In Zathura, two brothers (played by child actors Josh
Hutcherson and Jonah Bobo) compete for attention from their father
(played by Tim Robbins). Their father though, as it seems is the
case with most movie fathers, is too busy working to give them
the non-stop attention they desire. While he works, he leaves
the boys in the care of their sister who doesn’t care what
the boys do as long as it doesn’t interrupt her sleep.
The boys find an old board game (just like the kids in Jumanji
did). The game transports the boys, their sister, and their home
into outer space. Each time one of the boys takes a turn on the
game, a card pops out of the game board telling them of their
fate in the game (sort of like Chance cards in Monopoly). For
instance, the first card says, “Meteor shower. Take evasive
action.” As soon as the boys read it, meteors actually do
start coming in through the ceiling. (I generally don’t
like to give away spoilers. But in my defense, that scene is in
all the previews for the movie, so it is not like that was a big
secret.) As they read the game rules, the boys figure out that
in order to return to earth, they must complete the game. But
it seems like nearly every turn results in more danger.
the way, the brothers learn a lesson though. The brothers deeply
resent each other at the beginning of the film. As the film goes
along, we come to understand their reasons for the rivalry. But
by the time the credits roll at the end of the film, the boys
learn how much they need each other. They learn to respect each
other’s strengths and help each other out through their
weaknesses. Without being overly preachy, this film actually teaches
a good lesson about family unity.
This is being promoted as a family film. For the most part, it
is exactly that. However, the two brothers do occasionally say
things that do not really belong in a family film. For instance,
the very first scene of the movie ends with the younger brother
calling the older brother a slang term for a part of the male
anatomy. The children at the screening I saw of this film all
burst out in laughter. But some of the parents audibly gasped
when the word was said. I am not sure why Hollywood thinks things
like that are necessary in PG family films. Also, some scenes
may be a little too intense for younger children. That is much
less of a concern here than it was in Jumanji, which
was considered by many critics to be too scary to view with the
whole family. But with the exception of a few words and a couple
of intense scenes of aliens or robots attacking the kids, the
film admirably meets the criteria of a family film.
This film is better than Jumanji even though the story
is similar. It is in general, a flimsy plot with very little story.
It is just a journey from one action scene to another as the children
take their turns in a board game. But this film does a much better
job with that setup than its predecessor did a decade ago. It
has a family that we root for as they learn to work together.
And there are many genuinely funny moments that will have the
family laughing. Which makes the cheap laughs at children talking
with potty-mouths even more inexcusable and unnecessary.
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