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Jonah Bobo in 'Zathura'

Movie Info


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 Mears


Jon Favreau


Chris Van Allsburg (Jumangi, The Polar Express)


Sony Pictures Releasing


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By Elliott Ryan
Guest Writer 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.

Josh Hutcherson, Kristen Stewart, and Jonah Bobo in 'Zathura'Along 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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