It is rare when a movie transports me back to my childhood memories, reminding me of the time when playing games use to be fun. Adventures were limited by imagination, and Summer days were transformed into magic. "Zathura", directed by Jon Favreau, based on a book by Chris Van Allsburg, came knocking on my door and invited me to come out and play.
Author/Artist, Van Allsburg has a wonderful gift. His vision is firmly planted in a realm of childhood experiences. More illustration than words, his books evoke worlds of wonder. The last movie based on one of his stories was, "The Polar Express" directed by Zemeckis. It is making it's re appearance as a seasonal movie. It is well worth seeing, and if you can find it in IMAX 3-D, it is phenomenal.
Van Allsburg's book, "Jumanji" was filmed less successfully back in 1995. It failed because it could not find the right tone. Zathura nails it. Both books share the same plot device; Children find a board game that transports them into the game. Cards are drawn that effect their fate and their surroundings. The only way to escape the perils of the game, is to play it through. Jumanji was a jungle game and Zathura is a space adventure.
What elevates this film is the believable interactions of the two young players. Jonah Bobo plays the six year old Danny, who is always getting in the way of his older brother, ten year old Walter, played by Josh Hutcherson. Danny is looking for friendship and attention from his brother, who in turn considers Danny to be a pest and a nuisance, competing for the attention of their recently divorced father, played by Tim Robbins.
The boys have an older sister Lisa, played by Kristen Stewart. She is living in a world of her own, between her preening and dating, the boys hardly see her. Although she does join the game late in the film, for most of the film she is cryogenically indisposed.
The Game itself is a marvel of brightly painted tin and wind up gears. To play is simple, wind it up, push a button and watch a number come up, this determines the number of spaces your playing piece will take. Two rockets chase each other around the twisting path. After your piece moves, a card pops up. The card describes the action to follow. Danny draws the first card that says, "Meteor Shower, Take Evasive Action" and the game is on.
The movie is visually stunning. The discovery by the children, that their house has been transported to a location in outer space, hovering above a ring of meteors that encircle a large planet, is jaw dropping. The effects are real enough to imply danger, but logic is not a function of children's games, so it does not matter that oxygen, gravity and warmth still exist in the house, even as it is blasted apart by various forces.
Along the way the boys encounter a young astronaut played by Dax Shepard, who helps them out of perilous situations like battling engulfing black holes, and evading Fierce carnivorous lizards called Zorgons. Along the way the Astronaut teaches them lessons in brotherly cooperation, and even beguiles Lisa into sharing the adventure.
While funny and exciting, it is never preachy, Zathura is intelligently written and directed, this is a great family film. I give it **** out of five stars.