ZATHURA (Jon Favreau, 2005)
Two squabbling brothers must band together to return home from outer space in ZATHURA. Younger brother Danny (Jonah Bobo) finds an old board game in the basement and tries to get his older sibling Walter (Josh Hutcherson) to play. Danny starts the game and soon finds whatever happens in it also happens to them. Their house travels to Saturn’s rings and beyond, and the boys face off with a defective robot and reptilian invaders.
ZATHURA is unrelated to JUMANJI, another board game film with a funny name, but both have been adapted from books by Chris Van Allsburg. The vintage sci-fi design of the outer space setting and creatures is aesthetically pleasing, not to mention tangible in ways that CGI effects often aren’t. Director Jon Favreau has made a movie for children with children, meaning that the brothers behave according to their ages rather than as wise elders. The boys’ incessant bickering feels especially true to life, although it wears on the nerves after awhile. The screenplay has an ear for how kids talk and throws in some funny, knowing references, such as when the older sister complains to her father about him being overprotective after they watched the adolescent hysteria movie THIRTEEN.
ZATHURA’S story doesn’t advance until each boy takes his turn in the game. It’s a pretty flimsy device that has you shifting in your seat thinking, “Just go already,” mirroring the frustration you might have with a slow-playing younger brother. Ultimately, though, ZATHURA is a fun adventure with a spoonful of medicine regarding familial cooperation.