Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jonah Bobo, Josh Hutcherson, Dax Shepard, Kristen Stewart, Tim Robbins, Frank Oz (voice)
Written by: David Koepp, John Kamps, based on the book by Chris Van Allsburg
Directed by: Jon Favreau
MPAA Rating: PG for fantasy action and peril, and some language
Running Time: 101
Date: 11/06/2005

Zathura (2005)

3 Stars (out of 4)

They Got Game

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The two previous movie adaptations of Chris Van Allsburg's books (Jumanji, The Polar Express) have been overwhelmed by special effects, but with help from star screenwriter David Koepp (Carlito's Way, Spider-Man) and director Jon Favreau (Elf), the third time's the charm.

Zathura dispenses with cackling villains and predictable plots in exchange for a series of inventive, suspenseful episodes. Two battling brothers, younger Danny (Jonah Bobo) and older Walter (Josh Hutcherson), left alone in the house for an afternoon begin playing an old game Danny finds under the stairwell. It transports them to the outer reaches of space, though air, water and electricity are not an issue. Each time they take a turn, something new happens -- or perhaps nothing happens -- but they must keep playing to get back home. Aliens attack, a stranded astronaut (Dax Shepard) lends a hand, and the house is systematically picked apart (it's enough to give homeowner/parents hives).

Favreau is one of those rare directors who remembers his own childhood and can actually re-create what kids might want to see in a film; he also builds a remarkably accurate portrait of two brothers. Despite a slightly overstuffed message, Zathura is a fun ride with enough smarts and thrills for audiences of all ages. Tim Robbins gives a highly effective, though brief, turn as the boys' harried father, and Kristen Stewart plays the hilariously typical teenage sister.

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