Everyone's a winner, baby, that's the truth.
18 January 2006
As far as movies based on Chris Van Alsburg books go, "Zathura: A Space Adventure" is superior to both "Jumanji" and "The Polar Express." (Which means it'll probably make less money than either.) Jon Favreau may not rank with Robert Zemeckis, but he certainly kicks Joe Johnston's butt.

The plot may well be "Jumanji In Space," but whereas the previous movie was little more than an extended look at the various ways to destroy a house (and those overly cartoonish monkeys didn't help), this one has more of a plot to go with the shenanigans - the relationship between our young protagonists (played without going for easy sentiment by Josh Hutcherson and Jonah Bobo) has as much screen time as the work from Sony Pictures Imageworks and Stan Winston, and rightly so; it's also great to see a family movie about divorced parents where it's accepted as a fact of life and no attempts to reconcile mum and dad are made - mum never even appears here.

Screenwriters David Koepp and John Kamps also deserve credit for adapting a (reportedly) slim book in a manner that never seems bloated, the way "The Polar Express" did; few characters (apart from the two boys and their father, the only other people in the movie are their sister (Kristen Stewart) and an astronaut they pick up after one turn (Dax Shepard)... who, it must be said, is part of one of the movie's few questionable plot points. Since this isn't a "This comment may contain spoilers" review I can't really elaborate, but you'll probably understand what I mean if you see the movie.

"Zathura: A Space Adventure" doesn't stretch the limits of film-making, and I could do without the Paul Simon song at the end, but it - like the under-appreciated "Sky High" - shows it is possible to make effects-filled comedies that genuinely do work for the whole family, with some amusingly edgy dialogue ("We never should've rented 'Thirteen'!") and a built-in spin off premise for the cartoon that would surely have resulted had this been a bigger hit at the North American box office (two kids caught in a game and having to finish it to get back home). Ironically, it would probably not have been as good as the movie... the way the "Jumanji" cartoon is far superior to the source.
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