By Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Josh Hutcherson, Dax Shepard, Kristen Stewart, Tim Robbins
My Rating: 9/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 75% Certified Fresh

PLOT: Two young brothers (Hutcherson, Jonah Bobo) are drawn into an intergalactic adventure when their house is hurled through the depths of space by the magical board game they are playing.

If only all family movies were like this.

Too often, so-called family films are mealy-mouthed cream puffs that appeal to the short attention span of their target audience, leaving the parents either bored to tears or fatigued from sitting through 90 minutes of explosions.  The scripts are subpar and tend to treat kids as if they’re not all that bright.

Not Zathura.  With his third film (after the forgettable Made and the Christmas neo-classic Elf), director Jon Favreau proved that he’s the real deal.  Here’s a REAL family film with something for everybody: comedy, family drama, peril, thrills, a killer robot, fearsome aliens, and nostalgia.

The nostalgia part is especially notable.  The board game at the center of the film is constructed to look like something made in the ‘50s or ‘60s, which, to the kids in the film, is practically ancient history.  But for me, I found the film nostalgic in the way it captures the kind of fun I used to have at the movies.

Not that I don’t still have fun, mind you.  It’s just that, when I was a kid, sci-fi and fantasy films felt more real, you know?  It was so easy to imagine myself as a resident of the Goondocks, or discovering an alien in the cornfield behind my house, or building a spaceship in the backyard with my two best friends.  Zathura captures that kind of feeling like few other modern family films can.  It’s a movie that has the potential to live on in the imagination after countless other films have vacated your consciousness.

And the VISUALS.  I don’t know what kind of budget the movie had, but it looks like a $100 million movie.  The killer robot is absolutely convincing, as are the aliens.  Which brings up another great element of the film: danger.  The bad guys in this movie may occasionally look a little cartoony, but they are not to be trifled with.  That’s something a lot of kid’s movies tend to get wrong.  The filmmakers lose their nerve in creating real villains, for fear of pissing off too many parents.  In reality…dude, kids can handle it.  Give the bad guys fangs and spinning saw blades.  It just makes it that much more satisfying when the bad guys LOSE.

Zathura barely made its money back, and that’s including domestic AND worldwide grosses (okay, I looked it up).  I could be wrong, but I’ll bet too many people thought it was a Jumanji ripoff.  It IS based on a book by the same author as Jumanji (and The Polar Express, as it happens).  But it is possible, I think, to see Zathura in its own light.  It’s a fantastic movie that will please all ages.

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