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Review (6/10)
(By Rich Cline)

Based on Chris Van Allsburg's follow-up to Jumanji, this film takes a similar premise and rockets into space with it, creating a thoroughly enjoyable adventure romp in the process.

Walt and Danny (Hutcherson and Bobo) are typically bickering brothers, age 9 and 6, left on their own when Dad (Robbins) goes to work and their teen sister (Stewart) demands to be left alone. Danny finds the game Zathura under the stairs, and once he starts playing the entire house is sent into outer space, where a robot emerges to trash the house, lizard aliens threaten to eat them and a drifting astronaut (Shepard) arrives to lend a helping hand.

Of course, Walt and Danny are going to learn Important Life Lessons along the way, but thankfully the screenwriters maintain a level of intelligence that never moralises. In fact, the script has a constant stream of bracing wit and realistic interaction that avoids the ickiness most of these kinds of films wallow in.

Hutcherson (The Polar Express) and Bobo (Around the Bend) get the rivalry exactly right. These are pretty demanding roles for young actors, and they dive in completely, which is exactly what the film needs to make it all work as well as it does. This whole movie rests on their shoulders; Shepard makes a great heroic diversion, while Stewart and Robbins only really have a few scenes.

Favreau keeps things moving fairly frenetically, clearly having fun with the general mayhem. It's every kid's dream: to completely and utterly trash their house. The digital effects are fairly low-profile in favour of real objects and creatures that crash into each other, blow apart and so on.

The result is fairly noisy and non-stop, but it's also great fun. Especially as filmmakers load on references to everything from Lost in Space to Back to the Future, by way of E.T. and of course Star Wars. These are all quite subtly done, but make the point that there's a grand tradition of these kinds of adventures. And this film deserves to be in their midst.


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