Zathura is about two kids who play a board game that comes to life, and the grown-up they meet once they are trapped inside the game. If this already sounds a wee bit familiar, it could be because you are thinking of Jumanji, the movie featuring Robin Williams, Kirsten Dunst, and a whole lot of special effects that came out ten years ago. The similarity between the two films, story-wise, is no coincidence, since both are based on illustrated children's books by Chris Van Allsburg (who also wrote The Polar Express). In Jumanji, the board game threw the main characters into a jungle; in Zathura, the board game throws the main characters into outer space. But the films are guided by different sensibilities.
Jumanji, directed by former Lucasfilm bigwig Joe Johnston at a time when CGI was the hot new thing, emphasized the special effects. Zathura, however, is directed by Jon Favreau, an actor who was best known for the R-rated buddy movies he made with Vince Vaughn—including Swingers, which he wrote, and Made, which he also directed—before he took a sharp turn toward the family market two years ago with the surprisingly popular Will Ferrell holiday movie Elf. So, while Zathura still has plenty of special effects, you can sense that Favreau would rather keep the story grounded in the relationship between six-year-old Danny (Jonah Bobo) and ten-year-old Walter (Josh Hutcherson), two brothers who get on each other's nerves until they discover they literally need each other to survive.
Favreau, working from a script by David Koepp (Spider-Man, Jurassic Park) and John Kamps (The Borrowers) that significantly expands Van Allsburg's original story, starts things on a very ordinary note—so ordinary it's kind of dull, ...1
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