As a child of the 80's, it seemed to be a big thing to make fantasy films when I was a kid.
These films offered imaginative creatures and otherworldly situations that took the viewer to new
lands from their theater seat or couch at home. These films also preceded the usage of CGI -- or, in
most cases, the over-usage of it -- and relied exclusively on minatures and puppets to create
some of the most imaginative creatures ever to grace the silver screen. Since then, there seems to be a
lot less attention to such detail and imagination, making CGI sort of a costly "easy" way out.
Enter 2005's fantasy space adventure Zathura. As actor Jon Favreau's follow-up to his
successful directing debut Elf, Zathura returns fantasies to their glory days, and even
works in a strong pro-family message into the mix.
The film centers around two young brothers -- one 10 years old, the other 6, who are stuck in the
middle of their parents' divorce and are just trying to make the best out of having to spend portions of
their week with Mom or Dad individually. This time around, the boys Danny and Walter are just trying to
get along while in their Dad's new house, when Danny discovers an old board game in the house's creepy
basement. Once he starts playing, the two realize there's a lot more involved than just turning a key and
reading a card... their house is hurtled into space and must remain there until one of them finishes the
game successfully. What unfolds is an exciting space adventure that never leaves their house, but brings
plenty of excitement and dangerous situations to their newfound "mobile" home.
I must admit I'm mostly skeptical about today's children / family films. Growing up, the films
they made for "family" were often rated PG but were borderline PG-13 films considering there was no
rating between PG and R yet. A lot of these movies were imaginative and exciting but still a bit too
harsh for the younger audience in the content department. Some family films in recent years have
abandoned creativity for campy or corny material, making many of those films fine for kids, but painful
for anyone even slightly older. Zathura is a breath of fresh air, offering a wonderful blend of
excitement for any age, with a fine script, strong acting, and excellent special effects. What helped
make the world of Zathura work so well is Favreau's insistance on using mostly minature models and
puppeteering for a lot of the effects. This brought a tangible element to the creatures and the boys'
house that pulls the audience in in ways modern computer effects can't do. Also, despite their characters
bickering through most of the film, the boys turned in strong and believable acting performances,
and when the film eventually calls for them to unite, it's a wonderful moment.
I thought the content was kind of rough for today's family films. I was surprised to hear Danny call
Walter a "d*ck" in the first scene, even though their father soon reprimands him for it. Their 13 year
old sister utters a couple minor cuss words as well, but there luckily isn't all that much swearing in
the film (something I wish I could say about the "family" films of my day). There's also quite a bit of
violence, although none of it is lethal or gory or anything beyond the house blowing apart and the kids
being chased around. Finally, the Zorgon aliens in the film look great, but being lizard-like aliens,
they may be quite horrifying for younger viewers.
Overall, I was more than impressed with Zathura. Since I saw it on DVD and not in the
theaters, I'm sorry I missed it on the big screen. But the DVD offers some fantastic featurettes on the
making of the special effects that it makes for some great at-home entertainment. When all's said and done,
Zathura is a fine family film that will most likely stand the test of time.
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 2/22/06)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Sex/Nudity: Lisa tells her Dad that
she's hooking up with a guy later that evening. Her Dad expresses concern over the usage of the term,
hoping it doesn't mean sex, she insists it doesn't; Lisa wears very small shorts and a small tank top
Vulgarity/Language: 1 d*ck," 1 "a" word,
1 "h*ll," 5 "G-d," 2 "Oh my G-d," 1 "be-atch" (slang for "b*tch")
Violence: Lots of fantasy-related violence
including segments of the house being destroyed throughout the film, a robot chasing Walter with intentions
to kill him; Zorgon aliens chasing the characters; etc
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most
reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content
really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.