Thursday, January 17, 2008

'Zathura' Reviews




Please keep in mind that reviews can contain spoilers, lots of spoilers, and that negative reviews can be interesting to read.
If you have more reviews, feel free to email me. :)


REVIEWS

•• CinemaBlend, Joshua Tyler: Rating 3,5/5
Giddy with imagination and flush with fresh, inviting visuals Zathura flies into theaters. It’s the new movie from Elf director Jon Favreau, who continues exploring the world of family entertainment with his take on evil, magic board games. His movie is based on the book “Zathura”, written by children’s author Chris Van Allsburg. Van Allsburg also wrote the story on which the 1995 movie Jumanji was based, which explains the similarities, though Zathura is not a Jumanji sequel.

The film begins with one of the most creative title sequences of the year. Favreau’s camera zooms in, around, and through the movie’s titular game, racing across the mechanical board like a rocket, and making the metal and cardboard device itself look as though it has come wonderfully alive. Silly and simple though that short bit of credits may be, it’ll make you feel like a kid again.

Favreau’s film avoids the crass, cheap jokes that sometimes plague lesser family flicks in an attempt to create something truly timeless. His cast drives the movie, with great performances from child actors Jonah Bobo as the youngest and Josh Hutcherson as his 10-year-old brother Walter. Kristen Stewart players their oldest sibling Lisa, and though her role is relatively minor by comparison, the 15-year-old actress makes a big impression. Expect great things from her in the future. What works best is the dynamic between this family of characters. They fight, they bicker, their big sister is disinterested. The chemistry between them has an authentic feel, even if sometimes their reaction to what’s going on around them doesn’t. More on that in a moment.

The big surprise here is Dax Shepard, as an astronaut brought into their house by the game. His career so far has been littered with crass comedic roles in which he goes for obvious jokes and hangs out with less-than-talented people like Ashton Kutcher. In Zathura, he turns out to be the real spirit of the movie, a gentle guide, mentor, and wise-ass friend to the kids.

Any problems with the film come not from the actors or Favreau’s direction, but from the script which never quite lives up to the energy being brought to it. In between the big, frantic effects moments, some of the story falls flat, and the legitimately funny jokes are too few and far between. Worse is the unrealistic way characters (even kids) react to what’s happening around them. It’s that standard movie reaction, the one where nobody’s really stops to question what’s going on, and as a result the pic does a lousy job of explaining it to the audience. That leaves Zathura at times confusing, particularly the ending where everything is resolved with a sparkling glow that still, after hours of mental re-creation, I can’t figure out.

Luckily for screenwriters David Koepp and John Kamps, the kids watching this movie aren’t likely to stop and question any of that. They’ll be too entranced by the movie’s stunning visuals to trip in all the unexplained nonsense. Favreau has gone out of his way to avoid using CGI for most of his effects, and the result is absolutely eye-popping. The sets and characters have a gorgeous kind of realistic weight that you just can’t get with CGI, a deep authenticity to them that’s warm and exciting. It’s a beautiful film, a return to movie-making craftsmanship that’s gone by the wayside in a wave of cubicle nerds carelessly rendering spaceships on their Apple computers. Favreau’s next movie is a massive sci-fi epic based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels “John Carter of Mars”; let’s hope he’ll continue finding ways to use dazzling, computer-free effects.

With the holidays approaching and Harry Potter carrying a PG-13, Zathura could well end up being the big family movie of the fall season. It’s a fun movie, but one that misses greatness by rote of a flawed, confusing narrative. Parents my leave befuddled by the sometimes careless plot, but Zathura will fire up their kids’ imaginations. It’ll never be considered the family classic that Jon Favreau’s Elf already is, but Zathura’s an entertaining way to spend a movie-going weekend.


•• TotalFilm: Smarter than the average rainy-day kids' stuff. Close Encounters for 10-year-olds. Can we have Jon Favreau back now, please?


•• Combustible Celluloid, Jeffrey M. Anderson: Zathura dispenses with cackling villains and predictable plots in exchange for a series of inventive, suspenseful episodes. Two battling brothers, younger Danny (Jonah Bobo) and older Walter (Josh Hutcherson), left alone in the house for an afternoon begin playing an old game Danny finds under the stairwell. It transports them to the outer reaches of space, though air, water and electricity are not an issue. Each time they take a turn, something new happens -- or perhaps nothing happens -- but they must keep playing to get back home. Aliens attack, a stranded astronaut (Dax Shepard) lends a hand, and the house is systematically picked apart (it's enough to give homeowner/parents hives).

Favreau is one of those rare directors who remembers his own childhood and can actually re-create what kids might want to see in a film; he also builds a remarkably accurate portrait of two brothers. Despite a slightly overstuffed message, Zathura is a fun ride with enough smarts and thrills for audiences of all ages. Tim Robbins gives a highly effective, though brief, turn as the boys' harried father, and Kristen Stewart plays the hilariously typical teenage sister.


•• ComingSoon, Scott Chitwood: Rating 8/10
What Worked: Zathura was a heck of a lot better than I was expecting it to be. I was honestly expecting "Jumanji In Space", but it was more than that. Granted, the premises between the two stories are very similar, but the humor, cool special effects, and twists and turns quickly make you forget any comparisons to Jumanji.

As an adult, the thing I was most impressed with was the special effects. There was nothing revolutionary about them, but the design of the robots and the rockets was pretty cool. I thought the robot looked great. As it tore through the house trying to get the kids, it was spectacular and intimidating. The Zorgon aliens were also very cool. They were a mixture of practical effects and CG, but they were better than most of the aliens shown in the Star Wars prequels. They looked like the love child between the Jurassic Park raptors and the 90's Godzilla. The robots and the lizards are guaranteed to scare the crap out of kids and impress adults. The action and special effects really convinced me that Jon Favreau is the right guy to handle the upcoming John Carter of Mars film.

The other thing that impressed me about Zathura was the humor. There were a lot of great one-liners in the film and the banter between the kids was perfect. The occasional shouting match between the boys was both amusing and realistic. I don't know for sure, but I suspect you can attribute many of the witty comments to director Jon Favreau. Much of the dialogue had the same feel as his performance as Foggy Nelson in Daredevil. One comment that really cracked me up was when Danny boards the Zorgon ship and yells back to the others something like, "I'm on the Zorgon ship and they're big and ugly and they've got GOATS WITH FOUR EYES!!!!" You'll just have to see it to appreciate it.

The cast of this film was perfect. The two boys were both funny and realistic in their performances. Jonah Bobo is cute and spunky as Danny while Josh Hutcherson captures the spirit of the "older brother" as Walter. I was also impressed with Kristen Stewart as Lisa. She was previously in Panic Room, Cold Creek Manor, and Catch That Kid. I think she's going to be an actress to watch more as she gets older. Finally, Dax Shepard is good as the Astronaut. His exasperation with the kids and willingness to dive into the game with them makes him an endearing character. Also look for cameos by Tim Robbins as the kids' dad and Frank Oz as the voice of the Robot.

What Didn't Work: Despite the PG rating, parents should think carefully before taking younger kids to this film. I took my 6 year old (who is not scared by much) and she hid her eyes a couple of times, but overall she really liked it. However, her 4-year-old brother probably would have been scared to death if I had taken him. Just be warned that the movie is very intense and the aliens and robots will probably scare the pee out of younger kids.

Parents should also be warned that there are some lines you wouldn't want your toddler repeating to grandma over the holidays. Danny says at one point, "You're such a d**k!" to his older brother. In another scene Walter tells to robot, "Get me a juice box, beeyotch!" There are some other profanities said by other characters. Admittedly they aren't anything you wouldn't hear on prime time television, but they're not necessarily things most parents want their kids imitating. I was kind of surprised by it. (Now I know how my parents felt when they heard Elliot call his brother "penis breath" in E.T..)

The Bottom Line: Zathura is a great sci-fi film and a movie that both kids and adults can enjoy. Parents will want to think carefully before taking younger kids to this movie.


•• SMH, Richard Jinman: Despite its peculiar name and the fact it bears a strong resemblance to Jumanji - another film inspired by a book by children's author Van Allsburg - it's hard not to like Zathura.

For a children's film made in Hollywood it manages to be tough, scary and tender in all the right places. Many of the special effects will have you gripping the sides of your seat and the relationship between the film's two main characters, a pair of bickering young brothers, is surprisingly convincing.

Director Favreau - still best known to many movie fans as the writer and star of the 1996 indie hit Swingers - says he took his inspiration from Spielberg classics such as E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Zathura isn't in their class, but it's a tightly focused story, which is well written and well acted by its young cast.

The plot is simple enough. Six-year-old Danny (Jonah Bobo) and his 10-year-old brother Walter (Josh Hutcherson) are constantly at war after their parents' separation. When their father (Tim Robbins) leaves them in the charge of their teenage sister for an afternoon, trouble is inevitable. The fact that it comes in the shape of an old board game that Danny discovers in the basement - a wonderful anachronism in the age of the Xbox - is all part of the film's retro pleasure.

Danny and Walter begin to play the game, which is called Zathura. Thrust into an alternative universe, they are pelted by meteors and battle a giant robot and a race of flesh-eating aliens called Zorgons. The result is wild escapism of the most enjoyable kind; a simple idea well executed.


•• ViewLondon, Matthew Turner: Rating 3/5
Enjoyable, smartly written adventure flick with superb performances and impressive special effects.

The Good - That Zathura works as well as it does is entirely down to the performances of Hutcherson and Bobo. Their relationship is central to the film, so you’re constantly willing them to put aside their differences and work together to survive.

The effects are extremely good. Rather than opt for CGI overload, director Favreau and effects guru Stan Winston have elected to use good old-fashioned solid objects, which are entirely suited to the 1950s design of the game. The action sequences are also genuinely scary – the robot chasing the boys and smashing up the house is the stuff of nightmares, especially if you’re six.

The Bad - There are two main problems – firstly, Kristen Stewart (as their older sister) is given too little to do. Secondly, there’s a climactic plot development that isn’t set up properly and doesn’t actually make sense within the film. But these are minor quibbles when the film is this much fun.

Worth seeing? There’s a good chance that Zathura’s target audience will think it’s the best film ever made. For everyone else, it’s an enjoyable adventure movie that, for once, steers clear of excessive sentimentality. Recommended.


•• BBC, Neil Smith: Rating 4/5
Though some of the intergalactic mayhem may be too intense for very young viewers, this exciting frolic is perfect family fodder with a pleasingly retro feel and a sly wit that ensures grown-ups will be as entertained as their children. ("I knew we shouldn't have rented Thirteen!" mutters Stewart after Robbins questions her wild child lifestyle.) And if the closing stages come with some rather sickly sentimentality attached, just be grateful Jumanji star Robin Williams isn't along for the ride.


•• TimeOut: ‘Jumanji’ in space, anyone? Bewildering though it may seem, ‘Zathura’ is just that. Two young brothers chance across a board game with untapped mystical powers which, once play begins, transports their house into outer space and barrages them with sci-fi clichés. Ten-year-old Walter (Josh Hutcherson) and his cute-as-pie younger brother Danny (the aptly named Jonah Bobo) are the protagonists, the latter coming across like a male counterpoint to devil-child Dakota Fanning. While ‘Zathura’ is certainly aimed at a younger audience, older viewers may enjoy the lovingly wrought ’50s iconography of rocket ships, aliens, robots and ray guns, which hark back to the likes of ‘Forbidden Planet’. And, notwithstanding the plot’s basic unoriginality, director Jon Favreau (‘Made’, ‘Elf’) gratifyingly prevents the film from becoming a mere maelstrom of CG effects by pushing the brothers’ amusing bickering to the fore: the impulsive my-turn/ your-turn narrative supplies the same giddy charm that a couple of banana daiquiris might lend to a game of snakes and ladders.


•• ReelTalk, John P. McCarthy: Rating 7/10
Zathura represents an old-fashioned -- that is, early to mid-20th century -- idea of adventure. The title sequence, taken from the markings on the metal game itself, and the style of the alien craft they encounter are reminiscent of Flash Gordon. The message about siblings respecting one another isn't pressed too hard. And a flying house is an archetypal, Jungian fantasy, a primal wish that is to be feared and desired. Younger children will certainly be frightened at times.

The script contains amusing and authentic sibling banter. The film's major flaw: because the action is confined to one location, Zathura seems to keep going and going. But that's a price worth paying to revive interest in board games that require imagination.


•• About Parenting, Carey Bryson: Rating 3,5/5
Although the concept of Zathura has been done before in "Jumanji," the new outer space twist is still exciting and makes for a good movie. The action and adventure are high in this film, and kids, especially boys, will probably love it. Some parents, however, may have slight concerns over language and attitude issues.


•• Empire, James Dyer: Rating 3/5
From the same world — and indeed author — as Jumanji, Jon Favreau’s interstellar fantasy treads familiar ground as two children uncover a mysterious, musty old board game. Catapulted into the depths of space, brothers Walter and Danny brave meteor showers, malfunctioning robots and the occasional sibling squabble.

Slick visuals make up what the film lacks in story, but it’s the young actors at Zathura’s heart that prove its real strength. The pair deliver effortless performances and successfully carry the entire film with a bare minimum of adult interference.

Verdict - Charming children's adventure with some superb performances from the young cast.


•• Dustin Putman: Rating 3/4
Talented actor-turned-director Jon Favreau has been a godsend to the modern-day family film. With 2003's "Elf"—already a cinematic Christmas staple—and now "Zathura," he has made two consecutive motion pictures that harkens back to the days of classic movies made for all audiences, along the lines of, say, 1982's "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" and 1985's "The Goonies." Nowadays, the traditional "family feature" is code for "kid flick," because the majority of such releases pander to only one audience segment. There are occasions when this isn't the case, but most of those are of the animated variety (i.e. 2001's "Shrek" and 2004's "The Incredibles"). What Favreau has managed to do with these live-action efforts is tell his stories in smart, whimsical ways, with characters that are based within the real world even when what surrounds them is fantasy.

Not so much a sequel to 1995's "Jumanji" as a companion piece, "Zathura" is based on the book by Chris Van Allsburg about a presumably ordinary old board game that acts a portal to some very real adventures and dangers. The players are 10-year-old Walter (Josh Hutcherson) and 6-year-old Danny (Jonah Bobo), bickering brothers whose recently divorced father leaves them at home while he runs out to his work office for a few minutes. While exploring the basement, Danny discovers the "Zathura" game, dusts it off, and begins to play. The second he does, he and Walter are immersed within the game, their house and all of its contents transported to space. Forced to finish the game before they will be sent back home, they must dodge a series of obstacles—a meteor shower, a malfunctioning robot, nasty dinosaur-like aliens, etc.—as they slowly make their way around the board. Joining their plight is aloof teenage sister Lisa (Kristen Stewart) and an astronaut (Dax Shepard) sent to them by way of a game card who just might be their savior in reaching the finish line in one piece.

"Zathura" isn't sugarcoated, it doesn't treat the story or human characters with Disney-style sentimentality, and there isn't a single fart or burp joke to be had. No, the film is better than that, and director Jon Favreau and screenwriters David Koepp (2005's "War of the Worlds") and John Kamps do everything in their power to construct an ageless entertainment that concentrates on imagination and valuable, unforced life lessons. With each new turn of the game key, push of the "go" button, and ding announcing the arrival of the next instruction card, there is a real excitement in seeing what will happen next. Visual effects are first-rate, creatively used to bring to life the fantastical events and plentiful threats mounting around Walter and Danny. In doing so, the film grows darkly tense on occasion, as when Danny must recapture the stolen game board from a gang of alien zorgons without being seen, but is no more extreme than one of the early "Harry Potter" movies and is all in good fun.

Even before the fantasy element of the plot takes hold, "Zathura" wraps the viewer up from the first scene by presenting a feuding relationship between brothers that gets it just right, complete with some brief coarse language for a PG-rating. When Danny calls Walter a "dick" in the first minutes, there were light, but audible, gasps that came from some parents in the audience. This reaction, I suspect, was not as much because they found it inappropriate as it was because they couldn't believe a "family movie" would have the courage to use "dick," "ass," and "beyotch." What viewers and watered-down Hollywood studios seem to forget is that most kids do say these words on occasion. Kudos to director Jon Favreau for having the audacity to aim for authenticity over dishonesty, even at the risk of upsetting a handful of delusional, close-minded parents.

There is also a wisdom in the way Favreau conveys some worthwhile morals without shoving them down the viewer's throat. As the game progresses and the stakes are raised, Walter and Danny must learn to work together as a unit. In doing so, they come to value their relationship as not only siblings, but as friends, and there is a surprising pathos in the way they grow as characters while doing this. Portraying Walter and Danny are Josh Hutcherson (2005's transcendent "Little Manhattan") and Jonah Bobo (2004's "Around the Bend"), two young stars in the making who couldn't be better. Their enthusiasm and charisma are infectious, the kind of unlikely heroes who deserve being rooted for.

Dax Shepard (2004's "Without a Paddle") and Kristen Stewart (2004's "Catch That Kid") appealingly round out the four leads, with Shepard especially effective as the mystery astronaut who helps them and Stewart getting one of the shrewdest one-liners as she hilariously references 2003's stark indie drama, "Thirteen." It's a joke that will be lost upon 98% of the audience, but only proves how much more expansive the target audience is than the typical family movie. In wraparound sequences that are just as good as the fantasy section between them, Tim Robbins (2003's "Mystic River") makes a lasting imprint with only ten minutes of screen time as the dad.

"Zathura" is a film experience to treasure, creative and captivating in equal measures. It comes close to being even better than that, but admittedly muddles itself with a revelation during the climax that either doesn't make much sense or hasn't been explained well enough to fill in the plot holes it leaves behind. And, as beautifully handled as Walter and Danny are, there could have been a little more emotion as they, in essence, fight for their lives. Never once do they shed a tear from fright, which even in a fantasy setting isn't plausible. An adult would freak out if faced with what they do, and yet these youngsters stay fairly calm throughout. These two criticisms aside, the film is a veritable joy to behold. A motion picture that works on multiple levels, in multiple genres, and never dumbs itself down, it is difficult to imagine any person of any age going to see "Zathura" and not being swept away in the sheer spectacle of it all.


•• Robert Egert: Rating 3/4
"Zathura" is the third film directed by Jon Favreau, an actor who, like Ron Howard, was possibly born to be a director. His first film was "Made" (2001), his second was "Elf" (2003) and his next will be inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars, a series I have always assumed was unfilmable, but on the basis of these three films, maybe not. Favreau brings a muscular solidity to his special effects; they look not like abstract digital perfection but as if hammered together from plywood, aluminum and concept cars. By that I don't mean they look cheap, I mean they have the kind of earnest sincerity you can find on the covers of Thrilling Wonder Stories. Since you may not know of this publication, I urge you to Google "Thrilling Wonder Stories magazine" and click on "images." You'll find the same kind of breathless pulp absurdity that "Zathura" brings to a boil.

The brothers take turns. The game is inexhaustible. Another card reads, Shipmate Enters Cryonic Sleep Chamber. This means that their sister Lisa, who likes to sleep past noon, has been frozen into immobility in the upstairs bathroom. Other cards produce (a) a fearsome but badly coordinated robot, whose designers spent more time on its evil glowing red eyes than on its memory chips, (b) giant alien lizards who are directly from the pulp sci-fi tradition of bug-eyed monsters, (c) assault fire from spaceships that look like junkyard porpoises, and (d) a descent into a black hole. As the two kids hang on for dear life and lizards get sucked into the black hole, I was reminded of the kind of hubris celebrated by such Thrilling Wonder Stories titles as "Two Against Neptune."

What makes this fun is that Danny and Walter are obviously not going to get hurt. Alien fire blasts away whole chunks of their house, but never the chunks they're in, and the giant lizards seem more preoccupied with overacting than with eating little boys. The young actors, Hutcherson and Bobo, bring an unaffected enthusiasm to their roles, fighting with each other like brothers even when threatened with broasting by a solar furnace. Their father, I should have mentioned, is played by Tim Robbins, although his role consists primarily of being absent. Kristen Stewart makes the most of the sister Lisa's non-cryonic scenes. And then there is the character of the Astronaut (Dax Shepard), who materializes at a crucial point and helps shield the kids from intergalactic hazards. Lisa's crush on the Astronaut becomes cringy after all is known.

"Zathura" lacks the undercurrents of archetypal menace and genuine emotion that informed "The Polar Express," a true classic that is being re-released again this year. But it works gloriously as space opera. We're going through a period right now in which every video game is being turned into a movie, resulting in cheerless exercises such as "Doom," which mindlessly consists of aliens popping up and getting creamed. "Zathura" is based on a different kind of game, in which the heroes are not simply shooting at targets, but are actually surrounded by real events that they need to figure out. They are active heroes, not passive marksmen. Nobody even gets killed in "Zathura." Well, depending on what happens to the lizards on the other side of the black hole.


•• 7M Pictures, Kevin Carr: When I saw “Jumanji” several years ago, I remember telling people that I liked the movie. I also added that I would have loved the movie if I was still a young boy. I felt much the same way about “Zathura.” I liked the movie, but it touched me more for its nostalgia for boyhood.

With a very similar plot to “Jumanji” – writer Chris Van Allsburg’s other board-game-comes-to-life movie – “Zathura” tells the story of two brothers who are always bickering. One day when their recently divorced father must leave them at home while he goes into work for a few hours, the younger brother Danny (Jonah Bobo) discovers an old board game in the basement.

After begging his older brother Walter (Josh Hutcherson) to play, they start the game. However, the situations within the game suddenly manifest themselves in real life. Danny and Walter are suddenly flung into a fantasy/sci-fi world with their house as the spaceship. They dodge meteors, take on a homicidal robot and face a deadly race of flesh-eating aliens. And the only way for them to escape the game is to play the game to the very end.

“Zathura” is Jon Favreau’s follow-up to “Elf,” another warm-hearted holiday movie two years ago. Although I wasn’t a fan of Favreau’s first big flick “Made,” I really enjoyed “Elf.” He has a great sense of fantasy and adventure. Knowing he’s scheduled to head the new “John Carter of Mars” film really gives me something to look forward to next year.

The key to “Zathura” was picking the right cast, and the filmmakers did. Both boys do a fine job convincing the audience they are really bickering brothers. And the normally mousy Kristen Stewart (their sister in the film) is starting to grow out of her awkward stage. Even the edgy Dax Shepard from “Punk’d” seems relatively comfortable with a cast of children.

“Zathura” is a good film for the family, but especially for young boys. To be honest, part of the appeal of something like “Zathura” (and “Jumanji,” for that matter) is that even with all the peril danger and turmoil the game causes, we secretly with that we could open a box from our basement and enter into an adventure like this…

…at least I do.


•• The Juicy Cerebellum, Alex Sandell: Zathura isn't as engaging as it could have been, but it's still a fun ride. It's heartfelt, exciting, funny, scary, visually captivating and, most importantly, a welcome return to the kind of special-effects used before the advent of computer generated imagery. The kind that looked real. The kind that made you believe in what you were seeing on screen, no matter how outlandish it was. Just like the films produced by Amblin Entertainment, all those years ago. If you have pre-adolescent children, Zathura may very well be the must-see family film of the year.


•• From The Balcony, Bill Clark: •• Ross Anthony: Zathura is the new Jumanji. Both written by author Chris Van Allsburg who also wrote Polar Express. A couple of kids stumble across a wind-up board game with supernatural powers. The film's big action sequences are enough to rock a home from the Earth. And while a great deal of fun, especially for unsuspecting youngsters, there is quite a menacing undercurrent. Each turn of the die-cast metal game rings into existence (and the living room) a formidable opponent interested in destroying these kids. It's sort of a Predator Junior. So, while a lot of fun, it's also potentially too scary for little kids.

The first act is in some ways the most engaging part of the film, I was sad to see it go. Alas, it's only purpose was to set up the real show. Director Jon Favreau is so good with dialogue, you might feel a certain lack of something as action begins to dominate the screen. Ah but, the action is fun, though the tension somewhat manipulative. Still, If you enjoy the surreal like I do -- you'll enjoy it here. Through the mayhem, a single moment shines with heart. In fact, as the film progresses, more missed than dialogue is a stronger warmer flow of heart that would have sent the movie far into the A range. While young Jonah Bobo nails his role, and Tim Robbins is believable, the others feel like actors.

Btw, the poster doesn't do the movie justice. The press kit, on the other hand, is smashing.


•• FilmJerk, Brian Orndorf: Rating A-
With “Zathura,” director Jon Favreau (“Elf”) earns his title as king of family movies. I haven’t seen a filmmaker in recent years take the care and muster the courage to give the younger set cinematic experiences that they deserve in quite the fashion Favreau has. This is amazing, considering Favreau kicked off his directorial career with the profoundly adult and hilariously obscene wannabe-mobster comedy, “Made.”

It’s complicated to describe “Zathura,” since the material is a semi-sequel-but-not-really companion piece to the 1995 blockbuster “Jumanji.” Both films were born in the mind of author Chris Van Allsburg (“The Polar Express”), and they share a devilish sense of adventure, yet the films couldn’t be further apart in scope. The delightful “Jumanji” was a daylight thrill ride, utilizing state-of-the-art special effects (looking quaint these days) to richly achieve its jungle-themed chaos. “Zathura” is much smaller in ambition, taking place almost entirely in one house. It presents a massive challenge to Favreau and his production team to come up with resourceful ways to maintain the gaming suspense and whiplash pace of a film that almost never steps outside the front door.

“Zathura” has pure adventure, a heart that doesn’t force itself, and visuals that will fuel the dreams of children everywhere for years to come. I hope that Jon Favreau doesn’t find his family film years merely a necessary stepping stone to a larger directing career. If “Zathura” is any indication, he seems to be one of the only filmmakers around who understands that obnoxious and crude are not always mandatory elements in a children’s film.