It is so strange to see kids with brains in movies these days. People tend to forget that children can actually think, and that if they make a film with real imagination, kids will go watch it. Zathura is one of those films. It is a rare "family" film that the entire family can enjoy. And for Jon Favreau (Made), it is a nice follow-up to Elf, another refreshingly innocent movie. Zathura works because it does not assume that kids are dumb. The two brothers here bicker like real kids, but also think. The film is based on the novel by Chris Van Allsburg, who also wrote the books The Polar Express and Jumanji. Zathura is like the latter, only it takes place in space.

Brothers Danny (Jonas Bobo, Around the Bend, The Best Thief in the World) and Walter (Josh Hutcherson, Kicking & Screaming, The Polar Express) find themselves in space after beginning to play the board game Zathura. They found the game in the basement of their father's house. It's a game where the first person to get to the planet Zathura first wins. But as soon a Danny receives a card saying "Meteor Shower - take evasive action," meteors destroy their living room. Danny opens the door and finds that the entire house is somehow in space. They figure out that the only way to get home is to finish the game. However, each additional turn proves deadly, with robots, aliens, and gravity wells coming into the picture.

The concept sounds a bit cheesy, but Favreau and adapters David Koepp (War of the Worlds, Secret Window) and John Kamps (The Borrowers, Power Rangers: The Movie) have a lot of imaginative material to work with. The story moves very quickly, so there is almost always something happening, usually involving big explosions. As mentioned before, the difference here is that there is some thought behind the story. Walter finds Danny annoying, and doesn't like playing with him. Danny isn't good at sports, and both vie for their father's attention. Once they are stuck in space, they still bicker, but slowly realize that they need to work together to solve this problem. The fact that the two are able to think on their feet and come up with solutions to each problem is pretty unique for kid's movie.

Since this is a family movie, there is a moral involved. Most adults should be able to pick it up quickly, but for kids, Favreau works it into the story seamlessly without resorting to preaching. Bobo and Hutcherson work almost too well as brothers - their constant arguing feels real, and makes the viewer want to slap them each upside the head. Kirsten Stewart (Undertow, Catch That Kid) nails the whole "teenage girl pissed off at the world" shtick. Even Dax Shephard (Without a Paddle, Cheaper by the Dozen), not typically known for his acting abilities, comes across very well as an astronaut in need of rescuing. And doesn't he look like he's doing his best Zack Braff imitation?

Haro Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 35 minutes, Rated PG for fantasy action and peril, and some language.

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