In my short time as a film critic, I have discovered one thing that seems to remain constant; no matter how I feel about them, children’s films are the hardest to write about.
I haven’t figured out the why yet, but for some reason, good, bad or just mediocre, the words don’t fly for me like they normally do. But, one way or another, my thought on “Zathura: A Space Adventure” will be written. God help us all.
“Zathura: A Space Adventure” begins in a house with a broken family; the Dad (Tim Robbins) has his kids, Lisa (Kristen Stewart), Walter (Josh Hutcherson) and Danny (Jonah Bobo), for the weekend, but he’s also trying to squeeze in some work so he can pay for their new living arrangements. After the boys’ roughhousing leads to some work stuff being doused with juice, Dad puts Lisa in charge for a few hours while he goes to take care of work.
The boys are none too happy about this, but they’re not happy about much of anything. This early part of the film really impressed me, because the boys feel real, and they act just like siblings do. Walter is the surly middle kid who picks on his less athletic brother. Danny is more of a dreamer, but he’s also pretty lonely and he’s constantly trying to get Walter to play with him.
And like all good siblings, they fight, they scream, they torture each other, etc. Danny finds this mysterious game Zathura, he fails to convince Walter to play with him, but once Danny begins the game, the house and its inhabitants are transported into space, the film gains an impressive amount of CGI while it loses all charm.
What’s really disappointing here is that I think it’s an interesting idea, and the film looks really, really pretty, but the screenplay by David Koepp leaves out one important element that dooms the picture: “Zathura: A Space Adventure” is just no fun. The kids give credible performances, the set design is beautiful, but it’s completely joyless outing, for us and them.
I understand the thinking here; if I was a kid and found myself in space and suddenly under attack by scary aliens, I’d be terrified. Hell, even as an adult, I’d be terrified, but movies aren’t real life. What this script really needed is a Corey Feldman-esque character, someone making wisecracks during this little adventure. Like a lot of well-intentioned adult movies, “Zathura: A Space Adventure” takes itself way too seriously, and we’re the ones who suffer for that misstep.
Better luck next time.
“Zathura: A Space Adventure” (2005)
Directed by Jon Favreau
Written by David Koepp
Jonah Bobo (Danny)
Josh Hutcherson (Walter)
Dax Shepard (Astronaut)
Kristen Stewart (Lisa)
Tim Robbins (Dad)