A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Zathura; A Space Adventure is a 2005 movie in which an old board game found in the basement of a newly occupied house leads to fierce space battles and extreme peril from lizard-like aliens with a taste for human flesh. The movie begins with typical tensions, resentments, and competitions between two brothers, age 6 and 10. Their father is divorced, and their teenaged sister is distracted by her interest in boys and parties. The film includes scary music, scary sound effects (crashes, explosions, alien-monster growls), and some images of space aliens and a big robot attacking the boys that might be frightening for younger viewers. Boys use some obnoxious language ("d--k," "screwed") and violence against the aliens to save themselves. The teen girl develops a crush on an older astronaut; when he's revealed to be her brother from the future, her first response is, "And I wanted to ... ." The movie does attempt to address sibling rivalries, the self-esteem issues that can develop, and the importance of two brothers learning to look out for each other.
What's the story?
Six-year-old Danny (Jonah Bobo) is feeling rather shut out by his older brother, Walter (Josh Hutcherson), who in turn feels besieged by the demands of a sibling who dotes on him. Older and wiser and increasingly impatient, Walter just wants to be left alone, especially as he's also feeling abandoned by his dad (Tim Robbins), who's working overtime to pay for two homes and is recently divorced. The boys find distraction in Zathura, a circa-1950s board game they find in the basement when Dad goes to the office and leaves them in the care of their teenaged sister, Lisa (Kristen Stewart). The game essentially turns their house into a spaceship, floating through the starry sky somewhere near Saturn, buffeted by the occasional meteor shower or malevolent alien. Once they begin the game, the rules assert, Danny and Walter are unable to stop until they "finish," meaning that they need to find the reason they're playing, and, of course, reconcile with each other.
Is it any good?
ZATHURA: A SPACE ADVENTURE is a movie most likely to appeal to older kids. Like the game in Jumanji, another movie based on a children's book by Chris Van Allsburg (also the literary source for Polar Express), this one helps the siblings to work out their conflicts "metaphorically," here by encounters with hostile monsters, a deranged robot, and a "stranded astronaut" (Dax Shepard).
Their adventures are as episodic as the board game scenario suggests: Each boy takes his turn. But as Jon Favreau's movie is most interested in the boys' relationship, Lisa is best described as plot device, convenient witness, and occasional instigator for their realizations and efforts. In this, she's aided by the astronaut, who shows up during Danny's turn (he's instructed to rescue this stranger and then is attached to the astronaut, who identifies Danny as the one who "spun me"). This provides the younger boy with an eventual conflict, as the astronaut and Walter make different demands. Danny eventually comes to realize that Walter is his brother, no matter how ugly he's been to Danny in the past, and that makes him, as the astronaut observes, "all you have."
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the relationship between the two brothers. How do they learn to appreciate and take care of each other?
What are some of the ways in which sibling rivalry is shown? Does it seem like an accurate reflection of how it is when two brothers are constantly at war?
While some of the violence is sci-fi-related, some of it is rooted in the rivalries between the siblings. How was the violence different, and how did the violence in both serve to either heighten the action or intensify the relationships between the siblings?
- In theaters: November 11, 2005
- On DVD or streaming: February 14, 2006
- Cast: Jonah Bobo, Josh Hutcherson, Tim Robbins
- Director: Jon Favreau
- Studio: Sony Pictures
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Adventures, Book Characters, Misfits and Underdogs, Robots, Space and Aliens
- Run time: 113 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: fantasy action and peril, and some language.
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