‘Zathura’ better, but much the same as ‘Jumanji’ | PostIndependent.com

‘Zathura’ better, but much the same as ‘Jumanji’

“Zathura” is just original enough for me to twist David Spade’s words: I liked it better than the first time I saw it, when it was named “Jumanji.”

The similarities between the two movies are staggering ” two well-meaning kiddie adventure movies based on books by Chris Van Allsburg (who also drew the source material for “The Polar Express”) with nonsense words for titles. (Incidentally, the preteen protagonists correctly pronounce it “Za-THUR-a,” not “ZA-thur-A,” putting them one up on me right off the bat; also, it has nothing to do with Nieztche. Likewise, my two semesters of college Swahili didn’t provide me any insights into “Jumanji.”)

And what’s not the same is very similar: One’s in space, one was in the jungle. Instead of an orphaned brother and sister, “Zathura” stars Josh Hutcherson as jockish Walter and Jonah Bobo as his geeky little brother, Danny; their dad (actor Tim Robbins) has to work and leaves them with their big sister, Lisa (Kristen Stewart). When a brawl with his brother brings him to the basement, Danny discovers a weathered cardboard box with a game inside.

The effects of the game ” both in terms of the fantastical results of each roll and the message the kids inevitably learn about themselves along the way blah blah blah ” are certainly key to the story. It’s a minor point, but “Zathura” director Jon Favreau and Van Allsburg (as well as “Jumanji” director Joe Johnston) deserve credit for creating games that look like the kind of classic ” but forebodingly weird ” things that would turn up in an attic or basement.

Then again, the effects of the game, which transport the kids to a fantasy world, are the important thing. Winding a key on the Zathura board arms a plunger; pushing the button produces a card that alludes to the adventure ahead: meteors, cryogenic sleep, or encounters with flesh-eating lizards called Zorgons. One of the encounters brings the brothers into contact with a snarky astronaut (Dax Shepard), a role I think Favreau probably had earmarked for buddy Vince Vaughn.

If the sudden appearance of a sympathetic astronaut reminds you of the appearance of a certain comic actor playing, say, a Tarzan type, you’re right on. Even the ads for “Zathura” claim it’s “from the universe of ‘Jumanji,'” which means it’s almost the same movie ” the opposite of how “based on a true story” suggests only a tangential connection to an actual event.

The important thing is the blend of special effects and heartwarming message ” thus spake “Jumanji,” anyway.

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