Based on the same pemise as Jumanji, this could have been merely a remake. Instead, Zathura is more focused, has far fewer characters, and adds a couple of twists that are reasonably pleasing in terms of plot.
The two boys play their parts effectively, overall. Jonah Bobo is a gift to a director who can get the right expressions at the right time, and for the most part that’s what happens. Twelve-year-old Josh Hutcherson shows his years of experience in tv and a few movies to give some depth to the older brother, a nasty sniping character who hates his little brother, supposedly because he broke up his parents.
There’s a third sibling, played by Kristen Stewart, but she spends a good deal of her time frozen, and doesn’t get much chance to add anything to the plot (except a rather nice line towards the end that most kids won’t pick up).
Tim Robbins appears briefly at the beginning as the father, a man who’s distracted by something whether it’s his work, or his failed marriage, or his inability to communicate satisfactorily with his children we never really discover. He’s gone within ten minutes, and it’s a bit of a surprise that someone of Robbins’ stature should play such a minimal part.
It’s left to Dax Shepard to add the only other adult voice of reason – and even he doesn’t appear until well into the movie. Shepard is touted as a comedian par excellence, but he plays this role fairly straight.
The CGI is top quality, and the visual effects splendid. They don’t dominate, however, which is a good thing. The story about people who’ve got themselves into a corner and have to dig their way out is kept to the fore.
And did I mention the almost total destruction of the house? It’s a bit of a surprise that there’s anything left by the end.