Fortunately or unfortunately for me, I grew up with a sister and not a brother.Because she was my younger sister, I grew up in that all-knowing, all-powerful role of older sibling that was never challenged and never threatened unless somebody went crying to mommy or daddy about me ripping the head off her favorite doll or tossing one of her hamsters out the window.
So I have absolutely no idea what it means to be tortured by an older brother or to want to bond with one either, which are the dynamics that drive "Zathura." The younger brother in the family, six-year-old Danny (Jonah Bobo), just wants to fit in. Danny's older brother, Walter (Josh Hutcherson), is the star. He has all the athletic gifts and excels during games of catch with their father (Tim Robbins). Walter thinks Danny is a loser. Danny just wants to experience that idealized brotherly love that he probably saw on an episode of "Sesame Street."
Danny's longing is answered by a mysterious board game he finds in the basement of his house. It looks like some kind of toy from the 1950s. You push a button, a dial spins, a number comes up and a little toy spaceship moves along the board automatically. Then a card pops out of the machine. That these 21st-century kids are even marginally interested in this thing is even more fantastical than what actually happens to them once they start playing. Right after the first card shoots out of the board, magical things start to occur, and each card hints at the next encounter. First, there's a meteor shower, then an out-of-control robot, then Lisa (Kristen Stewart), Danny and Walter's sister, is frozen. When the boys dare to glance outside, they discover that they're sailing through space and suddenly winning the game means getting back home.
For all director Jon ("Elf") Favreau's devotion to brotherly bonding, his main contribution to illuminating the mysteries of this relationship is to reveal, in repetitive, unnecessary detail, the amount of screaming that goes on between two kids. Now, I occasionally complain about lack of realism in the movies, but this is one spot where I prefer fantasy - and quiet. It's also rather disturbing that Favreau chooses to turn the teenage Lisa into some kind of pubescent sex object. She slinks around in her underwear for most of the film, making one wonder if all Favreau was doing behind the camera was directing.
"Zathura" was the kind of adventure I'd rather avoid.
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