ZATHURA

3 stars – Wholesome

This sequel to the magical film “Jumanji” continues the fantasy of a board game that becomes real.  At least this was the premise of the first film until it was discovered that the game could be won and reality “reset.”  This plot twist was a surprise in the first film.  However, when this second film is based upon the same principles, then the power of surprise is lost in this film from the opening push of the mechanical dice.  In spite of the loss of surprise, this second film based on the books by Chris Van Allsburg is still an exciting journey of imagination and suspense bringing reality and fantasy together.

The two primary players of this game are two brothers named Danny (Jonah Bobo) and Walter Budwing (Josh Hutcherson).  Having experienced the painful loss of their home when their father and mother divorced, the two are vying for the attention of their distracted father (Tim Robbins).  Differing in temperament and ability, the younger brother Danny is seen as a perpetual bother to his big brother who resents his even being born.  Rounding out their family is an older sister named Lisa (Kristen Stewart) whose teenage self-absorption and disdain for her brothers is classic.

Having recently moved into an old house with a dark basement and hidden compartments, Walter cruelly lowers his little brother into the blackness of the basement when Danny hides in the dumbwaiter.  But in his escape from the basement, Danny discovers the magical space adventure game, “Zathura.”  Made of metal with chain-driven rocket ships for markers, he begs his brother to play with him.  When he won’t play, Danny begins the game by himself.  It is then that the galactic adventure begins.

The lessons of this film focus primarily on sibling rivalry.  Not realizing how much of a treasure each has in the other or how much love they actually share, the game seems designed to orchestrate this discovery.  Other lessons include the realization of their own courage, gaining confidence in their own abilities and the transformation of a family when it faces difficulties together.

Like the first film, the events of each turn become real and the dangers becoming increasingly menacing as they play the game which from the first turn lifts the house into the meteor shower of a distant planet.  Like Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz” in which her house is lifted and takes her to another realm in which she must face a dangerous journey to find her way home, it is Danny’s and Walter’s desire to return home that is their driving impetuous to continue playing the dangerous game.

The symbolism of children experiencing divorce and having to grow up too soon as well as turning to one another for support is an obvious message of the film that will resonate with many in our culture.  However this is a film that is not only for children of divorce but also for all children facing an increasingly dangerous world.

  1. When Danny finds the game and pushes the first button, he cannot read the card. Did you expect that of him at his age? Why do you think the film depicts him as dependent on his brother to even understand the game? 
  2. Were you surprised to find out who the stranded “astronaut” really is? If not, what gave it away for you? 
  3. The expectation of their father that Danny and Walter would “grow up” and not need him to be there for them is often expressed by single parents. What do you think this does to children who must grow up before they are ready? 
  4. The way Lisa treated her brothers reveals her decision to abandon the family and seek love life from her boyfriend. What results do you think this decision will have in her life? 
  5. What do you think the symbolism of the Zargons being fire-loving lizards implies? What is the symbolism of the astronaut coming to them? What is the symbolism of the defective Robot? What, if anything, does each represent in reality? 
Posted on May 12, 2013 and filed under 3 STARS, WHOLESOME.