Zathura: A Space Adventure is all about the marvels of an uncluttered imagination. Oh, and there’s a soppy brotherly love theme. And a cautionary swipe at parents who treat their children like toys – to be played with at their convenience...
Mostly, though, it’s a shameless slumper; pacey, undemanding lubrication for young popcorn jaws. We get explosions, meteor showers, giant robots, and some distinctly Dr Who-style lizard monsters called Zorgons. As bad guys, they’re more slimy than scary, but the bit where they creep around the house, trying to sniff out little Danny – curled up in a dumb-waiter – is clammy and claustrophobic in a way the similar scene in War Of The Worlds wasn’t.
Robbins slots neatly into the sad-eyed single dad role and Stewart, surly and nocturnal, is a diversion for texting teens. But the most surprising performance is the CGI: not too posh to dominate, but just expensive-looking enough to push it over the videogame/movie barrier. And the Zorgons, quite rightly, look like big men in monster suits.
Because a smart guy like Jon Favreau is in charge, there’s an edge that would never have made it past Disney script-doctors. Despite the mansion-like movie-ness of their house, Danny and Walter feel more like real kids than standard committee-designed cartoons. Walter is snotty, phoney-wise and depressingly accelerated: 10 going on 20. Believably, Danny both hates him and is desperate to be him. They’re sparkling, likeable guides who never get too sappy or Spielbergian (ooh, the language... “Beeyatch!”, “You’re a dick!”). Still a long way off “penis-breath”, but a good effort.
Sensing the pressure on his leads, Favreau ships in Zach Braff-alike Dax Shepard as a suburban spaceman to steer the final half-hour in for the predictable smooth landing. Still, while the kids’ movie template normally demands a scattering of high-frequency cultural nods for the grown-ups, Zathura has the conviction to save it all up for a surprisingly emotional sucker-punch twist that’ll set harried parents snivelling home.
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Smarter than the average rainy-day kids' stuff. Close Encounters for 10-year-olds. Can we have Jon Favreau back now, please?