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Originally published Friday, November 11, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"Zathura": Humanity keeps space fantasy grounded

At the heart of "Zathura's" wild-eyed, outer-space adventure is an ordinary, domestic dilemma faced by hundreds of thousands of kids every...

Special to The Seattle Times

At the heart of "Zathura's" wild-eyed, outer-space adventure is an ordinary, domestic dilemma faced by hundreds of thousands of kids every day.

Little Danny (Jonah Bobo), his big brother Walter (Josh Hutcherson) and their older sister Lisa (Kristen Stewart) are children of recently divorced parents. As with a lot of movies about kids who learn to cope with the hand they've been dealt by undergoing fantastic experiences, "Zathura" is most interesting and least predictable in its opening scenes — before the impressive special effects take over.

Danny and Walter can't keep track of a complicated, shared custody arrangement worked out between their mother (whom we never see) and father (Tim Robbins).

Movie review 2.5 stars

Showtimes and trailer

"Zathura," with Tim Robbins, Dax Shepard, Jonah Bobo, Josh Hutcherson, Kristen Stewart. Directed by Jon Favreau, from a screenplay by David Koepp and John Kamps, based on a book by Chris Van Allsburg. Rated PG for fantasy action and peril, and some language. 113 minutes. Several theaters.

They're also unhappy about the dark, aging house Dad picked out as an unwanted second home.

But it's the behavior of all three kids — subtly observed by actor-turned-director Jon Favreau ("Elf"), based on a children's book by author Chris Van Allsburg ("Jumanji," "The Polar Express") — that says much about the anger and sadness children of divorce can feel. Walter demands more time with Dad than Dad can spare, and at Danny's expense. Meanwhile, Danny hides out in the house's antiquated dumbwaiter. Lisa escapes the real world through sleep and dating.

When Dad runs to the office on a Saturday afternoon, Danny finds a vintage game called "Zathura," which magically propels the kids and house into space. The siblings duck meteors that come crashing through the roof, avoid a giant robot (voiced by Yoda's Frank Oz), are attacked by aliens called Zorgons and help a mysterious astronaut (Dax Shepard) who says he lost his own brother.

The only way out of their predicament is to keep playing "Zathura," though each new move can just as easily put them into greater danger. In the end, the three have learned greater compassion and cooperation, but it's easy to see that coming. Less transparent is the pure humanity of "Zathura's" setup.

Tom Keogh:

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