The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008) — PICK

Up (2009) — PICK

Zathura (2005) — PICK

In the annals of family films about houses undergoing fantastic transformations as a metaphor for domestic trauma, Jon Favreau’s outer-space fantasy Zathura — new on Amazon Prime — ranks well below Pete Docter’s Pixar masterpiece Up and Mark Waters’ smart, scary The Spiderwick Chronicles (both available for rental via Amazon).

Not that Zathura (based on Chris Van Allsburg’s Jumanji sequel) is dreadful. Things I like include the Van Allsburg-ish light plotting and emphasis on wonder and awe. Things I don’t like include the matter-of-fact broken-family milieu and the one-note sourness of older brother Walter’s treatment of younger Danny. Your mileage may vary.

For a vastly more intriguing story about a broken family in a house under assault by paranormal forces, check out The Spiderwick Chronicles. And keep your eye on the astoundingly fluid symbolism of Carl’s house in Up as a metaphor for grief. (If this topic intrigues you, check out my essay “A House Divided” at


CAVEAT SPECTATOR: The Spiderwick Chronicles: Fantasy menace and action violence; creature grossness; divorce and other thematic issues. Older kids and up. Up: Menace and peril; an off-screen action death; sober depiction of mortality and grief. Kids and up. Zathura: Sci-fi action menace and violence; crude language; brief, oblique sexually related references; normalized depiction of divorce. Teens and up.