coverGrade:  A-
Entire family:  No
2012, 127 min., Color
Rated PG for emotional thematic content, peril
Fox
Aspect ratio:  1.85:1
Featured audio:  DTS-HD MA 7.1
Bonus features:  B
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy, UV
Trailer

After my family saw the trailer for “Life of Pi,” none of them were terribly excited to see the movie. My daughter thought it would be too sad to watch animals killing each other. My son said it looked boring. And my wife thought it would be “Cast Away” with a tiger for company instead of a volleyball.

Had they known it would be 39 minutes into the film before a storm even kicks up and that Pi’s entertaining backstory begins when he’s much smaller, they might have been less resistant. “Life of Pi” isn’t just a visual effects movie stuck at sea. There’s a compelling story here as well. Being shipwrecked with a volleyball is one thing, but with a Bengal tiger that can rip you to shreds and eat you unless you gradually train it to peacefully coexist? That’s another story—though it really can be too intense for younger children who love animals.

“Life of Pi” is rated PG, but this is no Peaceable Kingdom. Things do get eaten. A boy watches a ship sink with his entire family aboard. Sharks get their fill and food chains operate according to the laws of nature, even in the middle of the ocean.

Yet, director Ang Lee has crafted a beautiful film that brings the best-selling novel by Yann Martel to life, winning Oscars for Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects, and Best Original Score. The same people who animated the lion in the first “Chronicle of Narnia” movie created the CGI tiger, but seven other visual effects studios also contributed. The results are pretty impressive, whether it’s a whale breeching right alongside the raft or thousands of meerkats on an isolated island.

screenshot

Surprisingly, there’s plenty of humor in the first act and traces of it later, with a “Big Fish” tone throughout. Pi is a seeker of truth, a young man who embraces all religions rather than espouse just one. “A Hindu Catholic?” someone questions. “We get to feel guilty before hundreds of Gods,” Pi responds.

When his father, who had begun a zoo in their community, decides to move to Canada—animals and all—and announces, “We will sail like Columbus,” Pi’s retort captures the spirit and irony of the film:  “But Columbus was looking for India.” Once in the lifeboat , the focus is on Pi’s uneasy relationship with the tiger. People do what it takes to survive—even if it means becoming an animal trainer.

Four actors played Pi over the course of his life: Gautam Belur (5 years), Ayush Tandon (11-12), Suraj Sharma (16), and, in a frame sequence, telling the story, Irrfan Khan (adult Pi). All do a fantastic job, as do the rest of the cast—which is not always the case with a live-action film that’s heavily reliant on visual effects.

This combo pack comes with Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy, and UV copy. There are roughly 100 minutes of behind-the-scenes bonus features if you’re curious to see what’s real and what’s CGI. Although the ending feels rushed and Pi’s search for religious truth isn’t explored nearly as much as the first act leads you to believe, “Life of Pi” is a captivating film.

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