"Life of Pi" has nothing to do with math, but certainly qualifies as the perfect holiday family film. Embracing all the world's major religions, employing a completely Indian and Asian cast of actors (plus a quick cameo from Gerard Depardieu) and filled with mesmerizing visual effects, it raises the future of all film to a higher level of possibility.
"Life of Pi" is one movie the kids must absolutely see in 3-D, and at an IMAX theater whenever possible.
It's quite likely "Life of Pi" could also become this generations' head trip counterpart to Walt Disney's innocent "Fantasia" that contributed to so many psychedelic delights in the late 1960s. Though it might take a couple of years for that to happen.
Pi is the nickname of the schoolboy Piscine (Ayush Tandon) whose father (Adil Hussain) owns a zoo in the Indian city of Pondicherry. After we learn of Pi's fascination for all the world's religions and for the violent zoo tiger named Roger Parker, Pi's father and mother (Tabu, an Indian film star) announce the zoo is closing so they are moving with all the animals to Canada to start a new zoo.
Soon the zoo animals are packed into a large freighter headed across the Pacific Ocean. A giant storm sinks the ship with most of the animals inside, but a few end up on a large (and fully stocked) lifeboat along with 16-year-old Pi. There is an injured zebra, an unconcerned orangutan, a renegade hyena and that same fierce tiger named Roger Parker.
Then follows 227 days at sea packed into the pressure cooker of jungle law and instincts which consume this boat that seems to keep getting smaller as the days get longer.
But that is only the plot. Cinema magic is what makes "Life of Pi" so special as reality and fantasy merge into artistic expressions that defy description. Three-D technology pulls the audience into breath-taking ocean depths and dizzying heights above the waves, often at the same time.
An understated spiritual message hints of bliss, as well, for those who believe. But you can still take the full ride without believing in anything, and never feel a twinge of cynicism.
Parents and children should be fully aware going into the theater that the violence which seems so real as the animals battle for supremacy is all special effects. There are several seconds of wrenching horror during these attacks, leaving us to wonder how such special effects could be filmed with real animals.
The answer: they weren't. Special effects worked their magic on us once again. I sat through a full 20 minutes of film credits to be sure at the end the SPCA verified "No animals were harmed," and there was the message, loud and clear.