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FOSTER ON FILM REVIEW: Ang Lee’s interpretation of ‘Life of Pi’ enchanting

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“Life of Pi” is one of the few book-based movies I actually read beforehand. Yann Martel’s novel about a boy stranded with a tiger at sea enchanted me as well as director Ang Lee’s interpretation.

I miss some of Martel’s yarn, such as the funny moment where Pi’s diverse spiritual guides discover he considers himself Hindu, Christian and Muslim. Still, Ang Lee’s interpretation is incredibly faithful to the book. Apart from following Martel’s plot, Lee has these glowing, austere environments that visually nail “Life of Pi’s” melancholic wonder.

Pi is the God-obsessed son of atheist zookeeper, Santosh Patel (Adil Hussain). As a tween, Pi (Ayush Tandon) took up Hinduism, Christianity and Islam in his pursuit for God. Pi’s father and brother, Ravi, poke fun at the child’s oddball spirituality while his devout Hindu mother, Gita (Tabu), sees no harm.

Despite familial eye-rolling, Pi finds magic in everything. His family runs a zoo in India — his life is Eden.

When Pi is a young man (Suraj Sharma), the dysfunctional, sunny little family faces economic hardship. Santosh is forced to sell his animals and wrangles his family onto a Japanese cargo ship bound for Canada with a giraffe, zebra and hippo. But homesickness is incomparable to the storm that sinks their freighter and drowns everybody aboard.

By chance, Pi escapes onto a lifeboat with a zebra, hyena, orangutan and Richard Parker, the Bengal tiger. While coping with his family’s death, Pi musters the courage to work with the animals and survive. 

The actors playing Pi as a tot, tween, teenager and adult are incredible. Lee orchestrates the cinematic “Pi” very much like Martel. Rather than being cute, nostalgic nods to the adult Pi, younger versions feel present and have presence. Little Gautam Belur, who portrays the 5-year-old Pi, pounces on his birth-name plights. Belur is such a charming, assertive little cuss. Tween Pi, played by Ayush Tandon, softens his potentially controversial “religion collecting” with a sweet, low-key nature. Suraj Sharma pretty much carries the film as marooned Pi. Calm as Pi is, Sharma pulls off some funny interior monologues. 

“Life of Pi’s” visuals are enchanting. At first, I was a little wary of the CGI animals, but the animated look fits into “Pi’s” storybook feel. Apart from his iconic roar in previews, Richard Parker undergoes some pretty specific states for a computer tiger. Animators capture the vacillatingly virulent, shaggy and emaciated cat in a bright, bouncy and illusionistic, not quite photorealistic, way. Richard Parker could have walked out of a Rubens painting. Despite his majestic artifice, there were uncanny moments when the tiger makes vacant expressions. Both the cinematic and literary “Life of Pi” stress Richard Parker is an animal. While their rendering is beautiful, I’m glad animators nailed Richard’s nail-biting coolness as well.

All in all, “Life of Pi” is wondrous. I give it an A. 

With a running time of 127 minutes, “Life of Pi” is rated PG for emotional thematic content throughout and some scary action sequences and peril.

Heather Foster is a senior at the University of Florida.