Reel Reviews

‘Life of Pi’

A-III – adults


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Confused religious message mars teen tale

Religious themes are central to director Ang Lee’s visually artful screen version of Yann Martel’s best-selling novel “Life of Pi” (Fox). Indeed, this exotic 3-D fable bills itself as a story calculated to make the agnostic reporter (Rafe Spall) to whom its unlikely events are recounted “believe in God.”

Regardless of whether it has that effect on audiences, Catholic moviegoers will certainly welcome its positive portrayal of their faith, and the presence in the tale of a sympathetic priest.

The fact that the earnest spiritual quest of its protagonist results in his simultaneous adherence to Hinduism, Christianity and Islam is, however, problematic to say the least. All the more so, since screenwriter David Magee’s script implicitly upholds this ultra-tolerant but illogical stance.

Concern over youthful viewers’ reaction to this interreligious will-o’-the-wisp is the major element precluding endorsement of Lee’s picture for any but adults.

And just who is our main character? Played in adulthood by Irrfan Khan but portrayed for most of the running time in his 17-year-old persona by Suraj Sharma, he is an Indian-born Canadian known formally as Piscine Militor Patel –
but called Pi for short.

As flashbacks under the guise of memories being shared with the unnamed –
and unbelieving – journalist reveal, Pi was bred in the picturesque former French enclave of Pondicherry. Growing up contentedly amid the natural beauty of the area, Pi was fascinated by the wondrous creatures that inhabited the zoo his parents (Adil Hussain and Tabu) owned.

Discovering God in varied manifestations during the initial stages of the quest referenced above, Pi also made a less exalted discovery by falling for a local girl. So when Mom and Dad announced, shortly afterward, they were moving the family to the Great White North, Pi was crushed.

Upheaval turned to tragedy when the freighter carrying Pi's family – as well as some of the animals from their former zoo – sank in a terrible squall. Pi was the only human survivor. But his endurance was immediately put to a further test when he found himself forced to share a small lifeboat with a Bengal tiger.

Not for the impressionable or the poorly catechized, this psychological parable, whose meaning cannot be explained without spoilers, also becomes somewhat taxing as the rigors of the lad’s unusual ordeal begin to rub off on viewers.

Aesthetic judgments will likely hinge on the degree to which audiences summon the hardiness necessary to follow Pi’s adventures through to the end. Assessed from a religious perspective, his fictional memoir registers as honorable but ultimately somewhat misguided.

The film contains a complex treatment of religious faith requiring mature interpretation, potentially upsetting scenes of life-threatening danger and animal aggression, some mildly vulgar wordplay and fleeting scatological humor. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III – adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG – parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service

‘Rise of the Guardians’

A-I – general patronage


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A child’s dream comes to the screen

What better way to spend a few hours over the holidays than in the company, not only of Santa Claus himself, but of the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the Sandman?

Courtesy of the delightful 3-D animated adventure “Rise of the Guardians” (Paramount), moviegoers of almost all ages can do just that.

Based on books by William Joyce, the film focuses on the destiny of the legendary bringer of winter, Jack Frost (voice of Chris Pine). Free-spirited and mischievous, youthful Jack is also lonely and uncertain of his purpose in life. Until, that is, he’s invited to join the Guardians, a force made up of the mythical characters listed above.

The Guardians’ mission is to protect children against the machinations of the Bogeyman, aka Pitch Black (voice of Jude Law).

As the initially reluctant Jack is introduced to his newfound comrades, we discover a new slant on each traditional persona. Thus Santa, alias North (voice of Alec Baldwin), is a hardy Cossack type with a heavy Russian accent, while everyone’s favorite seasonal rabbit (voice of Hugh Jackman) turns out to be a boomerang wielder from Down Under. (Parents of a certain age will recognize a play on a famous line from 1986’s “Crocodile Dundee.”)

The elusive distributor of quarters under children’s pillows (voice of Isla Fisher) is portrayed as half-human, half-hummingbird. She’s at least human, and feminine, enough that Jack’s shining teeth (and, by implication, his appearance in general) set her a bit aquiver, though only in the vaguest, most innocent way. As for the chap who makes all our eyelids heavy, he’s presented as a mute but cheerful and endearing sprite.

In his feature debut, director Peter Ramsey, working from a script by David Lindsay-Abaire, pits the hope and wonder championed by the Guardians against the fear and self-doubt that arm Pitch with his most effective wiles. The result is a tenderhearted and touching family movie -- one, moreover, that’s entirely free of objectionable content.

This is, though, a struggle between the battling archetypes of good and evil over the fate of the world’s children. So there are portions of the action that might be too dark and scary for the smallest members of the clan.

The film contains perilous situations. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I -- general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service