A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Life of Pi is an intense, emotional story of survival and triumph against the odds, with themes of faith, friendship, and perseverance. Although it's rated PG, and there's virtually no strong language, sexual content, or blood, this adaptation of Yann Martel's bestselling novel has several very harrowing (especially in 3-D) scenes of storms, shipwrecks, the possibility of implied cannibalism, and zoo animals threatening humans and confronting, killing, and eating each other -- all of which are likely to be too much for younger children (as are the themes of allegory and mysticism, which will require thoughtful parental explanation). Pi is in near-constant peril throughout the story (though it's told as a flashback, so you know he'll survive) and, after losing his whole family, he must negotiate sharing a very small space with a large, unpredictable tiger (one of Pi's tactics involves peeing on part of the lifeboat they share). But through it all, he remains determined and optimistic, relying on his strong faith to see him through every challenge he must face.
What's the story?
Growing up in India, young Piscine "Pi" Patel (played by Ayush Tandon) is a thoughtful boy who finds himself curious about God in all of his many forms. The strong, if unusual, hybrid faith that he develops serves teenage Pi (played impressively by Suraj Sharma) well after -- spoiler alert! -- he loses his whole family when their ship sinks during a terrible storm and he finds himself adrift on a lifeboat with four zoo animals: a wounded zebra, an aggressive hyena, a friendly orangutan, and the large, unpredictable tiger known as Richard Parker. Eventually just Pi and Richard Parker remain, and together they must figure out how to stay alive on the open ocean.
Is it any good?
LIFE OF PI is a beautiful, emotionally resonant tale of faith, friendship, and perseverance. A runaway bestseller when it was published in 2001, Yann Martel's novel Life of Pi was long considered by many to be unfilmable. After all, one of the two main characters is a tiger, who spends much of the story in close quarters with a teenage human. In the middle of the ocean. But director Ang Lee, who is nothing if not unpredictable himself, has proven any remaining naysayers wrong in spades.
It looks absolutely gorgeous -- like James Cameron did in Avatar, Lee uses 3-D to make the world of Life of Pi an immersive, almost tactile place, from the hummingbirds that flit toward your face to the enormous waves that bear down on you during the intense storm sequences. The CGI is equally impressive; while intellectually you know that it would be next to impossible to get a tiger to do the things that Richard Parker does, there are moments when his fur ripples so realistically that you'd swear he's 100 percent real. While some of the story's twists and themes will probably have more impact on those who haven't read the book, there's no denying that Life of Pi is a powerful movie that's just as likely to make you think as it is to make you shed a tear or cheer in triumph.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about which version of Pi's story they think is true. Why do you think that? Which one do you think the movie wants you to believe?
What is the movie saying about faith? Is it necessary to be religious to be faithful? (Or vice versa?) How is Pi's faith tested?
How does the movie depict Pi's many losses? Do you think you could overcome the challenges he faces? How do his experiences change him as a character?
If you've read the book, how does the movie compare? What changes did you notice? Why do you think filmmakers sometimes change things when adapting books for the big screen?
- In theaters: November 21, 2012
- On DVD or streaming: March 12, 2013
- Cast: Irrfan Khan, Rafe Spall, Suraj Sharma
- Director: Ang Lee
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Adventures, Book characters, Wild animals
- Run time: 127 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: emotional thematic content throughout, and some scary action sequences and peril
- Awards/Honors: Academy Award
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