Since we're talking about animals...
Like a red rag to a bull, nothing excites a director quite like the book that seems impossible to bring to the big screen. And in the last decade Yann Martel's Man Booker Prize-winning Life of Pi has been up at the top end of that unfilmable list - at various times directors M Night Shyamalan, Alfonso Cuarón and Jean-Pierre Jeunet were all attached to the planned movie but left for various reasons. Eventually, one bizarre journey ended when the project found its way to Ang Lee, but then a whole new one began as he set off to make this story of God, love and the triumph of the human spirit on the high seas. In Taiwan. In an old aircraft hanger. In 3D.
The right man has done a great job.
Life of Pi tells the story of Piscine Molitor 'Pi' Patel (newcomer Sharma – top class), a 16-year-old who loses his family in a shipwreck while travelling from the zoo they owned in India to Canada to begin a new life. Four of Pi's travelling companions have also survived the cargo ship's sinking: a zebra with a broken leg, a hyena, an orang-utan called Orange Juice and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger. What happens next will amaze, upset and ultimately inspire you.
There's a sentence in Martel's book about the Pacific which captures Lee's technical achievements here: "The stage is vast, the lighting is dramatic, the extras are innumerable, and the budget for special effects is absolutely unlimited." Like Pi, there's a feast for the audience's senses as the Pacific, in all its glory, comes to life - the 3D is excellent, the colours are incredible and your immersion in them is absolute.
But along with that studio wizardry, Lee has managed to capture the spirit of the bestseller in one of the most faithful and fulfilling adaptations you're ever likely to see. He condenses the first, sometimes heavy-going 90 pages of the book into a wonderful, Indian-set first act; the time on the boat with Richard Parker and co is perfect and, while the ending is also shortened, it still works beautifully. There are plenty of smiles in the dark and a few tears here, too. In the history of great movie characters you'll never forget the stunningly realised Richard Parker - a 'friend' for life.
Perhaps Life of Pi should have been released closer to the Oscars to achieve critical mass, but its message is also ideal for this time of year: be thankful for what you've got. And there's so much to be thankful for here.