Celebrating Great Films

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Life of Pi

#227 at time of writing.

A boy (the eponymous Pi) and his family are migrating from Pondicherry to Canada on a large container ship, with all of the animals from their family zoo on board. The ship wrecks and Pi is stranded on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific with an injured zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a fierce Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

The film is an aesthetic marvel, presented absolutely beautifully, just on the right line between reality and fantasy (reminiscent of Amelie - indeed Jean-Pierre Jeunet was attached as director before Ang Lee took over). The animals, for example, feel completely genuine even though they must be largely CGI.

M Night Shyamalan was originally slated to direct. Good thing he didn't because, well, he's rubbish.

Pi's narrative is interwoven with various musings on faith and religion, but the quirky nature of the story obscures any deeper meaning. However, the tale is always compelling, carried along with beauty and charisma until it reaches a crescendo of fantasy and then comes crashing back to reality.

The lifeboat is named Mignonette after the one in the real-life case of R v Dudley and Stephens - a fascinating and macabre story in its own right.

Yann Martel, the author of the Booker prize-winning book, has said he was inspired by a book review of Brazilian author Moacyr Scliar's 1981 novella Max and the Cats, about a Jewish-German refugee who crossed the Atlantic Ocean while sharing his boat with a jaguar.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Lion King

#79 at time of writing.

This film announces itself as something special in the first five minutes. A sweeping panorama of the African savannah with swarms of animals gathering to welcome a newborn lion prince, set to Elton John and Tim Rice's beautifully crafted song "The Circle of Life" - and then, boom, the title screen. Awesome.

The visuals are stunning throughout, but what really makes the movie is the dramatic story (inspired by Hamlet) and the thoroughly musical sense of humour.

It's very telling that the recent re-release of the film in 3D has seen it rocket more than 20 places higher in IMDb's ranking - a sign that this (mostly) hand-animated marvel has endured into the age of ubiquitous CGI.

Arguably the peak of the 90s Disney Renaissance, and one of the best (non-Pixar) Disney animated features ever.