And that's the point: "Life of Pi" is an allegory. It's a story. To emphasize that, the author of the novel, Yann Martel, and the scriptwriter, David Magee, employ many means to remind the audience that this is a story. It's even a story within a story within a story, and, if you don't like those frames, Martel offers an alternate story in the end but keeps the symbols. And no one else could have directed this story as well as Ang Lee, whose fame and fortune are based on his ability to maintain the magic of story. He did that with "Eat Drink Man Woman," with "Pushing Hands," "The Ice Storm," "Ride with the Devil," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Brokeback Mountain."
"Life of Pi" is about a boy named for a swimming pool, a French one at that. His father is a zookeeper in a French part of India who decides to remove to Toronto; en route on a freighter, the family is drowned in a storm, all except for Pi and a few animals on his ark of a lifeboat. Soon, animals being, well, animals, all that's left of the menagerie are Pi and Richard Parker. Richard Parker -- funny story about that name -- is a 450-pound Bengal tiger. He and Pi learn to live with one another for hundreds of days at sea.
Suraj Sharma is wonderful as the teenage Pi. Whereas in the book, Martel could use interior monologue for Pi's thoughts and reactions, Lee lets silence reign alongside Sharma's acting. Sure, some things are lost, such as Martel's metaphor of the tiger's slurping a rat's tail like a spaghetto, but nothing vital. Tabu plays Pi's mother, and Adil Hussain plays his father. The brutish cook is played by Gerard Depardieu, and it's a testament to his acting that, although Depardieu appears only in one major scene, when the cook is alluded to in the alternate story, it's Depardieu's face that returns to the mind's eye.
"Life of Pi" is beautifully shot in 3D, a method that supported filming animals on roiling waters but is not necessary to the look of the film. Sharp scenes, like the albino moon on the water or lightning bolting across a sky, are balanced with ingenious scenes, such as Pi filling the lower left-hand corner reading the survival manual while over the rest of the screen Pi moves about the lifeboat following the manual's direction. And, yes, the meerkats are there in the millions. Lee broadens the film's appeal by deleting the gory parts of this allegory. But he leaves the story intact. "Life of Pi" frames integrity with depth.