The African Queen (1951) PICK
Casablanca (1942) PICK
Life of Pi (2012) PICK
Rise of the Guardians (2012) PICK
It’s somehow fitting that Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning Life of Pi and DreamWorks’ computer-animated family film Rise of the Guardians, which opened in theaters on the same date, now make their home-video debut on the same date.
Both are visually gorgeous, richly colorful fantasy adventures with striking, if problematic, spiritual overtones.
Life of Pi, based on Yann Martel’s novel about an Indian youth named Pi Patel who survives a shipwreck only to find himself sharing a lifeboat with a ferocious tiger, has a lot of overt "God talk," with its hero’s spiritual path progressively embracing Hinduism, Christianity and Islam — without rejecting any of them.
Rise of the Guardians, based on William Joyce’s kid-lit series The Guardians of Childhood, is much more secular; we meet Santa Claus (aka "North") and the Easter Bunny (along with the Tooth Fairy and the Sandman), but there’s no hint of religious meaning to Christmas and Easter. ("Easter is new beginnings, new life … hope" is as close as we get.)
Still, a distinctly monotheistic vibe characterizes the mysterious Man in the Moon, who watches silently from the heavens, chooses and calls the Guardians, and gives their existence purpose and meaning, even if they struggle or don’t understand. Then there’s the Boogeyman, a Mephistophelian figure who seeks to tempt the hero, Jack Frost, from his appointed path.
Both movies are rather secular, syncretic tales about vague belief essentially embracing all the options, though animated with a real sense of wonder and existential desire. The parts are often more than the whole — from Pi’s atheist father sensibly objecting that "believing in everything" is the same as "not believing in anything at all" to North’s intriguing monologue about having a "center."
Ultimately, Life of Pi and Rise of the Guardians are in that odd category of movies I’m glad I saw, even if I can’t entirely embrace them. I’ll remember Life of Pi’s poetic blendings of sea and sky and the Tooth Fairy’s gorgeous palace long after merely innocuous movies have faded from memory.
In other releases, two-pack movie combos are seldom worthwhile, but this one’s a keeper: The Humphrey Bogart classics Casablanca and The African Queen are newly available from Warner Bros. in two-disc Blu-ray or DVD editions. You can’t go wrong with this.
Content Advisory: The African Queen: Brief wartime violence; a squirm-inducing scene with leeches; a scene of drunkenness. Older kids and up. Casablanca: Some menace and gunplay; oblique sexual references and depictions of womanizing. Teens and up. Life of Pi: Religious syncretism; violent scenes of animal predation and menace; allusions to a crass word. Tweens and up. Rise of the Guardians: Fantasy action violence and scary fantasy images. Older kids and up.