A BOY is stranded on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger, a zebra, a hyena and an orang utan - it might sound like the premise of a joke but it's also the plot of Canadian author Yann Martel's award-winning Man Booker Prize 2002 novel, Life of Pi.
A decade on, Ang Lee has brought the bestseller to life on the big screen and what a spectacular job he's done.
No stranger to adapting novels into movies, the Taiwanese director scores a hat-trick here after previously turning Annie Proulx's Brokeback Mountain and Eileen Chang's Lust, Caution into critically acclaimed and commercially successful films.
In Life of Pi, the 3D plays a bit role and it's anything but gimmicky. Uncommonly used in dramas, Lee deftly employs it as a storytelling tool to turn Martel's philosophical yarn into a fine piece of family entertainment.
The result is a magically dazzling film - similar to Martin Scorsese's Hugo - that unfolds scene by scene like the pages of a giant storybook.
It deserves to be seen on the big(gest) screen for maximum pleasure, as well as to fully appreciate Claudio Miranda's (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Tron: Legacy) vivid cinematography in all its glory.
The film bursts to life immediately in the colourful first hour set in Pondicherry, the former French concession of India.
Like most foreign filmmakers, Lee overplays the exotic-ness of the country a little but the playful mood coincidentally complements the introduction of Pi, a young boy who is not afraid to let his imagination run wild.
When financial woes strike, his family is forced to emigrate and move the zoo they own to Canada. But a storm sinks the ship they're on and Pi is the only human to make it to the lifeboat.
His ordeal doesn't end there; his companion is a hungry Bengal tiger which Pi has to learn to tame if he wants to stay alive.
Life of Pi's visual effects is nothing short of a technical feat, marking a breakthrough in cinema not seen since James Cameron's Avatar. The tiger looks so realistic you'd still do a double take even though you know it's rendered entirely by CGI.
Lee's decision to cut Tobey Maguire out of the film so the unknown cast won't interfere with the storytelling is a great call.
The newbies don't let him down either, in particular Suraj Sharma, who plays the teenaged Pi. He has the toughest job acting against a green screen with no co-stars to interact with since a large portion of the film is just his character and the tiger drifting out at sea.
But the first-timer more than amply repays Lee for picking the then-17-year-old over 3,000 other hopefuls with an impressive and natural performance.
There's no question Life of Pi is a visually stunning cinematic experience for all ages and it's been awhile since any filmmaker has shown 3D technology this much respect by not using it just for the sake of charging higher ticket prices.
Expect this tale of a boy and a tiger to roar its way into the nomination lists of the upcoming awards season.