Yesterday was an “all hail Life of Pi” day (especially for guys like Glenn Kenny), but Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn nailed it when he said Pi “seems destined for the Hugo slot” in the Best Picture race. Which means it’ll end up as a marginal contender and a respectable also-ran. Esteemed director, luscious painterly 3D, kid/family appeal (as indicated by the Bambi-level, non-existent PG suggestions of animal killings and flesh devourings), a certain spiritual current with a nice little ending.

Strip it down to basics and Pi is a highly respectable eye-candy achievement that really isn’t all that great but is certainly attaboy-ish in this or that respect, especially if you want to be obliging or comme ci comme ca in your initial review.

I respected the intent and certainly admired aspects of Life of Pi but I wasn’t floored. Boil it all down and it’s a modest little parable — a doodle, really — that’s not so much painted with CG as smothered with the stuff, like chocolate syrup obliterating the creamy hues in a bowl of vanilla ice cream. MCN’s David Poland doesn’t see any “there” there, In Contention‘s Kris Tapley is respectful but not over the moon about it (he called it “messy“), and Hollywood Reporter awards columnist Scott Feinberg sees it mainly as a tech contender.

So just calm down and consider the joint message of Kohn, Wells, Poland, Tapley and Feinberg. Everyone is just being polite and alpha-smiley right now because it came into the NYFF yesterday with all the attendant hoopla and hosannahs with a nice after-party at the Harvard Club …it’s so beautiful to look at! And let’s not forget the visuals!

I was listening to Anne Thompson talk yesterday about how she choked up during the moment when the Bengal Tiger (a.k.a. “Richard Parker”) put his head on Pi’s lap…what? That moment was a wank — a bizarre negation of the natural order and nature of things for no discernible purpose except to emotionally “get” viewers like Anne. For me it was checkout time. Big tigers (even starved and exhausted ones) will always want to eat you, eternally and forever, and the only way they’ll ever abandon this instinct is when fanciful writers and filmmakers decide they want to add a certain “awww” factor.

Once the cosmic beatific smiles and alpha-politeness vibes and back-patting instincts calm down and the next movie comes along and then the next one and the next one and it all gets tossed around in a big salad bowl and the Glenn Kenny and Sasha Stone and Ed Douglas types have shot their rhetorical wads and run out of breath, people will see Life of Pi for what it is — respectfully but without great amounts of love — and rank it accordingly.

Yes, Life of Pi is more substantial film than Hugo — the spiritual current will be seen as at least semi-alluring or even semi-profound by almost everyone — but it’s basically the same kind of tree with the same kind of trimmings.