July 30, 2016

Around Town

Town reminds residents of snow and ice control plan

When anywhere from 1/4 – 1/2 an inch of snow accumulates, the Williston Public Works Department dispatches approximately seven trucks to salt the roads, mostly the town’s main highways and commuter routes. Sand is mainly applied to gravel surfaced roads.

Full-scale plowing operations are conducted over seven designated routes. Within each route, certain streets are designated as primary routes to be opened first so all areas of town can be reached by snow removal crews and emergency vehicles. After all streets are opened, the drivers may begin to push back the accumulated snow to the curb or shoulder line. This work is vital on narrow streets because, in Vermont, another storm is never far behind. If widening out is not done as soon as possible, the banks of snow may freeze and become impossible to move at a later time. This opening up and pushing back may take place more than once during a major storm event.

Residents can help during extreme winter storm events by staying off the roads unless it is absolutely necessary and by not parking in the street. If you must be on the streets, make sure your vehicle has snow tires. Wait until plowing is finished before shoveling to avoid having to start over with the next pass of the snowplow.

Winter plowing operations are far more effective if residents refrain from parking on the street during winter storms, which cause delays in winter maintenance operations. Refrain from blowing, plowing or shoveling snow into the street. It can be unsafe for other motorists using the streets or roadways.

Williston has a winter parking ban on town streets now through April 1 between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Make sure your mailbox and post are in good shape prior to cold weather. The bottom of the box should be 42 to 48 inches off the ground and no part of the box should be over the shoulder of the road.

 

Water and sewer bills due

The Town of Williston water and sewer bills have been mailed and are due Dec. 30. Payments by check or cash can be made at the town clerk’s office.

 

Resources available for children’s programs

Community programs in Vermont and New Hampshire that serve rural, low-income, and at-risk children are encouraged to apply to the Children’s Literacy Foundation for one of its at-risk children program grants.

The programs selected will receive a collection of books for an on-site library, an interactive storytelling presentation and two new children’s books for each of the children the program serves.

To qualify, an organization must be able to host an event with at least 25 children ages 12 and under. At least 40 percent of those children must qualify for free or reduced lunch or other assistance programs.

To apply, write a few paragraphs telling about the community program and how a donation of new books would be beneficial to the children served. Include how many children are reached, the age range and the economic circumstances or other challenges they face.

Applications must also include a contact name, street address complete with zip code, phone number and email address if applicable. Send applications to julia@clifonline.org or to CLiF, 1536 Loomis Hill Road, Waterbury Center, Vt., 05677. For more information, visit www.clifonline.org.

Redhawk engineers earn honors

A team of Champlain Valley Union engineers won an engineering competition at the University of Vermont, beating out more than 30 teams for the top prize, while a second CVU team won several top honors.

This year’s annual Aiken/TASC competition, held Dec. 1, challenged students from local high and middle schools to design and build one or multiple vehicles that could make it through four courses using only human generated power. The courses included a 30-meter straight course, a 30-meter cargo carrying course, an 80-foot obstacle course and an incline cargo carrying course.

Project RedHawk won overall first place and also took top honors in marketing presentation award and the obstacle course challenge. The team also came in second place for every other challenge.

A second CVU team, RedHawk Engineering, took the top prize for the most cargo delivered up the incline, the cargo carrying course and cargo carrying efficiency. Redhawk Engineering also came in third in the marketing presentation and fourth in the obstacle course.

Champlain Valley Union honor roll

The following Williston and St. George students were on the first quarter honor roll at Champlain Valley Union High School.

High honors

Kyle W. Abrahams, Megan Ammon, Aliza Anderson, Kyla L. Antonioli, Renee L. Benoit, Samara G. Bissonette, Liam H. Bowley, Olivia V. Brissette, Max H. Brown, Austin W. Burbank, Mari L. Caminiti, Joseph M. Castano, Delan S. Chen, Alexandra L. Clapper, Duncan Clear, Jenna N. Clear, Lyndsey C. Clos, Alec J. Collins, Amanda Daniels, Jacqueline R. Davies, Zackary T. Davis, Matthew C. Decker, Josephine  DeVita, Amber L. Downs, Evangeline S. Dunphy, Kirsten D. Forrester, Megan Gannon, Caleb M. Geffken, Sarah E. Gelin, Gregory H. Goldman, Matthew R. Goldsborough, Taylor H. Goldsborough, Evan P. Grey, Mackenzie A. Gunn, Theodore E. Hadley, Ju-I (Alan)  Huang, Chelsea R. Huber, Andrea A. Joseph, Kathleen Joseph, Jacob Kahn, Alexander D. Kaplan, Abigail C. Keim, Joshua A. Klein, Joshua G. Klein, Kaelyn L. Kohlasch, Sydney W. Lalancette, Thomas B. Lang, Sarah C. Leister, Eliza E. Lemieux, Shana R. Leonard, Hannah E. L’Esperance, Olivia G. Loisel, Cunhao  Lu, Hope E. Luria, Christopher T. Mallow, Ryan A. Martel, William R. McSalis, Eleanor Moody, Lydia Moreman, Carly J. Neeld, Sean R. Newell, Seamus T. Nolan, Alyson J. O’Connell, Meghan E. O’Day, Danielle Peters, Christopher J. Petrillo, Emily Pierson, Deagan C. Poland, Maureen Porter, Mikaela C. Rath, Ethan R. Reid, Christopher J. Reiss, Mary M. Rutenbeck, Leah A. Sargent, Shea Savage, Lillian R. Schmoker, Emily A. Scott, Samantha J. Shanks, Rachel E. Slimovitch, Catherine S. Spitzer, Rebecca J. Stancliffe, Louis J. St-Pierre, Katrina R. Ulanov, Christian R. Vien, Thomas M. Weening, Sean M. Yarolin

A/B Honors

Zachary M. Akey, Kustamakton  Ali, Ryan J. Allen, Stephen D. Asch, Jessica H. Ballard, Katherine J. Barland, Erika Barth, Jacob R. Bauer, Kristin R. Bauer, Dillon G. Beliveau, Liam Beliveau, Erik J. Bergkvist, Sarah E. Bergkvist, Summer Bishop, Elizabeth M. Boutin, Kathleen A. Boutin, Nicholas R. Bouton, Connor J. Brown, Jennifer A. Brown, Anthony S. Burds, Austin T. Busch, Jenna Caminiti, Ayla R. Campisi, Jack T. Carnahan, Cynthia R. Carpenter, Landon F. Carpenter, Jacqueline Casson, Ethan C. Caterer, Zuhair A. Chaudhry, Joseph D. Chevalier, Michael Chirgwin, Kaitlin R. Clark, Arlo M. Cohen, Evan R. Cohen, William D. Colomb, Amy  Conn, Kelsey Craige, David J. Daly, Jacqueline Davies, Arianna M. Davis, Jacob L. Dawson, Rebecca DeCamp, Julie Decker, Conor J. Delphia, Nikolas J. Delphia, Dustin R. Desany, Arika L. DesLauriers, Julienne  DeVita, Alec F. Distler, Amelia Dodds, Forrest M. Dodds, Amanda Dominguez Munoz, Tyler Donohue, Cameron Drake, Emily M. Dykes, Scott D. Edwards, Evan R. Engisch, Hadley Erdman, Sara Erickson, Daniel P. Faris, Matthew D. Faris, Eli M. Favro, Brian J. Fisher, Kiernan J. Fitzgerald, Parker T. Francis, Taggart S. Francis, Rose E. Friedlander, Travis A. Fuller, Brendan P. Gannon, Stephen B. Garcia, Sarah D. Gerry, Samantha N. Gilliam, Kaleb M. Godbout, Warren A. Grunvald, Brianna P. Hake, Hunter Hake, Shane P. Haley, Laura A. Harris, Colton  Heh, Peter Hibbeler, Katelyn Hodgkins, Michael Howell, Nathaniel S. Hubbard, Joshua F. Huber, Owen H. Hudson, Shea I. Ingham, Chandler R. Jacobson, Laura V. Jennings, Anna Johnson, Aleksey K. Jordick, Kamuran Karakus, Alison R. Kahn, Brad L. Kennedy, Grace E. Kennedy, Emma F. Kinsel, Dani R. Klein, Ashley M. Kolibas, Joseph P. Kolk, Maya E. Kunigis, Zoey M. LaChance, Ryan H. Lackey, Jonathen LaDue, Kristyn L. LaFrance, Sarah LaRock, Bruce  Larrow, Michelle O. LaStrada, Quinn M. Ledak, Tara M. Lewis, Noah S. Lieberman, Corinne S. Loiseau, Keller A. Longchamp, Ben Longenbach, Samuel H. Longenbach, Kathryn C. Lyle, Kendra E. Maille, Megan Mansfield, Patrick Mara, Cole Marino, Tianna L. Marsh, Tanner J. Mashia, Kevin P. Masse, Tucker W. Mathieson, Will J. McAllister, Patrick R. McCue, Kaitlyn McSalis, Brooke Merchant, Morganne M. Meunier, Even Michaels, Samuel Mikell, Amanda A. Milne, Jacob Mount, Ryan Mount, Kimberly Murray, Kelly Y. Ng, Lily H. Nguyen, Phillip Nguyen, Rachel E. Nigh, Alexandra E. Novak, Emily M. O’Brien, Cooper O’Connell, Kassidy J. O’Connell, Collin E. Osbahr, Max A. Palmer, Maria Pasley, Noah Patnode, Patrick R. Pattison, Dustin R. Peters, Emmett B. Peterson, Tyler M. Pillsbury, Carlos Pino, Daniel R. Poodiack, Miranda L. Poulos, Phoebe C. Quayle, Gabriella D. Ribeiro, S. Maxwell Rieley, Stephanie L. Riley, Cameron J. Rivard, Kaitlin Robert, Makenzie R. Roberts, Isabelle G. Rose, Samuel G. Rose, Hannan R. Rouelle, Peter C. Roy, Jacob A. Russo, Sierra N. Saia, Jacquelyn A. Samuelsen, Ryan S. Schneiderman, Carly E. Sears, Colin M. Senesac, Katie L. Sevene, Sylvie M. Shanks, Patrick W. Sheedy, Hayden C. Smith, Tanner Smith, Alison Spasyk, Anne R. Spector, Emily C. Spencer, Aleksandra R. Stamper, Loran Stearns, Rebecca L. Towne, Chloe A. Trifilio, Christopher M. Trifilio, Niles E. Trigg, Jessica Underwood, Taylor H. Underwood, Grace A. Usher, Jacob Veronneau, Paige A. Watson, Thomas Watson, Kellie L. Weening, Anthea S. Weiss, Cale C. Whitcomb, Dane Whitcomb, Kevin O. Wilkinson, Willaim Yakubik, Brandon Young

Burlington Technical School

The following students earned an A- or better: Alexandra Clapper (A+); Kiernan Fitzgerald; Sarah Gerry; Andre Hathaway; Austin LaBerge; Jeremy Lerner.

Replacement of Williston’s state police barracks a low priority

Alternate locations for the Williston barracks of the Vermont State Police are being considered in Richmond and Milton. (Observer photo by Luke Baynes)

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

The Vermont State Police hosted a public forum at its Williston barracks on Dec. 5 to gather feedback and answer questions about the long-term plans for the 52-year-old facility on Vermont 2A.

One Richmond resident attended the 6:30 p.m. meeting. No Williston residents showed up.

As the Observer reported in June, the state police, in conjunction with the Vermont Department of Buildings and General Services, is in the process of conducting a $50,000 feasibility study for the potential replacement or consolidation of barracks in Bradford, Brattleboro, Middlesex, Rockingham, Rutland, St. Johnsbury, Shaftsbury and Williston.

At the Dec. 5 meeting, Capt. Glenn Hall, who serves as state police commander of Troop A (Williston, St. Albans and Middlesex), said the Williston barracks is in better condition than most of the other facilities and is thus low in the pecking order for replacement.

“The Williston barracks is not high on the priority list as far as replacing the eight barracks that we need to replace,” Hall said. “There’s certainly other barracks that need replacing much quicker than Williston.”

Hall noted that 10 potential sites for a new facility to replace the Williston barracks have been identified in Richmond and Milton. He said Richmond is the preferred location because of its proximity to towns without municipal police departments that the state police serves, such as Jericho and Bolton.

“I think the best location for the Williston barracks is probably somewhere in the area off the Richmond exit (of Interstate 89),” Hall said. “We need to have access to the interstate to cover the area that we cover.”

Maj. William Sheets, executive officer for the state police, said it could be quite some time before the Williston barracks is relocated.

“The fast track here literally could be 8 to 10 years (as) the fastest I could envision this being built. It could be as far out as 15 to 20 years,” Sheets said.

New owner at Monty’s Old Brick Tavern

Monty’s Old Brick Tavern, located at 7921 Williston Road, has been purchased by Williston resident Mark Akey. (Observer photo by Luke Baynes)

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

So long Monty’s, hello Akes’.

Monty’s Old Brick Tavern has been sold by founder David Herskowitz to Williston resident Mark Akey, who plans to rename the lone restaurant and bar in Williston’s historic village Akes’ Old Brick Tavern.

Herskowitz, who founded Monty’s in 2009, said the sale will be finalized Dec. 17.

“It’s time to do something else in my life,” Herskowitz said.

Akey, who obtained first class liquor license approval from the Williston Selectboard on Dec. 3, said he hopes to remain open for the holidays but might need to close for a week or two afterward for minor renovations. He declined to comment on specific details of the new establishment, simply noting: “I won’t be changing it very much.”

Akey is no stranger to the food and drink industry. The former owner of Akes’ Place in Burlington, Akey sold the popular college hangout in 2010 to focus on Akes’ Den, a rustic restaurant and pub in Waitsfield. He plans to sell Akes’ Den and concentrate on the Old Brick Tavern.

“It’s a great opportunity and a great location,” Akey said. “I’m really excited about it.”

Santa Night is coming to town

Costumed Santa Night participants sing during last year’s event, which raised more than $15,000 for local nonprofits. (Observer courtesy photos)

By Stephanie Choate

Observer staff

A crowd of costumed singers dressed as Santas and elves will flood Williston on Friday, belting out holiday carols with questionable skills levels to raise money for local organizations.

The 14th annual Santa Night is set for Dec. 14, with stops at Mexicali Grill & Cantina and the Vermont Respite House. More than 50 participants raise a minimum of $150 for a seat on a bus that tours restaurants and bars in the greater Burlington area.

“It’s permanent smiles all night long,” said cofounder Dean Ferrara. “It’s really funny, and it’s a great time.”

Ferrara said singing ability is not a factor in eligibility to join Santa Night.

“If you’re a good singer, technically we don’t want you on the bus,” he joked.

Williston resident Robin Faraone will be among the carolers on Friday, her fourth year participating.

“It’s the best,” she said. “It’s the most fun you can possibly have with a fundraiser.”

Faraone—who noted that her singing voice is “not that good”—said she loves seeing the looks on people’s faces when they see a busload of elves and Santas drive by or pour into a restaurant.

The event raises money for more than 20 local nonprofits, including COTS, Camp Ta-Kum-Ta, Women Helping Battered Women, Lund Family Center, Golden Huggs and more. Last year, it raised approximately $15,000.

“Our goal is to try and help people during the holidays that just need a little extra help,” Ferrara said. “We do it because we believe in the mission of helping those people that just need a break.”

Ferrara and fellow cofounder Andrew Allen said they give the profits directly to organizations and let them distribute it.

“The money fills in the gaps for all of these nonprofits, and we try to empower them as much as possible,” Allen said.

Though most money is raised before the event by the singers, the group also passes a festive hat at each stop to collect donations. Santa Night itself is more of a celebration than a fundraising event.

“We do great things with the money, but the event is so much fun and the asks are so low pressure,” Allen said. “Not everyone can write $100 check, but everyone can give a buck.”

There is one serious stop on the bus route, Ferrara said—the Vermont Respite House, which is also a receiving organization.

“Everyone has to sing their best,” he said. “So many people have been impacted by the Respite House. We go in there and line the hallways, and we sing to the best of our ability.”

Ferrara added that they made a commitment to visit the Respite House from year one.

“It’s very emotional,” he said. “It means so much to the people and the families that are there.”

Sharon Keegan, Vermont Respite House administrator, said the event shows people in the Respite House that members of the community care about them, and they “haven’t been forgotten.”

“It’s spreading a little bit of the normal holiday cheer, so that’s very sweet,” she said. “It’s a difficult time for people to be in a hospice residence.”

Though difficult, the Vermont Respite House is Faraone’s favorite stop.

“We just gather in the hallways there, and that’s a really special moment,” she said.

Her first year participating, Faraone said she was too overcome with emotion to sing.

“I was just overwhelmed with the notion of this being probably the last Christmas those people will have,” she said. “It’s just very touching. It’s our one last chance to do something special for them.”

Ferarra estimated the bus would be at Mexicali between 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. Online donations are also accepted. For more information and a full list of stops, visit www.santanight.com/burlington.


Five percent increase proposed for town budget

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

The town of Williston’s proposed fiscal year 2014 budget was unveiled Monday in all its 164-page density during a special Selectboard session at the Williston Woods Activity Center.

As outlined by Town Manager Rick McGuire and Finance Director Susan Lamb, the proposed operating budget is $8,924,780—a 5.3 percent increase over the current fiscal year.

If approved, the budget increase would equate to an estimated 2-cent hike in the current municipal property tax rate of 23.23 cents per $100 of assessed property value.

On Monday, Town Clerk Deb Beckett, Library Director Marti Fiske and Fire Chief Ken Morton threw their own two cents into the budget discussion with plugs for budget considerations.

Beckett went first, outlining a 7.9 percent increase in departmental expenditures. She said staffing duties will need to be reshuffled, due to the retirements of longtime treasurer and clerk assistants Kathy Boyden and Kathy Smardon.

“What I would be looking for is two full-time equivalent positions, a full-time admin assistant and another part-time, if needed, assistant clerk up to 10 hours a week,” Beckett said.

Fiske followed, relaying a modest 2.4 percent library expenditure increase. Of particular interest was a proposed $1,000 increase to the “performers and program supplies” line item, which Fiske pointed out would still represent a 4 percent decrease from the fiscal year 2009 budget. She said the additional funding is necessary to entertain the children whose parents utilize the Dorothy Alling Memorial Library as an afterschool community center.

“We are incredibly popular with the afterschool crowd, and find it very difficult to get as many kids into programs as we’d like,” Fiske said. “Because we are considered a safe place, and we do our best to entertain kids, we are very popular with parents for afterschool care … and the kids need something to do.”

Fire Chief Ken Morton was the evening’s closing presenter and offered the most striking departure from the budget outlined by McGuire and Lamb.

Regarding on call firefighters/EMTs, Morton requested that the proposed hourly wage increase of 50 cents be doubled to $1. Currently, on call emergency services personnel earn $9.05 per hour—59 cents above the Vermont minimum wage.

In terms of overall staffing, Morton advocated adding two full-time firefighter/EMT positions to the town manager’s proposal of promoting one current part-time firefighter/EMT to full-time status. The two additional full-time positions would increase taxpayers’ municipal property taxes by approximately $8.22 per $100,000 of assessed home value.

Morton noted that currently there are two full-time firefighters/EMTs and one chief on duty at any one time. He said the staffing increase will allow for three full-timers to supplement the on-duty chief, thus adhering to the National Fire Protection Association’s standard of “two in, two out,” which maintains that a two-person firefighting team entering a burning structure should have two support firefighters stationed outside.

“I think it’s critical. One example would be when I come to work in the morning at 7:15 and there’s nobody in the fire house, because the two people on shift got an EMS call, they took the ambulance and they’re off to pick up the patient and go to the hospital in that one and a half hour loop, and there’s no one protecting Williston until I get to work,” Morton said. “I think that is a huge shortfall that we need to address.”

Morton acknowledged to the Selectboard that his request might be “a tough pill to swallow,” but he cited Williston’s growing population and economic development as an indicator that demand is outgrowing the department’s resources.

“This is the last piece to the puzzle, and it’s an important piece, and it’s got to be funded,” Morton said.

The Selectboard’s next meeting is scheduled for Dec. 17 at the Town Hall meeting room. On the docket are the Williston Police and Planning and Zoning department budgets.

Wheels are turning for return of Skateland

Tammy Anthony, née Perren, practices her roller skating moves at Skateland Vermont in Williston with instructor John Allen, circa 1980. Anthony is the sister of Scott Perren, who has announced plans to build a modernized version of Skateland on Susie Wilson Road in Essex. (Observer courtesy photo)

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

The next time you decide to clean out the attic or reorganize the garage, think twice about tossing those age-stiffened roller skates that have been gathering dust since last century.

You just might need them.

Scott Perren—whose parents, Dorothy Perren and Keith Wright, ran the Williston roller skating rink Skateland Vermont for nearly a quarter century—has announced plans to open a modernized version of Skateland in Essex. He hopes it will be a throwback to the age when the local roller rink was the stuff dreams were made of.

“We were the community hub through the ’70s and ’80s and ’90s,” Perren said of the original Skateland. “That’s where every kid had his first girlfriend. I don’t know how many marriages we set up, with people meeting each other there on their first dates.”

Skateland opened for business on Vermont 2A—near the location of the recently constructed CVS/pharmacy—in 1976, the year America celebrated its bicentennial. It burned to the ground in 1978, but was quickly rebuilt and lasted until Dec. 31, 1999—the eve of the Y2K problem, when the fate of mankind purportedly hung in the balance because of computer programming oversights.

Skateland closed not because of faulty computer code, but due to the death of Keith Wright, Scott Perren’s stepfather. Perren, now 43, said the time has come to reestablish the family legacy.

“I can’t go into a supermarket or a fair without somebody coming up and telling me they met their significant other at the rink, or there’s no place to go with their kids,” Perren said. “We were the only family recreation around, and there’s nothing today. That’s why I’m bringing it back.”

The proposed location of the reincarnation of Skateland is 6A Susie Wilson Road, adjacent to Lowe’s, on land owned by Perren’s business partner, Al Senecal. Perren said he plans to break ground in late April or early May 2013, with a tentative opening in the latter half of next year.

“What we’re trying to do is make it affordable for a family to have a place to hang out and not worry about their kids drinking or doing drugs,” Perren said. “On a Friday night, somebody can drop their kid off with $20 in their pocket and it will be good for four hours. You really can’t get that affordability anymore.”

In addition to roller skating, Perren noted that Skateland will feature a track for electric go-karts and a full snack bar. Special events will include roller hockey leagues and musical theme nights, such as disco or ’80s music. It’s part of a concerted strategy, Perren said, to get kids off the couch and away from video games.

“There hasn’t been a rink here in 12 years, so there’s a lot of kids that quite frankly have never even strapped on a pair of roller skates,” he said. “It drives me crazy to see this next generation not involved in physical activity.”

But Perren added that Skateland will be safe exercise “for everybody, no matter what age you are.”

“You can burn up to 600 calories per hour roller skating, at a measly 8 miles per hour, which rivals bicycling or jogging, without the wear and tear on your knees and joints,” Perren said.

Skateland Vermont founded a Facebook page on Nov. 17. Within 24 hours, it had more than 2,000 “likes.” By Observer press deadline on Dec. 12, its Internet fans were nearing 4,000.

“I knew it was going to be popular, but this is even beyond my thoughts of how popular it was going to be,” Perren said. “Vermont needs it, and they’ve been asking for it, and I pulled the trigger and brought it back.”

PHOTOS: Williston tree lighting

 The Williston tree lighting ceremony, hosted by Williston Brownie Troop 30948 on Dec. 2, including Christmas carol singing by the Varietones, desserts, the tree lighting and the decorated S.D. Ireland truck. Observer photos by Stephen Mease, www.stevemease.com)


THIS WEEK’S POPCORN: “Life of Pi”

The Young Man and the Sea

By Michael S. Goldberger

Special to the Observer

 

Director Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi,” adapted by screenwriter David Magee from Yann Martel’s fantastical novel, is engaging and fascinating. However, if you’ve already been through your Hermann Hesse period and have a gift for glibly dismissing that which no longer resonates, “been there, done that” may apply to this foray into Eastern philosophy.

 

Granted, this is big, expansive, colorful and technically accomplished filmmaking. And yet, though one can’t help emote for the title character, who finds himself shipwrecked and holed up with a Bengal tiger in a lifeboat for 227 days, my religious faith remains unaltered. Alas, G-d is still a nice old guy with a long white beard and a Jewish accent.

 

Pi Patel, splendidly portrayed by four different actors at various stages of his life, would have liked it if I had at least expanded on that belief as a result of the spiritual adventure that begins when his dad decides to sell their zoo in India. The ensuing journey across the Pacific, the devastating storm they encounter and what then follows is all rather trippy.

 

A combination of sensational cinematography, animatronics and computer razzmatazz makes for a world that flits from real to surreal, with a few gauzy stops between those two conditions. Likewise, the spare but pungent script encompasses an amalgam of styles, ranging from the stuff of Rudyard Kipling to Roald Dahl to the Brothers Grimm.

 

Now, I can’t speak for your kid. But a gaggle of moppets whose parents figured they’d find this PG offering metaphysically enlightening seemed much more intent on finding a shorter route to the facilities and the concession stand. But be warned, ye who don’t believe in babysitters. The Bengal tiger will scare the bejesus out of anyone south of 8.

 

Amazing stuff, these electronic scions of yesteryear’s puppetry. When Richard Parker (the tiger’s name, as it is whimsically explained by Pi) bares his teeth in a wide-mouthed growl, I could swear Smell-O-Vision was also an integral part of this film’s technological wonders. I admit to launching from my seat a couple of times, and I’m a little past 8.

 

Shades of Hitchcock’s “Lifeboat” (1944) and the film adaptation of Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” (1958), life aboard the double-ended skiff in an ocean of unknown perils is at once confining and unbearably desolate. Pi is initially joined by the tiger, a hyena, an orangutan and a zebra. But that soon whittles down to the chief protagonists.

 

Or, is it antagonists, as the story subtly and philosophically asks? It works on a bunch of levels, with both a Western and Eastern impetus tossed into the grand quandary director Lee astutely poses. And if you’re up for the ruminative exercise, the gray matter will doubtless explore whatever nooks and crannies of the human existence it finds apt.

 

But again, don’t expect any hard and fast answers or life changing epiphanies. Rather, as the pundits have informed us over the ages, the odyssey is the destination. Viewers with a penchant for the quantitative could feel overly Yin and Yanged at times. What might really throw them is the big surprise at the end. Obscure hint: Think “Sophie’s Choice.”

 

That said, the saga is related in the traditional, British armchair style, except that it’s in a Montreal kitchen and over a humble meal where the adult Pi Patel (Irrfan Khan) regales an aspiring author (Rafe Spall) in search of a story with his extraordinary tale. Switching back to these ordinary circumstances helps insure our suspension of disbelief.

 

Good performances all around, beginning with Ayush Tandon’s 11-year-old Pi telling his dad, played by Adil Hussain, that he wishes to be both a Hindu and a Christian, imbue the work with a personalness that facilitates the yarn’s touching family angle. But Suraj Sharma as the valiant and likable castaway handles the, er, tiger’s share of the acting.

 

Engaging the muscularly fearsome feline in a war of stamina and wits that intriguingly speculates about the enigmatic relationship between man and beast, Pi brings into high relief both the strength and fragility of our humanity. Chills abound with each of Richard Parker’s multi-clawed swipes, making it hard to believe he is but a blue screen apparition.

 

To his credit, Ang Lee puts us right in that lifeboat with both parties, awash among the universe’s dangerous uncertainties and great possibilities. At seat’s edge, one second alarmed, the next moment plunged into reflection, round and round you go, just where, it’s hard to know, ironically verifying that “Life of Pi” will be met by both friend and foe.

 “Life of Pi,” rated PG, is a Fox 2000 Pictures release directed by Ang Lee and stars Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan and Ayush Tandon. Running time: 127 minutes.