The Water Horse
Corny, predictable and a tad Free Willy-ish? Yes, but Water Horse still has inspiring moments the whole family should enjoy.
If the legendary Scottish Loch Ness monster exists, Water Horse imagines how he may have come to be. Based on the book by Dick King-Smith and set during WWII, it all starts when Angus (Alex Etel)--a young Scottish lad living with his housekeeper mother (Emily Watson) on an estate while his father fights in the war--finds an enchanted egg by the shores of the local lake. Thinking it another crustacean, he takes it home but soon finds himself face-to-face with an amazing creature: the mythical ''water horse'' of Scottish lore, whom Angus calls "Crusoe." As Angus becomes attached to his new friend, the young boy does everything he can to keep Crusoe a secret, even as the animal grows abnormally large over a short period of time. With the help of a handyman (Ben Chaplin), Angus soon has to put Crusoe into the lake so he can live comfortably. But outside influences conspire to expose Crusoe--even threaten his life--and Angus risks everything to help his friend.
Young Etel expertly carries Water Horse on his small shoulders, proving his stellar performance in Danny Boyle's Millions wasn't a fluke. He never goes over the top or tries to play it with too much sweetness and light. Instead, Etel is a complete natural, convincingly interacting with a green-screened creature, and most importantly, conveys all the right emotions to get the audience just as wrapped up in the sea monster's plight as he is. The rest of the cast, however, is a bit misplaced. Watson is mostly wasted as the mother hardened by war who can't bring herself to tell her young son the truth about his father. The Oscar-nominated actress is simply too good for something this childish. Meanwhile, Chaplin (The Truth About Cats and Dogs) doesn't really connect with his character, a soldier who returns home after being wounded only to wander the country, working aimless jobs. The only adult actor who stands out is veteran Brit Brian Cox. As the film's narrator, he plays an old pub patron who tells the true story of Crusoe after two American tourists spy the now-infamous "photo" of the Loch Ness monster. It's the constant twinkle in his eyes that gets you.
Director Jay Russell has a key into family fare having helmed films such as My Dog Skip and Tuck Everlasting, so there is an ease to his direction in Water Horse. He guides his young star to deliver an unaffected performance and handles the special effects with a sure hand. Crusoe is awfully cute when he's a youngster, flopping around and making a mess of things. Then when he's full grown, he is quite impressive. The moment Angus faces his fear of water, climbs on Crusoe's back and lets the creature take him for a deep-diving swim in the lake, we are hooked by the exhilaration of it. Unfortunately, there is also a level of predictability to Water Horse, especially when it comes time for Crusoe to escape the lake into open waters before he is killed by the local militia. Not too hard to figure how it all ends up.
Hollywood.com rated this film 2 1/2 stars.