STARRING: Emily Watson, Alex Etel, Ben Chaplin, David Morrissey, Brian Cox

2007, 115 Minutes, Directed by:
Jay Russell

Think E.T.
but with the boy befriending the Loch Ness monster instead of a cute alien and you’ll have a good idea of what to expect of The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep.

It is Scotland during World War II. A morose young boy discovers an egg while combing the beach one day. He takes the egg home where it hatches a cute tiny little amphibian CGI effect resembling a dinosaur with flippers you know, the ones with long necks. (A nice gag in the movie is that the famous photograph of the Loch Ness creature is in fact a fake while the real monster was only swimming a short distance away from the photographers!) Obviously the boy has to hide the creature from adult authority figures because, hey, adults are obviously killjoys when it comes to this sort of thing. You know, kids adopting an unknown species of pet which actually tries to bite the kid a few times as well as once or twice almost drowning the poor tyke throughout the course of the movie.

However the small boy’s task is complicated by the fact that seemingly half the British army has pitched their tents right on their front lawn. Add to this some paranoia about a possible invasion spearheaded by a German submarine and before you can say Iron Giant, you pretty much have an idea of how things are going to play out especially as the movie goes to great lengths to laboriously foreshadow certain key events.

Sheer predictability and unoriginality aside, Water Horse features some decent acting (at least the boy isn’t too cute-sy); okay special effects even though the full-sized computer-generated sea creature at times lack the sort of solidity that more traditional methods might have lent it; and some pretty Scottish landscapes and backgrounds. It is also a lot less juvenile than a lot of Hollywood pap aimed at children out there.

"It's Bedknobs & Broomsticks meets Benji!"

On the negative side the movie’s framing device of an oldster regaling two young American tourists with his tale in a Scottish pub is awkward and long-winded. Also, the so-called payoff as to the identity of the old-timer is hardly a surprise. In a way one supposes the movie can be read as a cautionary tale about being approached by elderly persons in public spaces while on holiday abroad. Give them half a chance and they’ll bore you to tears with far-fetched tales nicked from movies such as E.T. and Iron Giant, a bit like the grandfather in The Simpsons . . .

Despite the occasionally charming or amusing moment an air of familiarity which will ruin the film for adults hangs over the proceedings. Kids will enjoy it even though some scenes might cause smaller children distress, but even they might grow restless as the movie takes its time get to the sort of stuff kids like such as a scene in which the baby sea creature being chased by a bulldog causing all kinds of havoc in the process. Still, things could have been worse. At least the movie went to the trouble of retaining the original setting of the source novel (by British author Dick King-Smith, first published in 1990) and one burp gag aside never downgrades the material at hand.

The movie is incidentally made by Walden Media which had a hit with the recent faithful adaptation of Chronicles of Narnia and also produced the children fantasy, Bridge to Terabithia. It seems that they have taken it upon themselves to make the sort of old-fashioned family entertainment that Disney used to make in its heyday. That is, before Disney tried to be hip and discovered irony in flicks such as Enchanted. A Narnia sequel, Prince Caspian, is due in 2008. (If you want to go back even further, Water Horse is Bedknobs & Broomsticks meets Benji!)

In short: Water Horse isn’t that bad, just somewhat average and uninspiring. The chances are quite good though that you’ve probably sat through much much worse with your kids . . .



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