The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep
Young American tourists, relaxing in a Scottish pub and admiring a photo of the Loch Ness Monster, are invited by a kindly gent to hear the true story behind the legendary creature. He unfolds a hearth-warmed yarn of a young boy named Angus who longs for his father's return from the sea battles of WWII. One day, an unusual discovery grabs the lonely boy's attention: Along the Scottish shoreline, just down from his home, he finds a barnacle-encrusted object that looks, for all the world, like an oversized egg.
When he takes it home with him, he finds that that's exactly what it is. And the seal-shaped and horned creature that hatches from it defies description. Angus doesn't care what it is. He names it Crusoe, and is determined to protect and feed it, no matter what it takes.
In the meantime, the British decide to commandeer the country estate where Angus lives with his mother, Anne, and his sister, Kristie. Commanding officer Captain Hamilton plans to use the local loch as a front against Nazi submarines and sets up large artillery as a defense. But upon learning that Angus' father has been killed in action, the captain decides that an attack on the romantic front—with Anne—might be called for as well.
Soon, the voraciously hungry sea animal—a water horse, the new handyman named Lewis calls it—outgrows its barrel, the bathtub and the fountain out front. Next stop: Loch Ness—exactly in the sights of the Brit gunners.
Angus is devoted to memories of his loving and tender father. In flashback we see the man give his son a sense of the joy and magic that fill the world (in spite of the fact that he will soon be going off to war). A very young Angus tells his father that he will be "strong and sure" for his family. And when Dad leaves for his tour of duty, Angus makes his workshop into a shrine filled with important tokens and belongings that have emotional connections for him. He devotedly checks off the days till his father is due to come home—long after he's been told that's not going to happen.
Angus shows the same steadfast loyalty to his frightening water-going pal.
Once Lewis realizes what a loss the father's absence is to Angus (and the family), he tries hard to lend his support. He pulls Angus back from danger and puts himself at risk for the boy. And he urges Anne to pay more attention ("Maybe you should ... just give him a wee bit more of your time").
Angus is deathly afraid of the water, but that doesn't stop him from marching out into it to try to save a man's life.
Lewis speaks of Highland folklore that tells of a magical creature. And it's magic that's credited for Crusoe's lightning-fast growth. When Angus is near death, Lewis pleads with the water horse, "If you've any magic in you at all, use it on this lad."
A female household chef and a British military cook find each other quite attractive and end up dancing and kissing after a few drinks. Later, she winks at him seductively, and he follows her into a back room. Anne wears a low-cut gown.
On numerous occasions, the water horse—as a pint size cutie and as a gigantic sea-monster—lunges and snaps its razor-sharp teeth at Angus and other people. Once, in the latter form, it barely misses snapping the boy's hand off. The king-size Crusoe also clamps a grown man in its teeth, shakes him violently and throws him to the ground.
Tormented by a bulldog when it was small, the house-size monster apparently gets its revenge (offscreen) by crunching the canine before the credits roll. But first there are several scenes of slapstick violence (broken vases, smashed tables and chairs, sprawling dinner guests, etc.) as the bulldog chases baby Crusoe through the house.
During the big finale, gunfire and bumbling military hijinks abound and are reminiscent of such films as 1942. So although The Water Horse appears to be geared toward younger children, there are a number of scenes with suspenseful, eerie music and loud crashing or explosive sounds that are pretty intense and scary. Artillery shells detonate underwater and hurt Crusoe. Soldiers shoot automatic weapons at the creature—at one point with Angus on its back. Twice, Angus nearly drowns, once in his imagination, and once for real.
Crude or Profane Language
Angus asks his sister to swear an oath of secrecy and she tells him, "I don't swear, Angus MacMorrow." Maybe not, but others in this movie do. Jesus' name is abused a couple of times. God's name is exclaimed six or eight times. There are also a half-dozen exclamations of "bloody," two of "h---," and one each of "d--n" and the Scottish version of "a--." "Crikey," "blimey," "what the devil?" "my sainted mother!" "mother of God," "holy mackerel" and the Scottish interjection "jings" punctuate moments of surprise.
ONLINE EDITOR'S NOTE: Some dialogue edited for DVD release. See details at the end of this review.
Drug and Alcohol Content
People smoke and drink alcohol in a pub on a handful of occasions. The household chef drinks cooking sherry and later shares a bottle of brandy with the military cook. Both get tipsy. Lewis rolls and smokes cigarettes, and the captain smokes a pipe. At a dinner, the officers toast with and drink champagne. A man drinks from a hip flask while fishing—setting up accusations of him being drunk first thing in the morning when he swears he saw a monster in the water.
Other Negative Elements
Lewis objects to Angus' requests for him to help "deceive" Anne, but he goes along with plans for hiding the water horse anyway. Angus defiantly runs away when Capt. Hamilton doles out tasks at Anne's request, calling him a "wally" (a useless person). Lewis and Kristie break Angus out of his room and the three run off to the loch without Anne's permission or knowledge.
A few gaseous jokes find their way into the script while Angus is hiding Crusoe in a bathroom.
The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep has a striking set of bona fides. First of all, it's based on a children's story authored by Dick King-Smith, whose writings inspired the warm-hearted, talking-pig yarn Babe. Next in the plus column are the impressive creature effects designed and created by Peter Jackson's WETA workshop—which has birthed the awesome monsters and creepy-crawlies of The Lord of the Rings and King Kong.
Third on the list: The film centers around the scampish Angus, played by Alex Etel (Millions), who is so doggone endearing that you can't help but want to ruffle his hair and call him "Laddy." And last but not least is the kindly depiction of the special bond between a father and son, and the gentle acknowledgment of how difficult—yet necessary—it is to let go of the people (and things) we love when they're gone.
But The Water Horse doesn't always add up to the sum of its parts. All grown up, Crusoe feels less like some lovable critter from Babe's barnyard than a dangerous beastie that's slipped out of Mordor. That means we're so busy worrying about little Angus keeping all his digits (or his face, for that matter) that it's hard to see the screeching monster as a misunderstood friend that must be protected.
My Dog Skip's Jay Russell also attempts to form a metaphoric tie between the Scottish lad's aquatic buddy and his desire for his father's return. Angus must grow (and emotionally heal) to the point at which he can let them both go. But even though it's easy to identify with the grief Angus feels, the resolution tends to doggy-paddle over into Free Willy's sentimental sappiness.
In a couple of sentences, then, there are long moments of splash-about, high-spirited entertainment to be had here. There are also sharp-toothed monsters, coarse language and cacophonous cannon blasts that leave moviegoers with a less kid-friendly time than one might expect along the bonnie, bonnie banks o' Loch Lomond, er, Ness.
ONLINE EDITOR'S NOTE: Sony Pictures released The Water Horse on DVD after editing portions of the theatrical version. Specifically, exclamations of "Jesus" were deleted.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Alex Etel as Angus MacMorrow; Emily Watson as Anne MacMorrow; Priyanka Xi as Kirstie MacMorrow; Craig Hall as Charlie MacMorrow; Ben Chaplin as Lewis Mowbray; David Morrissey as Captain Hamilton; Brian Cox as Narrator
Jay Russell ( )