Jay Russell’s The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep isn’t in the same league as Babe, another adaptation of a Dick King-Smith novel. Yet on its own terms, Jay Russell’s fable about a boy’s relationship with the Loch Ness monster delivers its metaphors with just enough grace to offset the fact that its titular animal seems hopelessly out of place in a kid’s film. Designed by Peter Jackson’s WETA effects workshop, the magical water horse discovered and cared for during WWII by Scottish lad Angus MacMorrow (Alex Etel) begins life as a semi-cute, pint-sized beast—something like a cross between a dinosaur and a seal—that Angus dubs Crusoe. The “semi-cute” and “pint-sized” labels, however, soon cease to apply as it blossoms into a full-blown monster straight out of The Lord of the Rings. This development presents something of an insurmountable problem, as Crusoe’s transformation into a towering, screeching, terrifying sea creature makes him far from endearing. However, Angus’s steadfast loyalty to his frightening aquatic pal has a sound thematic basis, as Crusoe comes to represent the beloved father Angus has recently lost to the horrifying war, and their friendship eventually becomes a conduit for the boy’s healing process. Despite flashbacks to conversations between Angus and his father (Craig Hall) that are slightly too dewy, Russell handles this subtext with aplomb, conveying it not with heavy-handed exposition but, rather, via the anguished faces of Angus and his grieving mother Anne (Emily Watson), both of whom must also contend with two competing would-be replacements for their absent father/husband: decent handyman and war vet Lewis Mowbray (Ben Chaplin), who becomes Angus and sister Kristie’s (Priyanka Xi) confidant about Crusoe, and pathetic Captain Hamilton (David Morrissey), who strives to prove his manhood by firing phallic cannons. The Water Horse‘s framing device—in which a grandfatherly Brian Cox recounts the supernatural “true” story to a pair of curious American tourists in a Scottish pub—lends just the right measure of nostalgia and fairy-tale wonder. And the director’s tender treatment of Angus’s grief and confusion infuses the proceedings with a warm, stirring humanism, even as the film winds toward an unimaginative finale too reminiscent of Free Willy.
- Jay Russell
- Robert Nelson Jacobs
- Emily Watson, Alex Atel, Ben Chaplin, Priyanka Xi, Craig Hall, Brian Cox
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