What’s a holiday without a little harmless horse-play for the kids? Sony is unwrapping this family-friendly fantasy—based on a book by Dick King-Smith, the author of the beloved Babe: The Gallant Pig —on Christmas, and while it might not be the best present ever, it’s also one that its recipients are unlikely to return.
The Water Horse is structured as a classic children’s story, a tall tale told—in an arguably unnecessary framing device—to a pair of initially incredulous backpackers scoffing at a blurry photo purported to picture the Loch Ness Monster by a charming old man (Brian Cox) they meet in a Scottish pub. The snapshot, he readily admits, was a fake meant to attract tourists, but that doesn’t mean that the mysterious sea serpent reputed to live in the loch wasn’t real.
The yarn he spins begins during World War II with a local lad named Angus MacMorrow (Alex Etel, the precocious star of Danny Boyle’s Millions ), who loves the seashore even though he is petrified at the prospect of swimming in the sea itself. Emotionally wounded by the war and psychologically unable to accept the fact that his heroic father will not be returning from it, Angus finds solace in scrounging the tide pools for shells—an activity that reminds him of his dear old dad. One day, he finds something strange: a barnacle-crusted oddity that turns out to be an egg containing a water horse, a benevolent beastie so rare that—as with another legendary Highlander—there can be only one.
Sharing his secret with only his sister Kirstie (Priyanka Xi) and, eventually, the mysterious new handyman named Lewis (Ben Chaplin) that his head-housekeeper mother Anne (Emily Watson) has hired to help care for an absent lord’s loch-side lodge, Angus hides his sea serpent in first a water-filled waste bin, then a bathtub and then a toilet. After an artillery regiment commanded by the haughty Captain Hamilton (David Morrissey) billets itself at the estate, however, Lewis tries to convince Angus that the creature he calls Crusoe should be let loose in the loch.
“He can’t spend his life in the toilet bowl,” Lewis argues.
But the water horse—brought playfully to life by the animators at Weta—has imprinted itself onto Angus, who must let go both physically and emotionally in order to truly set the magical creature free.
Although not truly great, the latest from director Jay Russell ( My Dog Skip, Tuck Everlasting ) is at least, to quote Angus, “a good Water Horse.”
Cast: Alex Etel, Emily Watson, Ben Chaplin, David Morrissey, Priyanka Xi and Brian Cox
Director: Jay Russell
Screenwriter: Robert Nelson Jacobs
Producers: Robert Bernstein, Douglas Rae, Barrie M. Osborne and Charlie Lyons
Genre: Family fantasy
Rating: PG for some action/peril, mild language and brief smoking
Running time: 118 min.
Release date: December 25, 2007