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Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look: 33.33%
Pretty Bad: 4.17%
Total Crap: 25%

3 reviews, 6 user ratings

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Water Horse, The: Legend of the Deep
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by Eugene Novikov

"Lovely's the word"
4 stars

As a fan of the film, I have to ask who thought THE WATER HORSE was an acceptable title for a 3000-screen holiday release, especially one this gentle, human and thoughtful. "The Water Horse" sounds for all the world like one of those cheap, cheesy "original movies" that ABC Family dumps in the middle of one of their "360 Days of Christmas" marathons, something to babysit the kids while mom and dad sign holiday cards, or finalize their divorce, or what have you. It will be hard to blame folks for staying away in droves, though it will also be a shame, since compared to Alvin and the Chipmunks, this is a masterpiece.

The movie's not about the freaking water horse anyway. Instead it does something pretty remarkable: takes an archetypal fairy tale -- lonely kid befriends gentle mythical creature whom everyone fears for no good reason -- and populates it with characters who are not only real but regular. The kid, Angus (Alex Etel), counts the days until his dad's supposed return from the war (that's World War II); he's frightened and sad, and not about to engage in any cinematic heroics. His mother (Emily Watson), a head housekeeper for a rich family that's hightailed it elsewhere, is the sort of profoundly ordinary woman you rarely see on the screen -- she loves her son but is too afraid to tell him the truth about his father, who won't be coming back after all. Lewis (Ben Chaplin), the handyman who befriends Angus and reluctantly helps him hide his new pet from mom, does have a Secret, but it's not the type of Big Secret you might expect, and the movie underplays it.

For all that, The Water Horse doesn't shy away from the fantastical. It's aggressive in casting itself as a fairy tale, opening with shots of meadows, deer and babbling brooks, and framing the main story as a "true" tall tale told by a charming local (Brian Cox) to two curious tourists. And the water horse itself -- a mythical creature, "both male and female," that lays an egg before it dies such that there is only one in the world at any given time -- is a top-of-the-line CGI beastie, cute and anthropomorphic to the point of absurdity, with vocal inflections adorable enough to rival E.T.'s. Angus's adventures soon become full-on Free Willy with a wartime backdrop, as the once-miniature creature grows to a monstrous size and attracts the interest of both entrepreneurial locals and the British military.

The fantasy-oriented parts of the film produce a handful of splendid movie moments -- at one particular point, when Angus takes a ride across the Loch on his reptile friend's back, there is a momentary flash to the framing device with Brian Cox that is so perfectly bittersweet it brought tears to my eyes. And since The Water Horse takes its story very seriously, imaginative kids should have no problem becoming involved. But even when all the computer-generated cavorting got cutesy, I was consistently impressed with the weight of the movie's emotional content. It is not content with giving a photogenic kid a CGI pet and sending them on a generic "adventure." It cares about Angus's relationship with his father, and implies that his attachment to the water horse is due to the fact that the thing is "born an orphan." The most memorable moments are not displays of special effects, but points where Angus has to deal with loss and growing up. The film's sincerity in realizing these characters is disarming.

A couple of weeks ago, I described the dispiriting Alvin and the Chipmunks as "a passable multiplex placeholder for the holiday season," something entirely generic and manufactured to put people in theater seats and hopefully sell some toys. Though the pitch for The Water Horse (not to mention its title) may hint at more of the same, it is actually close to the opposite: a small, personal film spruced up with a touch of the marketable. "Lovely" is the best word to describe it.

(Reprinted from

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originally posted: 12/25/07 14:00:00
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User Comments

1/15/09 Anonymous. cute and beautiful scenery...and not just for kids :P 4 stars
7/15/08 David Cohen ET goes to Scotland, Second rate kiddie fare 3 stars
4/09/08 action movie fan good effects but silly kids fairy tale-strickly for kids 2 stars
12/29/07 Tiffany Losco Cute.. messed up though. Boy couldnt swim thru whole movie then at the end he swam 4 stars
12/28/07 Lord Jiggy Not as good as I hoped, but the kids liked it. 3 stars
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  DVD: 08-Apr-2008



Directed by
  Jay Russell

Written by
  Robert Nelson Jacobs

  Ben Chaplin
  Brian Cox
  Alex Etel
  Craig Hall
  David Morrissey
  Emily Watson

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