The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep Review
The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep is a sweetly old-fashioned family fairy-tale adventure that may be a bit too wholesome for today’s kids, despite the top notch effects work. Based on the novel by Dick ‘Babe’ King-Smith, it lacks Babe’s delightful charm, partly due to the fact that its animal hero, Crusoe, does not speak and is a reptile. Harder to make him cute – with Babe they just gave the pig a little wig and put mascara on its eyelashes…
Angus (Etel) is a lonely little boy, son of the housekeeper (Watson) on a large Scottish estate. His father is away fighting the Nazis, and Angus console himself with the thought that he will be back soon. One day on the shore of the loch, Angus picks up a strange lump of rock; digging at it with his knife he reveals a glowing blue surface. The next morning he discovers that the edge has hatched, and from it has sprung a small lizard which Angus names Crusoe.
Angus’ house is requisitioned by the military, who are based in Scotland as a defence against the German U-boats. Led by the pompously English Captain Hamilton, who takes a shine to Angus’ mother Anne, they – in particular the regimental mascot, an all too British bulldog named Churchill – are a new threat to Crusoe’s existence. For, once fed, Crusoe grows like Jack’s beanstalk, doubling in size overnight, and rapidly outgrowing the bathtub in the guest bathroom. Luckily help is at hand in the form of Ben Chaplin’s hunky handyman Lewis Mowbray, who tells Angus that what he has found is a water horse, a sort of underwater Celtic phoenix. Crusoe needs to be in the loch, Lewis says, to be free, and Angus reluctantly agrees, only to be horrified when the soldiers decide to test out their guns in the water.
Crusoe is terrified and goes wild, attacking humans, even Angus. The only hope for him is the deeper water of Loch Ness, where he can hide from people and be safe…
I’m not sure why, but filmmakers have a habit of taking source material that could be set at anytime and moving it to the war. They did the same thing, entirely unnecessarily, with Five Children and It, and the same here with The Water Horse. Maybe they think children wouldn’t understand the amount of freedom that these old-fashioned kids had, or the absence of their parents, without throwing in a war? Still, it ups the dramatic level and increases the threat, plus allowing a bit of male rivalry between Hamilton and Mowbray, who are both interested in Angus as a way to his mother’s heart. This actually leads to a very bizarre montage where Hamilton decides that Angus needs discipline, so enlists him in the regiment and turns him into a sort of white slave, drilling and marching, polishing shoes and peeling potatoes.
The film bears some resemblance to ET, with Angus describing Crusoe as his best friend and protecting him at all costs from the threat represented by the adults, eventually helping him to escape and go home. Like ET, it isn’t afraid to deal with darker subjects including death – Churchill meets a sticky end. In the end, Angus has to grow up and let Crusoe go, in the process coming to terms with his own loss and grief. Darker than the trailer implied, this is still a surprisingly satisfying story which, if you missed in the cinema, is worth catching up with on DVD.
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