In The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep, director Jay Russell (My Dog Skip) uses a whimsical re-imagining of the Loch Ness monster myth as the jumping off point for a charming fable about the profound connection between a boy and his beloved pet.
The story centers on young Angus MacMorrow (Alex Etel), a somber Scottish lad whose father is off fighting for the Royal Navy in World War II. Left to his own devices, he spends his days roaming the shoreline of his tiny coastal town, staring out at the sea that he's deathly afraid to enter. His solitude is abruptly broken, however, by the discovery of a strange egg that hatches into a small, slithery creature whose peculiar shape -- part amphibian, part equine -- defies classification. But darned if he isn't the cutest horse-lizard you've ever seen, and Angus is instantly smitten with the strange creature, whom he nicknames Crusoe. After some early missteps, the two become inseparable companions, with Crusoe helping ease the pain of Angus's dad's prolonged absence. But their friendship is soon threatened when the strange creature begins growing at an alarming rate, making it harder and harder for Angus to keep his discovery a secret.
The Water Horse occasionally overdoses on sentiment, threatening at various times to become the Scottish Freewilly (McWilly?). Scenes involving narrator Brian Cox (Running with Scissors) chatting up a pair of American tourists in present-day Scotland feel entirely unnecessary, as does the excessively wacky chase scene involving Crusoe and a hungry bulldog. Thankfully, restrained performances from Ben Chaplin (Two Weeks), Emily Watson ( Miss Potter) and the rest of The Water Horse's solid cast keep the story from tumbling into a bottomless pit of schmaltz.
For most parents, a family flick without talking chipmunks or a giant green ogre might be a tough sell to the kiddies, but in the case of The Water Horse, it's definitely a worthwhile one.
Disagree? Let me know at tleupp@Reelz.com.