Walden Media have to be the most prolific of production companies making kids’ films these days. Already having the likes of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Bridge to Terabithia and The Seeker under their belt, they’ve now contributed to a book by the author of Babe (‘The Sheep Pig’), Dick King-Smith.
It has already been said, but bears repeating: The Water Horse is a nice, old fashioned children’s film. We’ve seen it before, with Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend (not a good example), Free Willy (a better example, in terms of box office anyway), Loch Ness (rather dull) and of course E.T.. This film would have to have the highest adjusted budget of them all, and does look splendid. New Zealand is standing in perfectly for Scotland a lot of the time, and this of course means that Peter Jackson’s Weta were involved.
The beastie looks great insofar as it interacts perfectly with the physical environment. The use of lighting, shadows and reflections are all fantastic, and most importantly it looks real when the actors touch it. The only time we are let down is when young Angus MacMorrow rides the creature. It also looks kind of pathetic, and when called upon to be intimidating doesn’t really succeed.
Alex Etel (from Millions) plays Angus, and is great. The supporting cast of adults are spot on also, including Emily Watson, Ben Chaplin and David Morrissey. Brian Cox makes one squirm uncomfortably, but only because he has such a clichéd role as the present day storyteller – I haven’t seen a sincere form of this cheesy framing device for years.
Having the story set during World War II allows for some nice parallel narratives. The army is present, scouting for German submarines in the loch, whilst Angus’ father began his tour of duty long ago. Newly arrived handyman Lewis Mowbray (Chaplin) has previously returned from the war effort, and has his own demons. All of these subplots could have been pushed further – as it is they adequately hold the tale together, but in no way challenge adult viewers. There could have been an extraordinarily powerful film somewhere here, but that would have perhaps pushed it beyond the boundaries of the genre. (P.J. Hogan’s Peter Pan was brave in this sense, but I’m the only person I know who actually appreciated it).
As it stands, The Water Horse is an accomplished film and a nice change from the current bombardment of pure fantasy kids’ films.Rating: