A Scottish fable about the origin of the Loch Ness Monster, "Water Horse" suffers from some of the worst artistic choices a family film could possibly make. It's a mess of a movie, too frightening for the wee ones and a sleeping pill for adults. It's childlike wonder blared at top volume and there's no need for such disorder to steal free time from your holiday season.
As WWII sweeps across Scotland, young Angus (Alex Etel, "Millions") and his family (including Emily Watson) are holed up in their estate while military personnel (David Morrissey) take over the grounds in preparation for a German attack through the nearby loch. Discovering a massive egg one day by the water, Angus takes it home where it soon hatches and reveals a slippery creature Angus names Crusoe. Fearful to expose Crusoe to the adults in the house, he raises the mischievous creature with the help of a hired hand (Ben Chaplin). When Crusoe grows too large for bathtubs, he's passed off to the loch, where the military soon makes life hard for this baffling beast.
"Water Horse" aims to please, but the presentation and ambition of the feature is critically botched. Director Jay Russell found success with previous family-oriented entertainment ("Tuck Everlasting," "My Dog Skip"), and certainly this picture is no slouch in the visual department. With splendid coastal locations, "Water Horse" is easy on the eyes. However, once the story takes over, it becomes a severe test of patience.
The largest crack in the foundation of the picture is the execution. "Water Horse" is a variety of movies all at once, unable to settle on a distinctive pitch. At one point it's a WWII drama about relocation, the next a slapstick comedy where Crusoe ruins dinner parties and belches (and shame on Russell for giving into such predictable crudeness). I found the whole movie a disorientating blur of cutesy family film pandering and stone-cold emotional content, performed with certain gusto by the cast, but dead weight nonetheless.
Another miscalculation is the shrillness of Crusoe. Supposedly an adorable creature, the thing merely flops around in water and screeches for the entire movie. The questionable CGI robs the character of crucial googly E.T. eyes, and the screenplay turns Crusoe into a bloodthirsty manic during the film's 14-year-long final act. The finale features our heroes facing off against a confused military and an overeager sound design department intent on deafening the children of the world; but not before Russell scares the pants off of them when lovable Crusoe starts vengefully munching on the dogs of his enemies. Family fun for all!
Adapted from the children's book by beloved author Dick King-Smith ("Babe"), "Water Horse" eventually succumbs to complete annoyance before tacking on an ending that promises a sequel. Perhaps the filmmakers should've concentrated on softening the first film before they plan any unsolicited follow-ups.
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