Review: 'Water Horse' is sophisticated family fare

This story about a young boy, who raises a sea monster from when it hatches until the all-too-short time when it has reaches the fearsome size of a dragon, has the earmarks of an “E.T.” story.

When you throw in the cut-and-paste humor associated with trying to keep a larger-than-life and mischievous pet secret from one’s mother, the stereotype would seem to unavoidably appropriate.

But director Jay Russell has a habit of taking standard storylines and enriching them with a touch of complexity and a great deal of attention to detail. As a consequence, we get something that’s fun but not frivolous and leaves us with something to chew on.

As it’s somewhat of a fantasy, we best give it a proper start:

Once upon a time in Scotland, there lived a boy named Angus (Alex Etel) who finds a large egg on the beach.

For Angus, unwilling to accept that his father will not return from Europe’s second war of the century, what lies within the shell has the power to take him away from a pain he has little capacity to process.

He takes it back to his father’s workshop, which serves as a refuge. A miniature dragon-like creature emerges and Angus senses the lack of wisdom in announcing his find. The boy who lives without a friend has suddenly found one.

But avoiding detection proves difficult. What Angus discovers to be a water horse shows a growing appetite that goes hand-in-hand with growth spurts, each encouraging an increase in the other.

To make matters worse, the inn at which he lives, run by his mother (Emily Watson), suddenly has tenants.

Lewis (Ben Chaplin), a handyman arrives to assist with the chores and takes over the workshop. A rather mysterious man, he has a few secrets of his own.

Responding to concerns of the Germans running submarines down from the north, the British army, taking up positions near by and needing a place for their officers, commandeers lodging.

The head commander, Captain Hamilton (David Morrissey), an Oxford graduate, brings a pomposity directly proportional to his insecurity and lack of success as a soldier.

As the two men vie for the affections of Angus’ mother (Emily Watson) no one seems to notice his new sidekick. But a water horse needs to be in water, which necessitates visits to the bathtub inside the main building, which ups the ante and the fun.

Except for the requisite hijinks scene where a soldier’s bulldog, knowing what everyone else has missed and initiates a chase that takes the dog down the table of a formal banquet, the movie stays away from silliness.

The presence of Emily Watson, a consummate professional, anchors a story line that surprisingly, and with a great deal of grace, touches issues from inter-caste conflicts to the futility of war, without getting bogged down.

Movie producers in general have been slow in responding to what’s often referred to as the “sophistication” of young audiences, a euphemism for a loss of innocence coupled with an early onset of cynicism.

Sucked into the vacuum of worthy products, we find a bunch of junk–often unimaginative story lines supported by light potty humor.

“The Water Horse” not only provides solid entertainment for this age group, but the whole family—kindergartners to grandparents, without insulting the intelligence of anyone.

What is actually a story of the Loch Ness Monster succeeds by careful craftsmanship. The special effects and picturesque landscapes complement a solid screenplay and under Russell’s direction bring a pleasant surprise for the holiday season.

Grade: B

Lester Gray reviews movies for Examiner.com. Read reviews by all of Examiner's reviewers.

artsentertainmentOther Arts

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted changes to The City's streets including Slow Streets closures to increase open space access and the Shared Spaces program, which allows businesses to use public right-of-ways for dining, retail and services. (Examiner illustration)
COVID is reshaping the streets of San Francisco

Walk down Page Street, which is closed to thru-traffic, and you might… Continue reading

At a rally in February, Monthanus Ratanapakdee, left, and Eric Lawson remember Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old Thai man who died after he was pushed to the pavement in San Francisco. (Ekevara Kitpowsong/Examiner file photo)
The criminal justice system can’t fix what’s wrong in our community

My 87-year-old mother walks gingerly, slowly, deliberately, one step in front of… Continue reading

Superintendent Vincent Matthews said some students and families who want to return will not be able to do so at this time. “We truly wish we could reopen schools for everyone,” he said. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFUSD sets April reopening date after reaching tentative agreement with teachers union

San Francisco Unified School District has set April 12 as its reopening… Continue reading

José Victor Luna and Maria Anabella Ochoa, who cite health reasons for continuing distance learning, say they have been enjoying walking in Golden Gate Park with their daughters Jazmin, a first grader, and Jessica, a third grader. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Some SFUSD families prefer distance learning

Health issues, classroom uncertainties among reasons for staying home

Most Read