Movie Review: Le Dragon des mers: la dernière légende
By Jessica Reaves, Chicago Tribune Staff Writer
First, a few things "The Water Horse" is not: revolutionary, controversial or challenging. What it is: a sweet, familiar story, beautifully filmed and lovingly told.
The movie is set in Scotland, circa 1942, and centers around Angus MacMorrow, a solemn little guy played by Alex Etel ("Millions"). Angus lives near a loch (OK, lake), in a sprawling stone house with his mother (Emily Watson, looking bemused) and sister Kirstie (Priyanka Xi). The family is waiting for Angus' dad to return from the war - or at least that's what Angus thinks, because no one can summon the wherewithal to tell him his beloved dad has likely been sunk along with his boat.
Angus, like his filmic antecedents (Elliot from "E.T.," the kid from "Free Willy") is a lonely, soulful-eyed boy without much in the way of adult supervision. And so when he hauls home an oval rock that later hatches some sort of sea creature, there's no one around to tell him that movies are not historically kind to kids who adopt vaguely anthropomorphic pets of unknown extraction.
And so, without the benefit of fair warning, Angus and Crusoe (the boy's name for the dragon-fish-dog, who cavorts in the bathtub and eats like, well, a horse) recklessly embark on a life-changing adventure, in cahoots with Kristie and a gruff but ultimately kindly handyman (Ben Chaplin, in a role that hints broadly at an intriguing subplot that's never brought to light).
Meanwhile, the house is taken over by British soldiers, led by Captain Hamilton (David Morrissey), a blustery twit whose family connections have ensured him this seriously plush post guarding the Scottish coastline against German invaders. (He stubbornly insists Scotland occupies "the front lines" of the war, much to the amusement of his regiment, which includes several hilariously rote villains, who do everything but twirl their mustaches as they plot against Angus and Crusoe, who is now brontosaurus-sized and has been moved to the nearby loch. ... You see where this is going).
The visual effects aren't cutting-edge, but they're good enough. Crusoe is a hugely likable beast, in large part because he's not sticky-sweet, but rather an ungainly, wild animal with a soft spot reserved only for Angus.
While a few stressful battle scenes involving Crusoe, underwater explosions, and resultant PTSD, may prove too much for the under-10 crowd, "The Water Horse" is otherwise a truly family-friendly movie. It's a bloodless, joyful adventure. The war is discussed, but violence never appears on screen. No one employs sarcasm and there's no swearing - even the ostensible "bad guy" eventually softens into an amiable enough fellow. But for all the movie's good cheer, it's never dull. What it lacks in edginess, it more than makes up for with stunning scenery, a breathless finale and an irresistibly hopeful message: If you really love something, set it free - especially if the object of your affection happens to be the Loch Ness Monster. Seriously, you can't keep that thing in your bathtub.
"The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep"
Directed by Jay Russell; screenplay by Robert Nelson Jacobs; photographed by Oliver Stapleton; edited by Mark Warner; music by James Newton Howard; production design by Tony Burrough; produced by Robert Bernstein, Charlie Lyons, Barrie Osborne and Douglas Rae. A Beacon Pictures release. Running time: 1:51. MPAA rating: PG (for some action/peril, mild language and brief smoking).
Angus MacMorrow - Alex Etel
Anne MacMorrow - Emily Watson
Lewis Mowbray - Ben Chaplin
Kirstie MacMorrow - Priyanka Xi