On the surface, The Water Horse may seem like trite, sentimental Disney-like crap along the lines of Free Willy or Homeward Bound. But this movie really surprised me with its depth and utter charm and heart without the schmaltz of a lesser film.
I think the trick is that this film is, not only set, but is produced in Europe. They somehow have an affinity for making superior films where American cinema would opt for formula and safe gimmicks.
Sure, this movie has its share of gag-inducing "boy-meets-creature-and-become-inseperable" moments; but the film doesn't dwell on the emotion too much.
The film is boued by solid performances by Emily Watson as a heartbroken widow; Ben Chaplin as a war hero; and David Morrissey as a domineering general whose heart is ultimately in the right place. Alex Etel is also great as the young boy whose father-figure complex is a tough subject for such a young actor to take on. His subtlety during flashback scenes is amazing and he captures the longing a child might feel for a long-lost parent.
But the star in this sweet creature-feature is the water horse himself. Named Crusoe, his development is amazing to watch (from egg-hatched, to cute mongrel, to regal king of his domain in the loch.
The CGI is pretty good for a movie with this small a budget. The interaction between young Angus (Etel) and Crusoe is seamless and, although not perfect, is good enough to create the illusion and possibly make you believe that this story could have possibly taken place in our reality.
There is a pretty brilliant subplot that involves impending attack from Nazi forces via submarines. This storyline really lends itself to the plot of the movie beautifully and, without it, the movie would drag and have nowhere to go but out to sea.
All in all, the film was pretty enjoyable. It has its share of touching, "aww" moments mixed with great visuals, a solid period piece tone and rock-solid acting.
Ultimately, the film's lesson is that of being happy with what you've got and stop longing for what you've lost. There is always beauty in pain and something precious and new always hatches from the shell of something that's been lost forever. [10JAN08]