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Movie Review

The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep a.k.a. “Mein Freund, der Wasserdrache,” “Water horse—La leggenda degli abissi”

MPAA Rating: PG for mild action/violence, some language and smoking

Reviewed by: Lori Souder
CONTRIBUTOR

Better than Average
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Kids, Family, Teens, Adults
Genre:
Fantasy, Adventure, Kids, Family, Adaptation
Length:
1 hr. 51 min.
Year of Release:
2007
USA Release:
December 25, 2007 (wide)
Copyright, Walden Media / Sony Pictures
Copyright, Walden Media / Sony Pictures
Copyright, Walden Media / Sony Pictures
Copyright, Walden Media / Sony Pictures
Copyright, Walden Media / Sony Pictures
Copyright, Walden Media / Sony Pictures
Copyright, Walden Media / Sony Pictures
Copyright, Walden Media / Sony Pictures
Copyright, Walden Media / Sony Pictures
Copyright, Walden Media / Sony Pictures
Copyright, Walden Media / Sony Pictures
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Walden Media / Sony Pictures

“Dragons” of the sea

Sea monsters—What is the “leviathan” mentioned in the Bible?

The Great Dinosaur Mystery On-line
A dinosaur-size Web site where you’ll discover a mountain of knowledge and amazing discoveries. How do dinosaurs fit into the Bible? You’ll find the answer to this and many more of your questions. Play games, browse and learn. Includes many helps for teachers and parents.
click for Kid Explorers
Adventures in the rainforest! Learn about the Creator of the universe by exploring His marvelous creation. Fun for the whole family with games, activities, stories, answers to children’s questions, color pages, and more! One of the Web’s first and most popular Christian Web sites for children. Nonprofit, evangelical, nondenominational.
Featuring: Brian Cox, Emily Watson, Ben Chaplin, David Morrissey, Joel Tobeck, Craig Hall, Alex Etel, Marshall Napier, Geraldine Brophy, Priyanka Xi, Adam Smith, Erroll Shand, Jessica Kaczorowski, Mathew Kaczorowski
Director: Jay Russell
“Ladder 49,” “My Dog Skip,” “Tuck Everlasting”
Producer: Robert Bernstein, David Brown, Charlie Lyons, Charles Newirth, Barrie M. Osborne, Douglas Rae, Jay Russell
Distributor: Walden Media / Sony Pictures

“Every big secret starts small.”

This film is based on the book The Water Horse by Dick King-Smith.

From misty and beautiful rural Scotland comes a movie that re-imagines the ancient legend of the Loch Ness Monster through the experiences of a young boy. This movie had an unusual release date of Christmas Day, as it is designed and marketed to appeal to both children and adults.

In modern day, two older teenagers are visiting a Scottish pub near Loch Ness and find themselves drawn to a vintage “alleged” photo of a sea monster on the wall. As they discuss whether the picture is real or a fake, an old man who is sitting in the pub tells them that there is more than meets the eye in the picture. They are intrigued and want to know more about the story and the possibility of the creature being real. So they sit down with the man, and he begins the tale of the Water Horse.

The main character of the story is Angus, a lonely young boy who is very sad and withdrawn because he misses his father who is in the British military service during World War II. Angus is played by Alex Etal (Millions). Angus is walking on the Scottish beach near his home looking for seashells. He is afraid to get in the water and walks carefully near the rocky shore to find tide pools and gather shells. In a sequence that seems to be really happening, he sees himself sinking down into the ocean. Other children, silently sitting nearby, are just watching him drown without doing anything to help him. But then we see Angus still dry standing on the rocks, so we know that we were seeing an imaginary drowning in his mind, not a real one.

Angus finds a large, scruffy, barnacle-encrusted, egg-shaped stone. For some unknown reason, it attracts his interest, so he takes possession of the treasure and returns home with it. His mother does not know that he has found anything special this time at the beach, since Angus has covered the contents of his bucket with seaweed so she would not see it. They drive home on a scenic country road to arrive at a very large and ancient “stately home” that looks like a castle. Angus later secretly takes his strange find to the estate’s potting shed. This building is his private place and was the former workplace of his Dad, the estate gardener. Now this is Angus’s domain where he can be alone and dream of his father’s return after his tour of military duty is finished.

Angus tries to clean up the egg-shaped stone and starts chipping away at some of the things that are growing on the rock. Soon the true luminous nature of the object is revealed by this cleaning. The stone is very beautiful, like the inside of an abalone shell, but with an odd wet texture. Angus is amazed, but then soon is called away from his task and has to leave the rest of the cleaning until the next day.

To his surprise later that night, he is awakened to hear odd noises coming from the potting shed. He races down to see what is happening, and finds that the otherworldly object he was cleaning must have been an egg! After some searching and breaking glass, and confusion, Angus finally finds the source of the noise and chaos, a small curious wet little creature seems to have hatched from his treasure. The animal is very cautious and skittery, but finally, after Angus gives him some little slices of potato, understands that Angus wants to take care of him. The two start to trust each other.

Angus quickly comes to love the little sea monster. He fiercely wants to protect his unusual new friend. He names it Crusoe, after the lonely shipwrecked character in the book Robinson Crusoe. But Crusoe does not stay small long, and soon his endless appetite and need for water makes him impossible to hide. Angus is quickly forced to reveal his secret to first, his sister, and then enlist someone that he barely knows, the new handyman, to help keep Crusoe safe and hidden. Things go from dangerous to deadly as a British military unit unexpectantly arrive to “take over” the estate. The officers move into the house itself, requiring the use of the tub that Crusoe is living in. There are men everywhere encamped in the yards and in the house, so there is nowhere safe for a tiny secret, let alone one growing as fast as Crusoe. The rural estate that used to be quiet, empty, and serene is now overrun with men in uniform, a full time cook, and a very nosy English Bulldog named Churchill.

From this point, the movie loses it heart and starts focusing on the threat to Crusoe, which unfortunately turns the movie into a predictable Hollywood cliché. More shooting! More peril! Larger weapons! More explosions! More lack of military communications! More confusion! More near misses! More danger for our heroes! More ridiculous hurdles to jump!

The movie left me with a sad feeling that I wanted so much more from the promise of the original movie trailer. It seemed that much time that Angus might have spent with his Water Horse and the people around him to aid the healing of his life was chopped out so there would be more time for the British military to make endless foolish mistakes and kill every living thing in Loch Ness, and to bully and enslave Angus. None of these things added to the movie, they only took away from it.

The movie comes off as very anti-military. It portrays the British Army men at the estate as incompetent, trigger-happy oafs with huge deadly weapons that they fire willy-nilly for no reason at all. There would have been so many dead fish in Loch Ness that the fishermen would have stormed the military encampment and drove them out with fishing poles and oars! But we did not see any dead fish floating in the lake at any time, despite the needless and repeated devastation of the environment.

This movie started as a book that was originally written for young children, unlike several recent fantasy movies for families that were adapted from books written for older teens and/or adults like Stardust and The Golden Compass. The book The Water Horse was written by Dick King-Smith who wrote the book Babe: The Gallant Pig that also was adapted into a family movie. The original main character of The Water Horse book is an eight year old girl named Kirstie. The movie does not follow the book exactly.

The movie speaks to the secret desire of all human hearts, young child, teenager, and adult included. The desire is to be intimately connected with something much bigger than themselves, something that loves them unconditionally, and is very powerful and mysterious. There are good themes covered in the movie. They are:

  • Helping the small and helpless
  • Rising above your own misery and sadness to see when something or someone needs you
  • Self-sacrifice
  • Trusting others
  • Healing can come from caring for and assisting others.

There were very few bad things in the movie, other than the many, many pointless artillery shell explosions in Lock Ness and the forcing of underage Angus to “join the army.” There is very little crude language in highly accented Scottish, and a hint of hanky panky that might be going on off-screen between the female cook and the Army cook. There are two scenes of smoking and several of drinking hard liquor, but they are brief. There is no discussion of sex, and no skimpily dressed people. The issue of the mythical Water Horse story is very lightly touched on, not as a magical supernatural creature, but more as a real creature that is misunderstood. At one point, Angus takes a small boat (that is not his) out on the lake, he cannot swim, and he does not tell anyone where he has gone.

If there is any real magic in the movie, it is both the human casting and the design and effects of the creature. Every one of the main characters is so magnetic and interesting and wonderful that I just wanted to see them more and understand them and see them interact. Emily Watson (“Angela’s Ashes”) plays Angus’s mother, Ben Chaplin (“The New World”) plays the somewhat mysterious handyman Mowbray, and Priyanka Xi, a new comer, plays the sister of Angus. And I could not get enough of the wonderful actors playing the younger Angus and his father in flashbacks.

The creative and magical creature of the Water Horse is spectacular and reason enough to see this movie. The light in the little young one’s eyes, the intelligence, the noises, and the transformation to a huge, believable adult monster is worth the admission alone. This mythical beast is treated with respect and given all the best attributes that we see on our beloved pets like dogs and cats, as well as the gallant traits we admire in lions, horses, and whales. I was not disappointed at all, but thrilled to see how much love and time and money was put into making the creature come to life. I just wish Crusoe had a little more time to spend in the early scenes with Angus. They flew by.

The scenery of Scotland is beautifully filmed and if you have been to Scotland, will give you a little ache of longing for the land and the people. If you have not been, it will show you an idea of why Scotland is considered so special and legendary. The Scottish Board of Tourism is gearing up for new waves of families to visit the area, as they have sponsored a travel planning Web site featuring the water horse creature with Sony pictures.

Because of so much explosive violence and peril for the main characters, and some roughness here and there, I cannot recommend this film for small children (especially girls) as they might be frightened. Some of the characters’ relationships were not well explained at first, so it could be confusing to understand why Angus and his family live on the estate, although it does not belong to them. They have no power over the rather abrupt and scary “military invasion” which might be unsetting to some children. There is the loss of a father that is not fully dealt with believably, and lots of loud noise and terrifying explosions that go on WAY too long and seem very real and might kill Angus and his friend.

Overall, I enjoyed the early part of the movie, but thought that the military plotline was totally pulled in from another movie, and it felt alien and unrelated to the rest of the story. I realized that some great themes of the movie were barely touched on and could be completely missed in all the explosions and pointless violence. A few important things went unexplained, in favor of the long “shoot-em-up” scenes. I think that if the movie had been more balanced, and if the ending had been less abrupt and more positive, it would have been a perfect movie, but I was left pitying the wistful adult Angus and wishing for more of the fantasy of the relationship of the creature and the lonely young boy. I was waiting for the emotional pay-off scene at the end, but it never came. Still, I got to see a real Water Horse! Oh, it wasn’t real?

Violence: Heavy / Profanity: None / Sex/Nudity: None

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.


Viewer Comments
Comments available:
Positive
Positive—Very entertaining and family-friendly movie. Loved it!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Darlene, age 47
Positive—I didn’t see much that was objectionable. Our children enjoyed the movie a lot. My six-year old son kept asking if all the dinosaurs were killed in the flood. I didn’t see much of a moral lesson in the story but didn’t see much objectionable either.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Shane Linder, age 38
Positive—This was our first movie with our 3 year old son. Aside for protecting his eyes from the violence in the previews displayed before the movie started (sigh), he was able to enjoy the fantastic adventure. I do wish there was more focus on the interaction between Angus and Crusoe, but the movie told a clean story. I have never read the book, sad to say, but since it obviously strayed from the original layout, I assume that was probably best. But my son enjoyed it and I compare it to a modern-day “Pete’s Dragon”—Great scenery and super effects for the water horse. The war and military bashing was typical of Hollywood.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Christian, age 32
Positive—I enjoyed “The Water Horse.” The movie was set in the beautiful highlands of Scotland. The time period during World War II added a sense of nostalgia. The movie was morally clean and had an underlying theme of a young boy grieving the loss of his father in the war and stuck in the stage of denial. The boy, Angus, discovers a mythical “water horse” that is born an orphan. The boy begins to slowly come to grips with his own sense of being orphaned (fatherless) by caring for this creature. In essence, helping this orphaned water horse is a means for him to begin to heal himself.

Angus is befriended by a returning wounded veteran of the war who, although being a war hero, does not brag on his wartime valor. The handyman takes over Angus' Father’s workshop. This man stands in stark contrast to the military commander who is stationed at Loch Ness and staying at the manor, also. The commander is stationed in Scotland rather than the frontline due to his family’s wealth and political influence.

The handyman represents all of the soldiers, like Angus' father, who bravely fought and lost their lives and were wounded to truly protect their country and loved ones at home in Britain. There is no anti-war message, but there is a young boy who struggles with accepting the loss of his father in a time of war. I believe the scene where the Water horse attacks the British soldiers may have represented the subconscious anger that Angus has toward the army for taking away his father. One may argue this is anti-war, but I would argue that it was a very real and authentic human emotion—Angus himself wanting to lash out at the war.

You will notice that Angus tries to dissuade the water horse from lashing out at the soldiers. So he truly was torn within. It was as if he was working out this inner conflict through his interaction with the water horse. The scene in which Angus’ mother and the handyman shout from the boat on Loch Ness for Angus to “let go” of the water horse was emotional, and anyone following the theme of mourning and grief would readily understand that these words were sinking deep into the heart of Angus to “let go” of his father and come to an acceptance that he was not coming back from the war.

The scene just prior to this was turbulent as the army fired on the water horse (representing Angus' inner turmoil), and then a calm and peace came as Angus “let go” of the Water horse (and his father). The end of the movie has Angus for the first time acknowledge and verbalize that his father was not coming back; this scene was very powerful. I left the movie holding back tears and choked up, feeling the movie helped me in my own grieving process of “letting go” and accepting losses in my own life.

This movie is rich with themes of grief, letting go, acceptance and healing. It also has a theme of overcoming fear of one’s own death as young Angus is fearful of the water and won’t swim in the lake. He fears going into the water will cause him to drown. The water horse helps him overcome this fear, as well. I highly recommend the movie for ages 8 and up.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Neil, age 44
Positive— The reviewer talks about the Scottish scenery in the film. The reality is that “The Waterhorse” was shot on location in New Zealand and all the water scenes were filmed around Lake Wakatipu at Queenstown in the South Island. Nonetheless, the review is a good reflection of the movie content. It is wholesome and has a good caring message. As for other commentry about smoking—I did not find that disturbing—it is a historical fact that the British Army gave soldiers rations of tobacco.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Neil Wells, age 66, New Zealand
Positive—It’s one of the very good movies indeed. The story of Loch Ness monster, which is called Nessie but in the movie it is named Crusoe. The plot of the story is the legend behind the monster in the Loch (pronounced Loh, meaning lake or body of water in Gaelic) Ness. It’s similar to the movie “Lochness” where a girl get acquainted with the nice monster minus the war background. A major part of the movie has been shot in New Zeland than Scotland. Still, it’s magnificent, and heart warming.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Cyril Thomas, age 28, Scotland, UK
Neutral
Neutral—I vacillated between neutral and negative on this one; as a mother of a young child (age 5) I’d go negative—for everyone else, we’ll leave it at neutral. My husband and I take our son to very few films because of the tendency for them to contain innuendos and inappropriate material that we do not care for our young one to see. That being said, we faithfully review movies via this Web site and a couple of others (this one usually makes the decision for us, so thanks so much for your contributions!). Sadly, there were no reviewer comments here on this one. We looked at all the video clips on the film’s Web site (www.thewaterhorse.com, which takes you to Sony Pictures). There, we found cute clips of a funny looking little sea creature and a freckle-faced boy who took care of it while it grew.

The film takes place in Scotland where a family is living in a temporary house (castle!) while the father is off to war (WWII). The boy, who is frightened of water, loves to explore the shoreline and tide pools. One day, he comes across a large egg which he hides in a work shed on the property. The egg hatches and the little creature comes to live in this shed and grows at a rapid rate of speed! It’s a computer-generated beast, and is so ugly that it is cute (not scary for little ones, though his noises can be loud). The boy ends up telling his sister about the beast so she will help hide if from their mother… and eventually, a handy man finds out as well.

WWII had come to their small village, and a contingent of soldiers are billeted there, and are a constant presence. Over the course of the film, there is a magical quality to the beast that intrigues the boy, and honestly, does make the audience care about the sea creature as well. It befriends the boy and eventually helps him to overcome his fear of water. It does, however, also cause the boy to deceive his mother in his trying to hide it on the property (eventually, it is so large that it must be taken to the loch, a task which is accomplished with a pick-up and the handyman.).

There was not much sexual in this film, though there is a scene where a soldier and the lady cook are dancing and then share an extended kiss (they’d been sharing a drink prior to this)… the kids in the film witness this and are grossed-out by it. There is an attraction between the mother and the handyman, but it is more an interest in having a man around the house by a woman whose husband has been gone more than a year… nothing happens between the two at all, nor is it implied.

There were a few instances of swear words and taking the Lord’s name in vain (I remember one time). There was smoking by the soldiers and the handyman. One review I read was talking about the bar scenes… this is where the storyteller is, and it wasn’t offensive to me. He was simply an older man telling a story to two younger people who’d happened into the bar. None of the patrons was overtly inebriated, etc. The last 1/3 of the film was where I really was having trouble. Yes, it took place during war times, but this was not promoted in the trailer, the reviews, the video clips… it was all a surprise when cannons and guns were firing at the sea creature (at first by happenstance, and then on purpose). We covered our son’s eyes a lot during the last 1/3, and I know there was family seated behind us with a young one doing the same.

The creature turned from caring to frightened to aggressive after being fired upon (can’t say I blamed him), and looked like he was going to kill a soldier and snapped his massive jaws at the boy who raised him. Eventually, all was okay, happily ever-after stuff, but it was a very tense part of the movie. In my mind, I would not recommend this film for children under 9 or 10 years of age because of the intensity of this latter part. Some Christians would undoubtedly be offended by the drinking and smoking in this film and maybe even the magic/fantasy quality of the beast itself. We’d been looking for a film that we felt safe in taking our little one to, one without innuendo, offensive material, and things that make me, as an adult, blush. We thought we’d found it… until that violence at the end.

The film-making quality was good, the CGI were convincing for the most part, the acting (especially by the young boy) was good… but there was more to it than we were led to believe. Not for little kids… maybe over 10 with some guidance about the ending and the smoking/drinking. …
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 3½
—Leigh Ann Dudley, age 38
Neutral—Overall, the film was fine, although less moving than I had hoped. But there were some small points of concern:

1) As is common with many children’s films now, there is a real life loss that has to be dealt with. In a sense it builds up a bond just to have it severed. This may be difficult for some children or those who are still smarting over the loss of a loved one.

2) It can be implied that a (mean) dog is eaten. I found this to be rather harsh.

3) While the cook’s oversight causes a scene of chaos in the house, it is the handyman who is blamed. This may be confusing for small children—why he is blamed and if he is at fault.

I hope this helps some parents in making decisions for their children.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 3½
—Bill Bagot, age 42
Neutral—I took my 8 and 5 year old to see this and I would not recommend this film for children under 9 or 10 years of age because of the intensity of the film in the 2nd ½. Some Christians would undoubtedly be offended by the drinking and smoking in this film and maybe even the magic/fantasy quality of the beast itself. They didn’t bother me but the blasphamy did, which could have been left out and the lieing to the mother. It was good as far as no innuendos, and no offensive sex senes, but I give it a but as it was a little bit slow moving for younger children, the children behind us even left because they were bored. But in saying all this my boys loved it but it made them feel a bit stressed and they haven’t talked about it much like they usually do after going to the movies.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Jane Walker, age 43
Comments from young people
Neutral—I found this movie to be entertaining, since I’ve always had an interest in the Loch Ness Monster. In general I thought this was a clean movie. They did say Jesus’s name in vain 2 times, but I didn’t catch it (my friend was the one who caught it). There is one scene where the mother (who is bitter after her husband’s died) says something like, 'Are you all nuts? There are no fantasies and magic in this world!' And was saying stuff like there’s no hope in the world. You could use that as a springboard of discussion if you’re bringing a nonbeliever friend. I would point that quote out after the movie and tell your friend/family member that there IS hope in the world, and His name is Jesus. This may lead to a good discussion!

However, I probably wouldn’t recommend this to younger kids, or any sensitive kid. Some scenes with the loch ness monster may scare some kids or make them uncomfortable. Overall, I think this is a good movie, but just be warned it does have some sad stuff.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Sarah, age 17
Positive—I thought the movie was a wonderful family film. The graphics looked so real it could have been real. I went with my sister and my grandpa. They thought it was great. There were some tragic scenes, but it ended great. I did not catch them using God’s name in vain. Overall, it was a great movie. I think “The Water Horse” was a great fantasy movie, and I highly recommend it.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Randy, age 11
Positive—This is a good, clean family movie. The graphics were okay but it was a good movie for kids. It also had beautiful scenery and had good plot to it. There was some Scottish language as in bloody and one h e double hockeystick. Go watch this movie.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Jerah Ward, age 15