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Kids, MG is moving! I’m making the announcement here and now. The second I have two shekels to hire a moving van for my trunk (- ba-dum-cssh!), I’m off to New Zealand. Gone Daddy Gone. I’ve long heard theologians ruminate on the theory that the geographical location of the Biblical Eden is New Zealand. After viewing the beautiful settings of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I was already apt to be persuaded, but now, having seen the breathtaking landscapes presented in the delightful family film, The Water Horse, I am utterly convinced. 

I mention the beautiful location because it’s so prominent in the film that it’s nearly a costar. Wellington, New Zealand stands in for Caledonia and lends the film an unimaginable beauty, with wide shots of the lakeshores and mountains looking like an illustration from a children’s book and adding to the fantastic premise. The dreamlike imagery leaves the viewer open to the notion that anything is possible. A perfect framework for the story of a young boy who finds petrified stone on the Scottish seaside that turns out to be the egg of the Loch Ness Monster.  

Young Angus a lonely, unhappy, boy is growing up during World War II in a manor house where his mother is housekeeper. In flashbacks, we see Angus’ father is a soldier and his son yearns for his return home from war. Though his mother takes Angus to the beach on day trips in an attempt to lift the boy’s spirits, Angus is frightened of the water and isolates himself from making friends. Rooted to the shore collecting seashells, Angus comes across an unusual oval-shaped rock and picks at its barnacled exterior until it chips away, revealing a luminous blue surface beneath. Hiding the rock in his father’s shed; Angus wakes up the next morning a proud father himself of a pink little critter with a serious appetite that looks like a cross between a baby mole rat and a very small walrus. Angus dubs the new arrival, Crusoe, after one of his father’s favourite books. As if the hatching of Angus’ new friend wasn’t enough to complicate the boy’s life, a military regiment sent to guard Scotland against the unlikely event of German submarines entering the lochs, garrisons itself at the manor, minimising what little chance at privacy Angus might’ve had to hide the creature.  

Angus now has someone to care for and it draws the introverted boy out of himself. We watch Crusoe grow at an alarming rate, feeding on any and all scraps Angus can find. Angus soon realises his new buddy could use a drink and he finds Crusoe to be marvelously amphibian as he flourishes in the water. Soon enough, Crusoe is a healthy shade of sapphire blue and is large enough to go galumphing about the manor house, which has now become the territory of the troop’s creature-hating bulldog mascot.  Before too long, Crusoe is far too large to be kept in the shed and with the help of Lewis, a newly-hired handyman, Angus is forced to release him into the loch. In the lake waters Crusoe grows to roughly the size and shape of a small brachiosaur, his elongated neck ending in a sweet, horselike face (- but he’s still got those cute Shrek ears). During one visit from Angus, Crusoe flips the boy onto his back and takes him for a thrilling ride around and under the loch, beneath beautifully filmed coral reefs and sunken pirate ships in a fantastic world of their own where the fearful Angus finally feels safe. All seems well for the happy creature until Crusoe is discovered first by some profit-minded fisherman (- there’s a scene that explains a certain famous photograph), then by the soldiers from the manor who don’t know what Crusoe is but decide to destroy him anyway. In a harrowing scene, Crusoe’s unfortunate introduction to cannon fire drives him wild with fear and truly turns him into a monster. The fearful young boy has to reach beyond himself to protect Crusoe and keep him from hurting himself or others. Angus’ brave actions are borne out of his love and friendship for the creature, his dearest friend, who he knows he will eventually have to let go. 

Aw, it’s a good one, folks. A true family film. I’m not big on the mawkish and saccharine and I loathe children’s films that are so infantile they completely alienate any enjoyment by the parents. Based on the book by Dick King-Smith (- who also wrote Babe: the Gallant Pig - baa, ram ewe, indeed!), The Water Horse is a great entertainment for all ages. The action sequences are thrilling and a lot of fun, there are laughs for everybody and there’s the grownup story of Angus, his sister and their loving and worried mother all coping with life without Angus’ dad. Most of all, you’ve got the great blue beastie, who is so wonderfully brought to life that you care as much for him as Angus does, whether you’re his age or a bit older. I may be leaving for New Zealand, but I’m going nowhere without a Crusoe doll! As a baby, Crusoe is the sweetest creation a special effects team ever gave birth to. I defy anyone not to instantly fall in love with the cuddly blue feller as he runs a wild chase through the manor with the garrison’s bulldog chomping at his flippers. Wonderful CGI on Crusoe, best I’ve seen since Steve, the tentacled leviathan from 2006’s brilliant Korean monster opus, The Host (- click here to read about Steve). No small wonder that both are creations of WETA, the Kiwi SFX masters. You can see every line and ridge on Crusoe’s dolphin-smooth skin. His movements, both clumsily on land and in glidingly smooth under the sea are seamless and perfect, a combination of the gaits of many different animals. Crusoe is the most adorable and heart-tugging creature since ET, but given enough of a personality to not make him an overt McDonald’s Happy Meal toy. He’s a right little bounder, having no compunction about taking a nip out of the nearest finger as a hungry infant, and after he’s grown and terrified at the cannon blasts exploding all around him, he begins to act terrifyingly more like a radioactive cousin of his in Japan than the darling little hatchling Angus lovingly raised (- Yeah, but I still want one!). Good stuff. 

Much praise to a fine cast for making the fantastic story flesh and giving it emotion and heart. Emily Watson is lovely in a relatively small role as Angus’ mother. She aches for her son to come out of his shell and join the world, yet is patient and understanding of his pain. Ben Chaplin (- where’s he been?) is wonderful as the rough and secretive handyman Lewis, a man dealing with worlds of hurt of his own. Lewis gradually lowers his considerable defences after he inadvertently discovers Crusoe and feeling sympathy for Angus, agrees to help him hide the little blue phenomena. Angus is played by Alex Etel in what is only his second role. The wide, freckled face and hurt eyes give away so much of what Angus feels; it’s impossible not to ache for the boy who crosses each day off a calendar ticking off time until his father’s tour of duty is over. Though he doesn’t realise it when that egg first hatches, Angus needs Crusoe every bit as much as Crusoe needs him. The young Etel, with a technical dexterity and sensitivity beyond his tender years, never for a moment lets you believe anything other than Crusoe is real. 

The Water Horse is a lovely and heartwarming film. It really deserves to be seen and I hope parents are wise enough to seek it out over the Christmas holiday. 

 

~ Mighty Ganesha 

December 12th, 2007

 

 

 

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of  Sony Pictures)