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The Water Horse

Reel Rating: 4 out of 5 Reels
MPAA Rating: PG for some action/peril, mild language and brief smoking.
Genre: Family, Adventure, Fantasy
Runtime: 111 minutes
Directed by: Jay Russell; based on the children’s book by Dick King-Smith.
Cast: Alex Etel, Emily Watson, Bruce Allpress, Ben Chaplin, Brian Cox, Eddie Campbell, Carl Dixon, Priyanka Xi

Language: None

Sex/ Nudity: An older couple flirt, dance and kiss, as amused children look on.

Violence/Gore: Things get pretty wild toward the end when soldiers fire at the giant beast with rifles and cannons. The beast retaliates by snapping at humans, picking them up in its powerful jaws and swinging them around in the loch. Also, when a dog mysteriously quits barking off-screen, we assume it was eaten by the beast. Adult characters fight both verbally and physically.

Which Kids Will Like It? Ages 9 and older who love fantasy adventure movies like Eragon and The Golden Compass.

Will Parents Like It? Yes, it’s a sweet family story that ties in history (World War II) and legend (the Loch Ness Monster) with the power of love and family. Grown-ups will love the lovely Scottish manor, beautiful scenery and Celtic soundtrack.

Review: Angus MacMorrow (Alex Etel) is a young lad living in Scotland during World War II. He and his family, including mother Anne (Emily Watson) and sister Kirstie (Priyanka Xi) are the caretakers of a grand old manor complete with meandering staircases, four-poster beds and a library filled with dusty books.

In his father’s workshop – adorned with magazine clippings, maps, and war-related items – Angus eagerly marks off the days until his father will return from the war.

One day, during an outing on the shores of a nearby loch, Angus finds a mysterious, barnacle-encrusted item, which he takes home and hides in his father’s workshop, only to discover that inside is a brilliant blue egg, out of which hatches a creatures that’s a cross between a seal and a lizard. Angus names him Crusoe after Robinson Crusoe.

At first, Crusoe is a cute little guy who loves playing in the bathtub inside the house. But he grows at an incredible rate, tripling in size each night until he can’t fit in either the bathtub or the fountain in the courtyard.

So with the help of Kirstie and a handyman named Lewis Mowbray (Ben Chaplin), Angus sadly releases Crusoe into the loch. Mowbray wonders aloud if it’s a legendary creature called a water horse. He explains to Angus that there can only be one in the world at a time, and before dying, the beast lays an egg for another to take its place.

Meanwhile, the war rages on. The Royal Army sets up camp in the house, pointing their cannons at the loch and any German subs that might be passing through. All of this is told in flashback, by an old man in a current-day pub to two young people listening in rapt attention.

The story meanders pleasantly in the first half of the movie. We get a sense of the era and characters – mainly, Angus, who needs a reason to live while his father is away at war. Crusoe offers that reason, as well as a lesson in letting go.

I love this movie because everything fits together seamlessly: beautiful Scottish scenery complete with abandoned castles, dark-grained interiors of the grand manor, a family struggling during World War II and a lovely Celtic soundtrack.

The computer-generated beast is very life-like, and the action gets a little scary for kids (and, ok, adults). For this reason, I don’t recommend it for kids younger than nine.

DVD Extras: Behind-the-scenes featurettes: Myths and Legends, The Story, The Characters, Setting the Scene, Water Work: Creating the Water Horse, Creating Crusoe; Deleted Scenes; Virtual Crusoe game: Raise your very own water horse from a wee baby to the most magical creature the loch has ever seen.

Jane Boursaw is a family entertainment writer specializing in movies and TV. Visit her at Reel Life With Jane; follow her on Twitter; become a friend on Facebook; email jboursaw@charter.net.