A family film in the best sense, Water Horse
plays like a cross between a World War II-era Boy's Own
adventure and Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend
, minus the soppy treacle of the latter but with just the right amount of RAF fighter flybys to qualify it as a rather ripping yarn, indeed. There's even an English bulldog named Churchill (always a plus). Set on the coast of Scotland, the ingratiatingly plucky Etel (Millions
) plays Angus, a steadfast young dreamer whose mother and sister tend to Lord Something or Other's sprawling country estate, while he skitters around the tide pools digging up neat stuff. Unable to swim and thus simultaneously entranced and terrified of the ocean that laps virtually at his doorstep, Angus is a lad without a dad and pensive, as well. (Though it's not dwelled upon, brief mention is made of his father, a sailor, having been killed in the war.) The discovery of a barnacle-encrusted egg changes all this, however. The hatching of the egg reveals the titular "water horse," aka the Loch Ness beastie, and coincides with the arrival of a pair of dueling surrogate father figures for Angus. One is the dashing British Regiment Capt. Hamilton (Morrissey), and the other is the charming scruff of new handyman Lewis (Chaplin). Then, too, there's the problem of Angus' ravenously vegan aqua pet, which grows to adulthood quicker than Ray Harryhausen's "Ymir" from 20 Million Miles to Earth
and, once out of the manor and into the Loch, rapidly draws the attention of Capt. Hamilton and his overeager artillery emplacements. With its Shrek
y ears and newborn, puggy snufflings, the water horse is extremely – and unthreateningly, to younger members – well-designed, via CGI and more tactile effects work. Despite the title, this is Etel's film all the way, however. His expressive, peaches-and-cream face, overhung by a frequently furrowed brow, is simply a bang-on depiction of childhood anxiety. Life during wartime is different for children, who can often manage to dream their way past dark reality into more interesting (if not necessarily safer) fantasy worlds. Angus, lucky lad, doesn't even need to do that.