About 25 years ago a small movie that was seen by one or two people told the story of a fatherless boy who finds an alien and gets it addicted to Reese’s Pieces. The alien, who appears in a backyard shed, forges a strong bond with the boy. However, the alien must leave the boy pursued by the authorities who fear the alien. I was just thinking of this movie, for no particular reason, after watching The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep.
The “legend” in the film’s title is none other than the Loch Ness Monster. As two backpackers in the present day stop in a village alongside the famous Loch, an old man in a pub (Brian Cox) proceeds to tell them the “true” story of the famous monster and its origin. The story travels back to 1942 as young Angus MacMarrow (Alex Etel) finds a rock near the shore and takes it back to a garden shed on the estate where his mother (Emily Watson) is the head housekeeper. The rock is an egg and a small creature (looking like a turtle without a shell crossed with a seal) pops out and begins bonding with Angus. The new handyman on premises, Lewis Mobray (Ben Chaplin), tells Angus it looks like the rarest of all animals, a water horse.
Angus, who has been lonely and withdrawn since his father (played in flashbacks by Craig Hall) joined the Royal Navy and steamed out of their lives, begins to open up thanks to his relationship with both Mobray and the creature, which he names Crusoe. As often happens in movies like this, almost the same day Crusoe arrives, a British artillery battalion shows up to quarter on the estate and protect Loch Ness from possible German submarine attack. Captain Hamilton (David Morrissey) takes a shine to Angus’ mother resulting in some friction between him and Mobray. Angus has difficulty hiding the rapidly growing Crusoe, who slowly takes on the shape we all recognize in so many fake Loch Ness Monster photos.
Eventually Angus has to release Crusoe into the water and this causes some unanticipated sightings by the local populace and the artillery men. The usual types of things that happen in these boy and alien/animal/giant robot against the world stories happen here as well. Added to the fantasy element of the mythical creature is some genuine, but not overblown, drama about the loss of war and missing people that will never come back. There is also some slapstick humor when a dog chases a still small Crusoe through the house during a formal dinner party and the punch bowl goes flying.
Etel, last seen in the vastly underrated Millions, is like Freddie Highmore without the recent overexposure. Cute and appealing without being nauseating, you want success for him in whatever he’s doing. Watson is a great as always and Chaplin does what he can with some very sketchy character development. Even Morrissey fights against a straight forward pompous bad guy performance and gives his rich boy soldier a few shades.
This is a family movie, through and through. Although there are some tense moments when Crusoe grows large and is under attack, the plot zips along pretty quickly and will hold the attention of the kids without boring the parents. Weta Digital worked on Crusoe who looks decent except when Angus rides on the back of a full grown Crusoe. The whole scene looks like an outtake from Clash of the Titans, but it’s over quickly and Etel’s joy carries the day.
Screenwriter Robert Nelson Jacobs (Chocolat) doesn’t infuse anything particularly original into adapting the book by children’s author Dick King-Smith. Everything comes off a little bit paint-by-numbers, echoing movies we’ve seen many times before. Substitute Elliot and E.T., Hogarth and the Iron Giant, even Timmy and Lassie for Angus and Crusoe and you’ve got 80 percent of the plot down. It’s not poorly done, it’s just been done time and time again.