"The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep" tries not to sink under the weight of movie cliches. The predictable, overly familiar boy-and-his-creature story line could peg it as a derivative mix of past family dramas and fantasies. It's essentially "Free Nessie," a combination of "Free Willy," "E.T." and the 1996 Ted Danson vehicle "Loch Ness."
On the plus side, "The Water Horse" has some genuine appeal, thanks largely to the film's talented, mostly European cast. And it is one of the few family movies out there right now that might actually be appropriate for all family members.
The title of this World War II fantasy-drama refers to a legendary, amphibious creature that is rumored to inhabit large bodies of water, including Scotland's Loch Ness. A lonely Scottish boy, Angus (Alex Etel), has found an egg containing a baby beastie, whom he names Crusoe (after Daniel Defoe's literary castaway).
Once the egg hatches, Angus has to conceal Crusoe's existence from his mother, Anne (Emily Watson), as well as the Scottish Army forces that are supposed to be protecting the country's shoreline from German invaders. Thankfully, he has at least one ally: Lewis Mowbray (Ben Chaplin), a mysterious handyman recently hired by Angus's mother.
The creature appears to be a cross between a horse, a turtle and a seal, with some dinosaurlike characteristics, and it looks considerably less cutesy once it grows to its full size.
This kind of material (based on a novel by the creator of "Babe") suits director Jay Russell, who also helmed the 2000 drama "My Dog Skip."
But it's the cast that really makes it work. Etel ("Millions") is a real charmer, and both Watson and Chaplin give it credibility as does Brian Cox, who acts as narrator in present-day wraparound sequences.
"The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep" is rated PG for war violence (gunfire and explosive mayhem), creature action and violence, and child-in-peril elements, vulgar digestive humor and scattered mild profanity (mostly religion-based). Running time: 108 minutes.