The right balance . . .
CGI?of course: You can't depict the Loch Ness monster with just the putative photo of the famous myth. But after you accept the clever graphics, The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep is just plain ol' good story telling, fit for pre-adolescent kids and their young-at-heart parents.
Narrator Brian Cox (his character is not identified) tells of WWII era in Scotland at the famous loch, where young Angus MacMorrow finds an egg at the shore and nurtures the loveable monster until he has to go to the loch to survive. The Scottish regiment occupying the home and the new handyman, Lewis Mowbray (Ben Chaplin), complicate life and endanger the elusive monster. Although the usual clueless mom (Emily Watson) and dangerous thugs are here to further the fantasy genre staples, the challenges Angus faces are instructive about the collision of reality and fantasy for an adolescent.
WWII looms large, a fitting embodiment of the challenges the unknown and potentially dangerous can be to the stability of the world. The fantasy world, centered on the monster, who becomes his best friend, collides with the reality of people who want to destroy the monster and the boy's imaginative life.
Mix in all this with the father who has been away to war, never to return, and you have a child's romance with the right balance of love and hate, certainty and uncertainty, illusion and reality. It's all much less sophisticated than Shrek, and more like Whale Rider, also filmed in New Zealand. In the latter, a girl rides a whale as an embodiment of the country's hope; in Water Horse, the boy rides the monster to expunge his own fear of water and elude the malignant forces of the adult world. Pretty heady stuff, that.