In the grand tradition of “he followed me home — can I keep him?” movies, we have seen movies about children who are brought to adventure and understanding through dogs, horses, cats, a whale, a dolphin, dragons, geese, and an extra-terrestrial. But this imaginative family fantasy-adventure is the first movie in my memory about a boy and his very own Loch Ness monster.
Angus (Alex Etel) is a young boy in World War II Scotland, the son of the housekeeper of a large estate. He finds what he thinks is a rock but it turns out to be an egg. He calls the creature who hatches “Crusoe.”
At first, Crusoe is a cute little thing, a sort of friendly, cooing, shell-less snail. But he grows very quickly soon Angus has to let some other people in on the secret.
The role of animals (or extra-terrestrials) in movies like this is to give the child at the center of the story a growth experience. As in most movies of this kind, Crusoe is there to help the main character deal with loss by learning to care for something that needs protecting and by drawing on resources of courage and maturity he did not know he had. It turns out that Angus has not been able to accept a tragic loss. Caring for Crusoe will help him find a way to hold on to his connection to the person he has lost by learning to love — and then learning to let go — of his pet monster.
Alex’s mother (Emily Watson) will also learn something from Crusoe. Her experience of loss has left her unwilling to believe in anything magical. And a wounded veteran (Ben Chaplin as Lewis Mowbry) finds something hopeful wakened in him at the sight of the growing monster in a bathtub as well. And when Angus goes for a ride on Crusoe’s back, it is a scene of the purest childhood joy and freedom.
Crusoe rescues something in Angus and his family, and then they must rescue him in an exciting scene beautifully staged by director Jay Russell (“Ladder 49”) and performed by his outstanding cast. This is a fine family film, filled with imagination and heart.
Parents should know that this film includes some wartime violence (guns and explosions) and reference to wartime injuries and loss, including the (offscreen) death of a parent. Characters are in peril. There is some social drinking and there is brief crude humor.
Families who see this movie should talk about how Crusoe helped both Angus and Lewis understand and cope with their losses. How does taking care of something (or someone) who needs you change you? What do you think will happen after the last scene in the movie?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Free Willy and Andre. They will also enjoy Alex Etel’s wonderful performance in the delightful Millions.