DVD Picks & Passes

Juno (2007) - Pick

The Water Horse (2007) - Pick

“Dealing with things way beyond my maturity level” is the mature if bitter self-reflection from the title character in Juno (new this week on DVD).

But maturity and immaturity can be combined in unexpected ways, like a hulking teenager with a baby face.

Juno (Ellen Page) is definitely a kid — and she’s mature enough to know it. She thinks of herself as knowing and worldly-wise, yet she’s naive enough to be unconvinced by two pregnancy tests. After a third test, she makes what is probably the only “choice” available given her socialization and background: She schedules an appointment for an abortion.

Here the film throws a curve: Juno encounters a shy pro-life protester chanting “All babies want to get borned” who shares some salient pro-life facts: “Your baby probably has a beating heart … it can feel pain … and it has fingernails!”

This appeal helps persuade Juno to not to go through with the abortion. If 2007 is the cinematic year of the unborn child, Juno is perhaps the most striking in its pro-life implications.

Juno empathizes with all its characters, though it doesn’t approve of or excuse all their choices. But while imperfect decisions lead to imperfect outcomes, the film doesn’t lose sight of the way things should be.

“I need to know that it’s possible for two people to stay happy together forever,” Juno plaintively says at one point. Juno is a film of rare wisdom: one that knows that following your bliss is often another name for selfishness and immaturity, and the secret to lasting happiness is often a matter of starting where you are and deciding to make it work.

Also new on DVD, The Water Horse is one of the best of 2007’s thin crop of decent family films — and it’s also the best film from Walden Media in years. Based on the novel by British writer Dick King-Smith, who wrote the equally delightful Babe, The Water Horse tells the story of another special beast: a creature of Scottish legend called a water horse, hatched from an egg by a boy named Angus (Alex Etel, Millions). Angus happens to live on Loch Ness. Guess who the critter grows up to be?

Like the movie version of Babe — one of the best family films of all time — Walden’s The Water Horse heightens the drama of King-Smith’s ultra-gentle text with darker themes.

Angus’s father is off fighting in WW2 and may not return. And the estate where Angus lives is conscripted by a British artillery unit, ostensibly due to the threat of invading Nazi U-boats.

With echoes of films from E.T. to The Iron Giant, from The Secret of Roan Inish to Lassie, The Water Horse isn’t quite a classic in that league, but it honors the tradition.

Content advisory

Juno: A brief sexual encounter (no explicit nudity); frequent crass language and sexual references; references to divorce and to remarriage. Mature viewing. The Water Horse: Limited profanity; some frightening scenes. Might be too intense for very sensitive children.