A drunken child, a camp sea-horse and the charm of gritty 70’s animation is all you need. Luckily, The Water Babies (TWB) has all three and several other strange things that make this film so utterly brilliant. I am biased as I was pacified with this Lionel Jeffries masterpiece as a child, revisiting it as an adult has definitely been a comforting experience.
Loosely based on TWB book by, Charles Kingsley, and a recent stage-play at Leicester’s Curve Theatre, the story follows a young chimney sweep called Tom (Tommy Pender) who is exploited by his alcoholic, swindling employers, Mr Grimes (James Mason) and Mr. Masterman (Bernard Cribbins). They happen upon a large residence and ask Tom to sweep the chimney, however, while Tom is busy doing honest work, his bosses are pinching the silver! When the housekeeper, Mrs. Tripp (Billie Whitelaw) grows suspicious of the men they blame Tom for stealing and he is forced to run away.
Branded a thief and running out of options, Tom jumps into a violent river rapid and the bleak backdrop of the English countryside is transformed into an underwater animated world. Tom is tasked with saving The Water Babies from the castle of the evil shark and electric eel, before The Kraken can grant Tom a safe return to the surface of the water.
Needless to say there’s a lot going on in this movie, and there’s a lot of Billie Whitelaw going on in this movie – I think she plays about eight different parts.
It might be dated and it might be very dark in places, but TWB is a quintessentially British kid’s flick that’s impossible not to love. With a star-studded cast that will have your parents screeching: “Oh yes, I know him! He was very famous!” There really isn’t anything to fault.
If you’ve never seen it before, then you will be guaranteed a laugh with the film and at the films expense, it’s a wonderfully innocent and enjoyable experience that will have you singing ‘high cockalorum’ at the top of your lungs.
Order your copy here and stick the kettle on, The Water Babies is not one to miss.