The Water Babies (1978)

Article 2226 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-20-2007
Posting Date: 9-16-2007
Directed by Lionel Jeffries
Featuring James Mason, Bernard Cribbins, Billie Whitelaw

A poor boy finds himself accused of being a thief while working as a chimney sweep at a country mansion. He jumps into a stream to escape his pursuers and finds himself in an underwater kingdom. In order to escape, he must find the Water Babies and then meet the Kraken.

The DVD cover makes this children’s fantasy look as if it’s going to be one of those treacly overcute productions – all right for young children but almost unwatchable for adults. Well, don’t trust DVD covers; the first scenes of this movie take place in a grimy, somewhat brutal London market that looks like something out of Dickens at his bleakest. The fact that our hero is a forced apprentice to a brutish chimney sweep (James Mason in an unexpected role) and his sniveling assistant (Bernard Cribbins) only underscores the Dickens similarity. No, this movie is not overly cute, but it isn’t quite satisfying either; despite some good and very interesting moments, the movie seems a bit jittery and off-putting. The first thirty minutes and the last fifteen minutes are live-action, but the middle half of the movie is animated, and largely follows the plot of THE WIZARD OF OZ ; a child and his dog find themselves in a strange land, they go on a journey and meet three companions, ask a favor from a powerful god-figure and are set on a task to defeat some villain to prove their worth. There’s really only two songs, but fortunately, the central one that pops up repeatedly is very good. Unfortunately, the animation, most of which seems to have been done by Russian animators, has a jerky, unpleasant feel to it that takes away somewhat from my enjoyment of the movie. The best thing about the movie is Billie Whitelaw, who, though she seems to play several roles, may actually be the manifestation of one person, and whose presence has a hard-to-define power over the proceedings; if anything makes me want to seek out the Charles Kingsley book on which the movie was based, it is her presence, as I’d be hoping that the book would explain it more fully. The cast also features David Tomlinson, and Doctor Who’s Jon Pertwee provides one of character voices.



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