Wombling Free (1977)

Article 5095 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-1-2016
Directed by Lionel Jeffries
Featuring David Tomlinson, Frances de la Tour, Bonnie Langford
Country: UK
What it is: Fantasy environmentalism

The Wombles of Wimbledon Commons seek to make their presence known to a family known as the Frogmortons so they can spread their anti-littering message.

The Wombles are a group of short, fat, furry creatures largely invisible to humans who clean up the litter the others leave behind. They started out as characters in an English children’s book series from the late sixties. They gained fame in England when they were featured in a TV series that brought them to life via stop-motion animation in five-minute segments. I’d heard about them some time ago, but my only encounter with them up to this point was in a song called “Wombling Summer Party” from a collection of summer songs that I’d picked up at one point. This movie marks my first visual encounter with them.

I have to admit that the stop-motion animated series does intrigue me a bit; it sounds like the presentation would add quite a bit of charm to didactic nature of the series. Unfortunately, this movie does not feature stop-motion animation. Here, the Wombles are people in costumes, sort of like the Sid and Marty Krofft productions of the sixties and seventies. Also, what might be charming in five-minute segments might become less so in a full-length movie, and, quite frankly, the whimsical nature of the proceedings starts to wear thin very quickly here, especially since the story is disjointed and episodic. At times things get pretty weird and even a bit unpleasant; a dinner party scene with a drunk hostess seems rather out of place in particular. There is a charming little sequence where the Wombles fantasize they’re appearing in famous movie musical sequences; for me, this was the high point of the movie. The rest of the movie strikes me as being mostly memorable as a curio. Apparently, Jon Pertwee voices one of the Wombles.

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