Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Water Babies, The

UK/Polish live-action/Animated Movie (1978). Ariadne/Studio Miniatur Filmowych/Productions Associates/Pethurst. Pr Peter Shaw. Dir Lionel Jeffries. Screenplay Michael Robson. Based on The Water-Babies (1863) by Charles Kingsley. Starring Bernard Cribbins (Masterman), Samantha Gates (Ellie), Joan Greenwood (Lady Harriet), James Mason (Grimes), Tommy Pender (Tom), David Tomlinson (Sir John), Billie Whitelaw (Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby/Mrs Tripp). Voice actors Cribbins (Electric Eel), Mason (Killer Shark), Pender (Tom), plus Olive Gregg, David Jason, Lance Percival, Jon Pertwee, Una Stubbs. 93 mins. Colour.

York, 1850. Young Tom, brutalized by his master, Grimes the chimneysweep, and Grimes's henchman Masterman, is taken by them to sweep the chimneys of Harthover Hall, home of Sir John and Lady Harriet; there he discovers that the housekeeper, Mrs Tripp, is identical with an old peasant woman they've passed en route and also with Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby, a faked "bodiless head" whom Tom saw in a sideshow. Tom is accused of theft, flees and – with dog Toby – falls into the river; from here on events are in animation underwater and in live-action above. Tom is taught to swim by a salmon and an otter, who tell him that if he wants to return to surface life he must find the Water Babies, who live in mid-ocean. He has various adventures while undertaking this Quest. Returning to real life, Tom is immediately grabbed by Grimes and Masterman, who take him back to Harthover Hall to burgle it. They are caught thanks to Tom's pluck; he is exonerated, then adopted by the family to the joy of daughter Ellie.

The live-action bits of TWB have much to do with Kingsley's novel, the animated sections less. Although the two children turn in fine performances, the live-action portions seem halfhearted, while the animation is characterized by a fatal cuteness and repeated choruses of a song called "High Cockalorum". [JG]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.