Water Babies is a Victorian tale about a very young chimney sweep named Thomas (Tommy Pender) who becomes a fugitive from justice after being falsely accused of stealing the silver. Fearing the gallows (the punishment in those days for thievery), he jumps into a river, drowns, becomes a water baby and embarks on a series of adventures. For many people, this film was very childish, farcical and generally not good. Admittedly, it is not a great film by any means. Director Lionel Jeffries did far better with "The Runaway Children," but this film has its charms.
To begin with, Lionel Jeffries depicts life in Victorian England far more effectively than Franco Zefferelli ever did in Jane Eyre. It is one thing to dress actors in Victorian costumes, create sumptuous looking sets and have everyone speak in aristocratic accents, but quite another to bring the spirit of the Victorian age to the screen. Lionel Jeffries has a gift for doing that, whether it is with the scene in the pub where Tom is subjected to physical abuse and then given hard liquor by Mr. Grimes (James Mason) and Mr. Masterman (Bernard Cribbins) or in Hartover Hall, where we see the supreme pomposity and confidence exhibited by Sir John Hartover (played very well by David Tomlinson). The surreal touches are also very interesting.
Now the bulk of the film is animation. Many reviewers have criticized the animated part for its poor graphics. No doubt, they are right. But this is my point -- who cares? Maybe I am old fashioned, but I did not care when they improved the graphics for the Nintendo games or when they combined computer animation with the older animation for the movie Alladin. That apparently matters to some people -- usually the kind of people who complain about the texture of food. But for me, as long as I can see the pictures on the screen, I am content. The bigger problem was with the songs, which children will find enchanting, but which I (and probably many adults) found childish and a waste of time.
But with that said, this film has enough charming, good natured and funny characters to delight even adults. Characters like the lobster, the sea horse, the sword fish, the Krakon (whose bark is worse than his bite), the walrus, the polar bear and even some of the water babies (when they are not singing). Elly (Samantha Gates), the niece of Sir John, is also a delightful sweetheart.