The Water Babies

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
The Water Babies Movie Poster Image
Odd British '70s animation/live-action with drunk adults.
  • NR
  • 1978
  • 92 minutes

Parents say

age 5+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 7+
Based on 1 review

Did this review miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive, diverse representations in books, TV shows, and movies. Want to help us help them? Suggest a diversity update

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

While intended to entertain, not educate, this film does introduce the idea of stark class differences in England in the mid-19th century.

Positive Messages

It is better to help others before helping yourself. Teamwork helps to solve problems.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Thomas is a kindhearted and cheerful boy, in spite of being an impoverished orphan suffering physical abuse at the hands of Mr. Grimes.

Violence & Scariness

On three occasions, a young boy is hit on the side of the head by a man who has, for all intents and purposes, taken him prisoner as a chimney sweep "apprentice." A boy jumps into raging waters with his dog and is presumed drowned. Some animated action, too: An otter tries taking a boy prisoner, a piranha bites an otter, a swordfish fights octopi, sharks do battle with children and sea animals. A character threatens to break a dog's neck.

Sexy Stuff
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adult characters are seen drinking in a pub and acting drunk. An alcoholic beverage is given to a young boy; the boy is told the drink will help put him to sleep, and the boy drinks it. Toasts of wine are made; adult characters are shown drinking the wine.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Water Babies is a 1970s British mix of live-action and animation with some accents that might be difficult for kids to understand. Adult characters drink frequently, and two of the characters appear to be drunk all the time. The lead boy, Thomas, is struck on the head on three different occasions by his alcoholic boss, who has taken him hostage. The animated sequences also include some action and peril with special effects that might not be that charming for modern families.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byTamzinB December 28, 2014

Flashback fun!

For me, the water babies is a rare classic! And a favourite childhood film of mine. It must have been at least 30 years since I watched it one Christmas, but I... Continue reading
Adult Written byLiamRandall November 1, 2012

A legendary kid's film

This film is so great, this movie shaped who I am today, and grew me up as it was a gift from my family overseas. There is no aspect of this film I wouldn'... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byAb1deer June 21, 2017
I was shown this film in class when I was in year 5 (about 8/9 years old) and to this day I still remain confused about not just the plot line,but as to whom th... Continue reading

What's the story?

Thomas (Tommy Pender) is a street urchin in 1850 London who has been taken prisoner as a chimney sweep "apprentice" to the odious Mr. Grimes (James Mason). Mr. Grimes and his toady Mr. Masterman (Bernard Cribbins) scheme to steal valuables from a luxurious mansion in Yorkshire, but when they are caught, Grimes tries to blame poor Thomas, who escapes being pursued by jumping into raging waters. Under the water, Thomas turns into a cartoon character, living in an underwater world where he must find "the water babies," kids who can help Thomas return to land. He befriends a Scottish lobster, a French swordfish, and a dandified seahorse, all of whom join Thomas on his quest and his fight against sharks and electric eels.

Is it any good?

THE WATER BABIES is one part Dickensian trial and tribulation, and another part strange aquatic-themed animation that could have only come out of the 1970s. It was surely an innovative idea for its time -- real-life characters transforming into cartoon characters and back again -- but it's questionable as to whether or not the average 21st century child will find this as interesting. Furthermore, while the action itself is easy enough to follow, for kids (and adults, for that matter) unaccustomed to the "blimey, guv'nor!" slang and dialect of Cockney English, the characters' words might be difficult to understand.

But in spite of this, The Water Babies is still enjoyable on its own terms. James Mason is wonderfully rotten as the conniving Mr. Grimes, the musical numbers are fun, and the special effects have a nice '70s period charm.


Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how life in the London of the 1850s is portrayed. How are the poor and the rich presented? How accurate do you think this picture is?

  • What are some of the different sea animals shown when Thomas becomes a water baby, and what do they do that makes them "good" or "bad"?

  • How does Thomas change over the course of the movie? What lessons does he learn?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love adventures

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

Streaming options powered by JustWatch

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate