A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
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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?
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