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Western Animation / The Water Babies (1978)

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The Water Babies is a 1978 live action-animated feature film, very loosely based on the classic children's novel The Water Babies, A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby by Charles Kingsley.

When Tom, a 12-year-old Victorian chimney sweep, is framed for stealing, he makes a run for it and ends up jumping into a violent river. There he encounters a civilization of anthropomorphic underwater creatures. Before he can return to the surface and clear his name, however, he must help rescue his new friends, the Water Babies, from an evil shark who bears a striking resemblence to his cruel master, Mr. Grimes.


The Water Babies provides examples of the following tropes:

  • The Alcoholic: Both Mr. Grimes and Masterman are drunk throughout most of the film.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Terence the seahorse, oh so much.
  • And You Were There: The cartoon sea creatures are voiced by people Tom had met before in the real world.
  • Animated Adaptation: Very loosely of The Water-Babies, A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby by Charles Kingsley.
  • Animated Musical
  • Artistic License – Physics: The heroes bombard the shark's underwater fortress by cutting chunks off an ice shelf that's floating overhead, and by dropping giant balls of ice. Apparently, ice only floats when it's really big in this movie.
  • Big Bad: The killer shark in the animated segment and Mr. Grimes in the live action parts. They're kind of the same person.
    • The novelization outright makes them the same character. Grimes and Masterman flee from Harthover when they realize they have fallen under suspicion for the robbery. They try to escape by sea, fall out of their boat and are somehow transformed into a shark and an eel, later conveniently finding their way back to shore and regaining their human form in time for the final confrontation. No explanation is given for this (unlike with Tom, who is pretty clearly implied in both versions to be a lost Water Baby) and they're completely baffled by it. It also creates an Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole, since the Killer Shark's existence is already well-known to the inhabitants of the sea, which couldn't be the case if he had literally just appeared on the scene.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Depending on the version...
    • The movie leans more on the 'sweet' side, with Tom and Elly now implied to be almost brother and sister, while not mentioning where Mr. Grimes went.
    • The book is more pragmatic, stating that, while Tom became a successful man of science, he never married Elly, since no-one below the rank of prince or princess ever marries in a fairy tale.note 
  • Book Ends: The live action sequences open and close the film.
  • Brave Scot: The appropriately named Jock the lobster.
  • Canon Foreigner: A few characters were added: Jock, a Scottish lobster, Terence, an effeminate starstruck Seahorse, and Claude, a foppish French swordfish.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Lady Harriet, who has to be told exactly what her husband's job is despite being married to him for who knows how long.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Elly is golden haired and very kind to Tom right from the start. She helps clear his name when her uncle wants to hang him for the theft he was framed for.
  • Karmic Death: Mr. Grimes tries to get Tom hanged for a theft he committed. Guess what's heavily implied to happen to him in the end.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: Mr. Grimes and Masterman are both horrible people and criminals who try to frame a young boy for theft. By the end, they're both caught for their crimes and it's implied they will be hanged.
  • Limited Animation: Several sequences are obviously repeated.
  • Meaningful Name: Mr. Grimes is filthy on the skin and in the heart.
  • Medium Blending: The film opens and ends with live action Book Ends but the bulk is animated.
  • Never Say "Die": In both the movie and original book. A notable incident in the book has Elly accept some wings from the fairies and fly off, only reuniting with Tom in the final chapters.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Elly's Uncle John believes her when she tells him Tom was framed and immediately switches to trying to help Tom rather than arrest him.
  • Undying Loyalty: Toby would follow Tom anywhere.
  • Uptown Girl: Elly and Tom couldn't be more different from each other, socially-speaking —
    • Tom's a street urchin with virtually no money to his name.
    • Elly was clearly born into a very wealthy family—in fact, her family appears to be of nobility, as Elly's Uncle Johnnote  is stated to be a Lord.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: What happened to the salmon after the otters started chasing them?