The Water Babies (film)

The Water Babies is a 1978 live action-animated feature film directed by Lionel Jeffries and starring James Mason, Bernard Cribbins, Billie Whitelaw, Joan Greenwood, David Tomlinson, Tommy Pendler, and Samantha Gates. It is very loosely based on the book The Water-Babies, A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby by Charles Kingsley.[2]

The Water Babies
Directed byLionel Jeffries
Produced byPeter Shaw
Ben Arbeid
Screenplay byMichael Robson
Lionel Jeffries (additional material)
Based onThe Water-Babies, A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby
by Charles Kingsley
StarringJames Mason
Bernard Cribbins
Billie Whitelaw
Joan Greenwood
David Tomlinson
Tommy Pender
Samantha Gates
Music byPhil Coulter
CinematographyTed Scaife
Edited byPeter Weatherley
Ariadne Films (UK)
Studio Minitaur Filmowych (Poland)
Distributed byPethurst International Ltd. (UK)
The Samuel Goldwyn Company (USA)
Release date
  • June 23, 1978 (1978-06-23)
  • June 15, 1979 (1979-06-15)
Running time
105 minutes
United Kingdom
Budget£1 million[1]


When a 12-year-old chimney sweep named Tom is wrongfully blamed for being a thief, he makes a run for it with his dog Toby, and they end up jumping into a violent river. There they encounter a civilisation of anthropomorphic underwater creatures. Before he can return to the surface and clear his name, however, Tom must help rescue his new friends, the Water Babies, from enslavement by sharks.



  • James Mason as Killer Shark
  • Bernard Cribbins as Electric Eel
  • David Tomlinson as Polar Bear
  • Samantha Gates as Ariadne the Water Baby
  • Paul Luty as Claude the Swordfish
  • Jon Pertwee as Salmon/Jock the Lobster/Kraken
  • Lance Percival as Terence the Seahorse
  • David Jason as Cyril the Walrus
  • Olive Gregg
  • Cass Allan
  • Liz Proud
  • Una Stubbs


Producer Peter Shaw read the book in 1972 and thought it would make a good movie. However he was unsure how to tackle the film technically and was concerned about how to turn the book into a script. He and writer Michael Robson spent a lot of time adapting the book. Key changes were made including adding a sidekick for the evil sweeper Grimes and having the villains get their comeuppance in the real world as well as the fantasy world.[1]

Shaw toyed with the idea of using special effects then decided to create the underwater sequences via animation. "We had the perfect excuse," said Shaw. "The surface of the water becomes the boundary between live action and fantasy."[1]

Shaw looked into hiring animators in Hollywood but found them to be too expensive so made a deal with a Polish company. The Poles did the animation while the British did the story, soundtrack, working designs and characters. The budget for the film was raised entirely in England and the film was shot without a distributor.[1]

Filmed on location in Yorkshire, England in November 1976. Primarily based at Denton Hall, Wharfedale, early scenes are filmed in the city of York. Post production took a number of months due to incorporating the animated sequences.[1]


  1. Radford, Tim (1 November 1976). "Capitalist tale with a touch of class". The Guardian. p. 8.
  2. "The Water Babies". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 15 March 2016.
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