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  Wombling Free Keep Britain Tidy
Year: 1977
Director: Lionel Jeffries
Stars: David Tomlinson, Frances De La Tour, Bonnie Langford, Bernard Spear, Yasuko Nagazumi, John Junkin, Reg Lye, David Jason, Lionel Jeffries, Jon Pertwee, Kenny Baker, Jack Purvis, Janet Brown, John Graham
Genre: Musical, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: Ever since the days of Adam and Eve, there have been the Wombles to clean up after the humans and nowadays, with more and more rubbish piling up around the world, the small, fat, furry creatures are needed more than ever. The Wombles in this story live on Wimbledon Common in Britain where they stay in a burrow; led by Great Unlce Bulgaria, they include Bungo, Wellington, Tomsk and Orinoco, who take care of the rubbish collecting, and Tobermory who invents machines out of the things that they find. Lastly, Madame Cholet takes care of the cooking for the group. However, as people are growing more untidy, the Wombles have a problem getting their message across as the humans always ignore them.

In the mid seventies in Britain there couldn't have been anyone who didn't know what a Womble was as they had popular books courtesy of creator Elizabeth Beresford, hit records courtesy of Mike Batt ("Remember You're a Womble" the most memorable of them) and a near-classic, animated television series broadcast throughout the land. So a film was the next logical step, although by the time it was released the phenomenon was on the wane, and when audiences saw it it did little to help their continued success. Getting Lionel Jeffries, writer-director of the magnificent The Railway Children, to render this big screen version must have seeemed like a good idea.

But what he couldn't come up with was a story to last the full ninety minutes and as a result the film rambles on, meandering from setpiece to musical number (Mike Batt again). The humans are represented by the Frogmorton family: harrassed father Roland (David Tomlinson), well-meaning mother Julia (Frances De La Tour) and perky daughter Kim (Bonnie Langford), and when she is out on the Common by her house one day, Kim drops an item of litter on the ground. This is seen by Bungo (Kenny Baker, voiced by David Jason) who tells her to pick it up and incredibly for the little Womble, she hears him and complies.

Bungo is delighted that a human has heard him and rushes home to tell Great Uncle Bulgaria, who sees it as progress. But they don't have time to worry about that as it turns out developers are going to build a motorway through Wimbledon Common - at last, you think, the story is here. Yet it's not to be, as this plotline is dismissed in about ten minutes. In this mishmash of underdeveloped narrative the musical bits have predictably nothing to do with the rest of the film, as the Wombles recreate classic Hollywood musicals like Singin' in the Rain and The Sound of Music ("The hills are alive with the sound of Wombles!").

On television, this episodic style is fine since each instalment only lasted five minutes anyway, but it's problematic on celluloid. The filmmakers do a pretty good job of recreating the look of the series, and the Scottish MacWomble arrives at one point with his clockwork car to liven things up. However, the Frogmortons' next door neighbours are a Japanese couple and are by far the strangest aspect of the film. The husband is played by Bernard Spear, a Westerner with dyed black hair and an American accent, while his wife (Yasuko Nagazumi) is Miki Berenyi from Lush's mother who only speaks Japanese. It's difficult to call them stereotypical as they seem to belong in their own personal world. Meanwhile, the ecological message is hammered home and Roland is made to accept the existence of Wombles, which is more than anyone else does, and then... the film stops. What you're left with is an odd relic of a pop culture fad.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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