Nostalgia overtook me as I dove into the first episode the 1989 children’s animated program, Babar, not to be confused with the recent spin-off series Babar and the Adventures of Badou. Babar’s oh-so-familiar saccharine title track transported me back to my childhood, to a time when I’d awaken before school to hear the moral tales spun by elephant King Babar for the benefit of his ever-attentive brood. I must admit that, by the end of its first year or two on television, the series eventually put me off with its unabashed wholesomeness. Orating elephant royalty simply weren’t cool enough for young Jef. He preferred his anthropomorphic animals of the teenage mutant ninja variety. After all, the gathering of Babar’s family around a sofa to hear their patriarch recite a tale at the conclusion of the title sequence properly situates the series as a thoroughly didactic family program, something geared more toward younger audiences.
Revisiting Babar as an adult, however, I find the content of the series far more mature than I had remembered it. Each episode centers on King Babar helping one of his children solve a problem by relating a tale from his own past that taught him a valuable life lesson. In the very first episode, Babar tells his children about the time a hunter killed his mother, shooting her as she attempted to flee to safety with young Babar on her back. Driven to prevent any further poaching, young Babar seeks out civilization in subsequent episodes, where he ultimately learns the ways of man. He then returns to the jungle as a bipedal gentleman with the wherewithal to defeat the poachers that stalk his herd and build a civilized kingdom for his people.
Although, many parents prefer to shield their children from the topic of death altogether, especially at a young age, the series does well to position the death of Babar’s mother within the scope of the myriad life lessons the good king relates to his children. The series’ writers, working from Jean de Brunhoff’s 1931 storybook, Histoire de Babar, make the issue age appropriate by positioning the death in such a way that it teaches children the value of all life. While modern programmers would avoid such topics for fear of enraged parents forever changing the channel, this 1989 HBO series stayed true to its literary roots and prospered for six seasons as a result. Given the boldness of its presentation and the inestimable value of the life lessons presented therein, I recommend parents consider introducing their children to Babar.
Entertainment One has made all thirteen episodes of the classic Babar’s first season available on DVD. Although the collection offers no special features, the episodes have been digitally restored and remastered in anticipation of their presentation here.