Babar the Elephant
|Babar the Elephant|
Cover of the first Babar story, Histoire de Babar (Story of Babar), published 1931
|First appearance||Histoire de Babar, 1931|
|Created by||Jean de Brunhoff|
|Children||Pom, Flora, Alexander, Isabelle|
|Relatives||Arthur (cousin), Badou (grandson), Periwinkle (daughter-in-law), Cory (son-in-law)|
|Author||Jean de Brunhoff|
|Media type||Print (hardcover and paperback)
Babar the Elephant is a fictional character who first appeared in the French children's book Histoire de Babar by Jean de Brunhoff in 1931 and enjoyed immediate success. An English-language version, The Story of Babar, introduced by A.A. Milne, appeared in 1933 in Britain and the United States. The book is based on a tale that Brunhoff's wife, Cecile, had invented for their children. It tells of a young elephant Babar who, upon the death of his mother by a hunter, is chased by the hunter. Babar escapes, and in the process leaves the jungle, visits a big city, and returns to bring the benefits of civilization to his fellow elephants. Just as he returns to his community of elephants, their king dies from eating a bad mushroom. Because of his travels and civilization, Babar is appointed king of the elephant kingdom. He marries his cousin, and they subsequently have children and teach them valuable lessons.
Jean de Brunhoff published six more stories before his death in 1937. His son Laurent de Brunhoff, also a writer and illustrator, carried on the series from 1946 onwards with Babar et Le Coquin d'Arthur.
An animated TV series Babar was produced in Canada by Nelvana Limited and Clifford Ross Company, and originally ran from 3 January 1989, to 5 June 1991, with 65 episodes, plus an additional 13 episodes in 2000. The character has also appeared in a number of films. The first two of Jean de Brunhoff's Babar books have inspired two major concert works: The Story of Babar (L'histoire de Babar) by Francis Poulenc in 1940 and The Travels of Babar (Le Voyage de Babar) by Raphael Mostel in 1994.
After Babar's mother is shot by a hunter, he flees the jungle and finds his way to an unspecified big city with no particular characteristics. He is befriended by The Old Lady, who buys him clothes and hires him a tutor. Babar's cousins Celeste and Arthur find him in the big city and help him return to the Elephant realm. Following the death of the King of the Elephants, who had eaten a poisonous mushroom, a council of elephants approach Babar, saying that as he has "lived among men and learned much", he would be suitable to become the new King. Babar is crowned King of the Elephants and marries his second cousin Celeste.
In Jean de Brunhoff's second Babar book, The Travels of Babar, when the married couple leave by balloon on their honeymoon, "stormy winds down the balloon on an island, and yet again will the royal couple escape by whale, be marooned on an even smaller island and be rescued by a passing ocean liner only to be turned over to an animal trainer and put to work in a circus. And when they escape and return home, what awaits them but war with the rhinoceroses." Babar wins the war by having the elephants paint monster faces on their backsides, which cause the frightened rhinoceroses to run away. After the victory celebrations, the book ends with Babar, Celeste and The Old Lady sitting together and discussing how Babar can rule wisely and make all the elephants happy.
In the third book, Babar the King, he founds the city of Celesteville.
Babar, who likes to wear a bright green suit, introduces a very French form of Western civilization to the elephants, and they soon dress in Western attire. The attention to stylish clothing perhaps reflects the fact that the original publisher of the books was Editions du Jardin des Modes, owned by Condé-Nast. The Babar books were the first Condé-Nast publications not specifically about fashion.
Author Maurice Sendak described the innovations of Jean de Brunhoff:
- Like an extravagant piece of poetry, the interplay between few words and many pictures, commonly called the picture book, is a difficult, exquisite, and most easily collapsible form that few have mastered....Jean de Brunhoff was a master of this form. Between 1931 and 1937 he completed a body of work that forever changed the face of the illustrated book.
Among Babar's other associates in the various incarnations of the series are the monkey Zephir, the old elephant counsellor Cornelius (also later Pompadour who was created for the Babar TV series), Babar's cousin Arthur, and Babar's children, Pom, Flora, and Alexander. Later, a second daughter, Isabelle, was introduced. The Old Lady comes to live in the Kingdom as an honoured guest. Despite the presence of these counsellors, Babar's rule seems to be totally independent of any elected body, and completely autocratic; however, his leadership style seems to be one that works for the overall benefit of his elephant subjects—a form of benevolent dictator.
Besides his Westernizing policies, Babar engages in warfare with the warlike rhinoceroses of a hostile bordering nation, who are led by Lord Rataxes. Much later, in Babar and the Adventures of Badou, Babar has a grandson named the Prince Babar II (known as Badou).
The series has over 100 licensees worldwide, and the "Babar" brand has a multi-generational following. There are 12 Babar stores in Japan. A global cultural phenomenon, whose fans span generations, Babar stands alongside Mickey Mouse as one of the most recognized children's characters in the world. There are now over 30,000 Babar publications in over 17 languages, and over 8 million books have been sold. Laurent de Brunhoff's Babar's Yoga for Elephants is a top seller in the U.S. with over 100,000 copies sold to date. The Babar series of books are recommended reading on former First Lady Laura Bush's national reading initiative list. All 78 episodes of the TV series are broadcast in 30 languages in over 150 countries, making Babar one of the largest distributed animation shows in history. Babar has been a perennial favorite for years at the White House Easter Egg Roll.
Babar made a nameless appearance in The New Traveller's Almanac (part of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series). Babar and his elephants escort Mina Murray and Allan Quartermain through the African jungle. Mina considers them very polite, but Allan denies that their leader is really wearing a crown.
Some writers, notably Herbert R. Kohl and Vivian Paley, have argued that, although superficially delightful, the stories are politically and morally offensive and can be seen as a justification for colonialism. Others argue that the French civilization described in the early books had already been destroyed by World War I and the books were originally an exercise in nostalgia for pre-1914 France. Ariel Dorfman’s The Empire’s Old Clothes is another highly critical view, in which he concludes, "In imagining the independence of the land of the elephants, Jean de Brunhoff anticipates, more than a decade before history forced Europe to put it into practice, the theory of neocolonialism." Adam Gopnik has a different point of view. In Freeing the Elephants he writes that it "is not an unconscious expression of the French colonial imagination; it is a self-conscious comedy about the French colonial imagination and its close relation to the French domestic imagination. The gist ... is explicit and intelligent: the lure of the city, of civilization, of style and order and bourgeois living is real, for elephants as for humans." He concludes that the satisfaction derived from Babar is based on the knowledge that "while it is a very good thing to be an elephant, still, the life of an elephant is dangerous, wild, and painful. It is therefore a safer thing to be an elephant in a house near a park."
A parody was featured in National Lampoon magazine and reprinted in the National Lampoon The Book of Books in 1977. In this version of the story, Babar (acting on the advice of American "advisers") violently suppresses a strike by the monkeys working in the kingdom's mines. It ends with Babar and Celeste strung up on meathooks.
A fourth-season episode of the stop-motion animated series Robot Chicken parodies Babar, depicting the human citizens of the kingdom rising up in a revolution. The sketch ends with Babar being executed via guillotine.
Jean de Brunhoff wrote and illustrated seven Babar books; the series was continued by his son, Laurent de Brunhoff.
Jean de Brunhoff's Babar books, and the titles of the English translations, were:
- Histoire de Babar (1931) — The Story of Babar
- Le Voyage de Babar (1932) — The Travels of Babar, or Babar's Travels
- Le Roi Babar (1933) — Babar the King
- L'ABC de Babar (1934) — A.B.C. of Babar
- Les vacances de Zéphir (1936) — Zephir's Holidays, Zephir's Vacation, or Babar and Zephir
- Babar en famille (1938) — Babar and His Children, or Babar at Home
- Babar et le père Noël (1941) — Babar and Father Christmas
Laurent de Brunhoff's books (selected list):
- Babar et ce coquin d'Arthur (1948) — Babar's Cousin: That Rascal Arthur
- Pique-nique chez Babar (1949) — Babar's Picnic
- Babar dans l'Île aux oiseaux (1952) — Babar's Visit to Bird Island
- Babar au cirque (1952) — Babar and the Circus
- La fête à Celesteville (1954) — Babar's Fair
- Babar et le professeur Grifaton (1956) — Babar and the Professor
- Le château de Babar (1961) — Babar's Castle
- Je parle anglais avec Babar (1963) — Babar's English Lessons (published as French Lessons in English)
- Babar Comes to America (1965)
- Je parle allemand avec Babar (1966) — Babar's German Lessons
- Je parle espagnol avec Babar (1966) — Babar's Spanish Lessons
- Babar Loses His Crown (1967)
- Babar Visits another Planet (1972)
- Babar and the Wully-Wully (1975)
- Babar Learns to Cook (1978)
- Babar the Magician (1980)
- Babar's Little Library (1980)
- Babar and the Ghost (1981)
- Babar's Anniversary Album (1982)
- Babar's ABC (1983)
- Babar's Book of Color (1984)
- Babar's Counting Book (1986)
- Babar's Little Girl (1987)
- Babar's Little Circus Star (1988)
- Babar's Busy Year (1989)
- Babar's Rescue (1993)
- Le Musée de Babar (2002) — Babar's Museum
- Babar Goes to School (2003)
- Babar's Museum of Art (2003)
- Babar's Book of Color (2004)
- Babar's Busy Year (2005)
- Babar's World Tour (2005)
- Babar's Yoga for Elephants (2006)
- Babar's USA (2008)
- Babar's Celesteville Games (2011)
- Babar on Paradise Island (2014)
English translations of the original Babar books are routinely republished in the UK and in the USA, individually and in collections.
Other English-language titles about Babar include the following:
- Babar Comes to America. New York: Random House, 1965.
- Babar Learns to Cook. New York: Random House, 1967.
- Babar Loses His Crown. New York: Random House, 1967.
- Babar's Games. New York: Random House, 1968.
- Babar's Fair. New York: Random House, 1969.
- Babar Goes Skiing. New York: Random House, 1969.
- Babar's Moon Trip. New York: Random House, 1969.
- Babar's Trunk. New York: Random House, 1969.
- Babar's Birthday Surprise. New York: Random House, 1970
- Babar's Other Trunk. New York: Random House, 1971.
- Babar Visits Another Planet. New York: Random House, 1972.
- Meet Babar and His Family. New York: Random House, 1973.
- Babar's Bookmobile. New York: Random House, 1974.
- Babar and the Wully-Wully. New York: Random House, 1975.
- Babar Saves the Day. New York: Random House, 1976.
- Babar's Mystery. New York: Random House, 1978.
- Babar's Little Library. New York: Random House, 1980
- Babar the Magician. New York: Random House, 1980.
- Babar's Anniversary Album. New York: Random House, 1981.
- Babar's A.B.C. New York: Random House, 1983.
- Babar's Book of Color. New York: Random House, 2009
- Babar and the Ghost. Easy to Read Edition. New York: Random House, 1986.
- Babar's Counting Book. New York: Random House, 1986.
- "Christmas with Babar & Baby Isabelle." Woman's Day, 22 December 1987.
- Babar's Little Circus Star. New York: Random House, 1988.
- Babar's Busy Year. New York: Random House, 1989.
- Isabelle's New Friend. New York: Random House, 1990.
- Babar and the Succotash Bird. New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc., 2000.
Films and television
- Babar and Father Christmas (1986)
- Babar (1989)
- Babar: The Movie (1989)
- Kids For Character (1996)
- Babar: King of the Elephants (1999)
- Babar and the Adventures of Badou (2010)
- Bremner, Charles (8 August 2006). "Why Babar the Elephant just can't forget his colonial past". London: The Times. Retrieved 2010-08-25.
- August, Marilyn (19 May 1991). "Babar the Elephant Still Reigns at Age 61". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-08-25.
- Thwaite, Ann. A.A. Milne. His Life (Faber & Faber, 1990), p. 411.
- "Freeing the elephants". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on 27 August 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-26.
- "Cécile de Brunhoff". London: Daily Telegraph. 9 April 2003. Retrieved 2010-08-26.
- Mehren, Elizabeth (24 December 1989). "A Legendary Elephant King of the Forest Has Taken Up U.S. Residency With His Growing Family and His Illustrator". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-12-14.
- Rothstein, Edward (22 September 2008). "All About Mr. Elephant, in His Becoming Green Suit". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-08-26.
- Kyle, Gann (11 June 2000). "Making Bowls Sing And Elephants Talk". The New York Times.
- Kozinn, Allan (20 June 2000). "Little Ears And Big Elephants". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
- Stating, as it is sometimes done, that the city is Paris is wrong. No recognisable building of Paris or, for that matter, any other larger town is shown in any of the drawings. Since Babar flees by foot, the city would presumably be located in Africa, anyway, although its population (as it is drawn) is exclusively white.
- Van Gelder, Lawrence (23 December 2002). "Elephants Aloft". The New York Times.
- Fox Weber, Nicholas (1989). The Art of Babar. Harry N. Abrams. p. 54. ISBN 0810926245.
- Sendak, Maurice (1981). "Homage to Babar on his 50th Birthday". introduction to Jean de Brunhoff & Laurent de Brunhoff's Babar's Anniversary Album (Random House). p. 7. ISBN 0394848136.
- "Babar and the Adventures of Badou". Treehouse TV. Retrieved 23 February 2013.
- "Nelvana and The Clifford Ross Company Enter Into Five-Year Administration Deal". Business Wire (The Free Library). 5 November 2001. Retrieved 2 February 2011.
- Kohl, Herbert R. Should We Burn Babar?: Essays On Children's Literature and the Power Of Stories; Introduction by Jack Zipes, New Press (2007) ISBN 1-59558-130-8
- Dorfman, Ariel. The Empire's Old Clothes: What the Lone Ranger, Babar, and Other Innocent Heroes Do to Our Minds, Penguin (1996), ISBN 978-0-8223-4671-5
- Gopnik, Adam. Freeing the Elephants, The New Yorker, 22 September 2008. Written for Drawing Babar: Early Drafts and Watercolors, Morgan Library and Museum, 2008, ISBN 978-0-87598-151-2
- "Works of Jean and Laurent de Brunhoff". Angelfire.com. 22 December 1987. Retrieved 2012-03-24.
- Babar and Father Christmas at the Internet Movie Database
- "Babar the Elephant Making Jump to TV". The Los Angeles Times. 25 March 1989. Retrieved 2010-08-26.
- Babar: The Movie at Box Office Mojo
- Babar: King of the Elephants at the Internet Movie Database
- "The New Adventures Of Babar Now In Production" (Press release). Corusent.com. 9 March 2009. Retrieved 2012-03-24.
- Official website of Random House, North American publisher of the Babar books of Jean de Brunhoff
- Official website of Harry N. Abrams, North American publisher of the Babar books of Laurent de Brunhoff
- Official Babar site of Treehouse TV
- Digital maquette of Jean de Brunhoff's Histoire de Babar le petit Éléphant
- New York Review of Books article
- Laurent de Brunhoff - Video Interview
- Out of Print Babar Yoga Licensed product