Babar the Elephant

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article

Babar the Elephant
Cover of the first Babar story, Histoire de Babar (Story of Babar), published 1931
Cover of the first Babar story, Histoire de Babar (Story of Babar), published 1931
AuthorJean de Brunhoff
GenreChildren's literature
Media typePrint (hardcover and paperback)
Jump to: navigation, search
Babar the Elephant
Cover of the first Babar story, Histoire de Babar (Story of Babar), published 1931
Cover of the first Babar story, Histoire de Babar (Story of Babar), published 1931
AuthorJean de Brunhoff
GenreChildren's literature
Media typePrint (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.[1][2] An English language version, The Story of Babar, introduced by A.A. Milne,[3] 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.[4] 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.[5][6]

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.[7]

An animated TV series Babar was produced in Canada by Nelvana Limited and Clifford Ross Company, and originally ran from January 3, 1989 to June 5, 1991 with 65 episodes, plus an additional 13 episodes in 2000. The character has also appeared in a number of films, and the Babar stories have inspired musical works by Francis Poulenc and Raphael Mostel.


Story synopsis

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.[8] He is befriended by an 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, marries his cousin Celeste, and 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.

Among Babar's other associates are the monkey Zephir, the old elephant counsellors Cornelius and Pompadour (Pompadour was created for the Babar TV series), his cousin Arthur, and his 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 along side 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.[9]

Since 2001 The Babar franchise has been owned by Corus Entertainment's Nelvana in conjunction with the artist, Clifford Ross.[10]

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,[11] 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[12] 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."[13] 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."[13]


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:

Laurent de Brunhoff's books (selected list):

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:[14]

Films and television


  1. ^ Bremner, Charles (2006-08-08). "Why Babar the Elephant just can't forget his colonial past". London: Times. Retrieved 2010-08-25.
  2. ^ August, Marilyn (1991-05-19). "Babar the Elephant Still Reigns at Age 61". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-08-25.
  3. ^ Thwaite, Ann. A.A. Milne. His Life (Faber & Faber, 1990), p. 411.
  4. ^ "Freeing the elephants". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on 27 August 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-26.
  5. ^ "Cécile de Brunhoff". London: Daily Telegraph. 9 April 2003. Retrieved 2010-08-26.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Rothstein, Edward (2008-09-22). "All About Mr. Elephant, in His Becoming Green Suit". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-08-26.
  8. ^ 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 must anyway be located in Africa, although its population, as it is drawn, is exclusively white.
  9. ^ "Babar at Treehouse". Retrieved 2011-01-03.
  10. ^ "Nelvana and The Clifford Ross Company Enter Into Five-Year Administration Deal". Business Wire (The Free Library). 5 November 2001.'s+Nelvana+and+The+Clifford+Ross+Company+Announce...-a079751903. Retrieved 2 February 2011.
  11. ^ 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
  12. ^ 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
  13. ^ a b Gopnik, Adam. Freeing the Elephants, The New Yorker, September 22, 2008. Written for Drawing Babar: Early Drafts and Watercolors, Morgan Library and Museum, 2008, ISBN 978-0-87598-151-2
  14. ^ "Works of Jean and Laurent de Brunhoff". 1987-12-22. Retrieved 2012-03-24.
  15. ^ Babar at the Internet Movie Database
  16. ^ Babar Comes to America at the Internet Movie Database
  17. ^ Babar and Father Christmas at the Internet Movie Database
  18. ^ "Babar the Elephant Making Jump to TV". The Los Angeles Times. 1989-03-25. Retrieved 2010-08-26.
  19. ^ Babar: The Movie at Box Office Mojo
  20. ^ Babar: King of the Elephants at the Internet Movie Database
  21. ^ "Press Release - The New Adventures Of Babar Now In Production". Retrieved 2012-03-24.

External links