Literature / Babar

Babar is a series of popular French children's books first published in 1931, about a young elephant who leaves his jungle, visits a large city where he befriends an elderly lady and learns of human ways. After he returns to his jungle, Babar shares what he's learned about human ways with his fellow elephants, followed by the elephants deciding to construct a city they name Celesteville. Finally, Babar is made king of the elephants.

Seen by some as an allegory of French colonialism, with Babar a young native who goes to France for education and comes back to teach the ways of civilization (defined as "the way the French do things") to his fellow countrymen.

Babar's animated debut was Babar and Father Christmas in 1986, a 25-minute Christmas Episode by Atkinson Film-Arts. A few years later an Animated Series was produced by Nelvananote  that originally aired between 1989 and 1991 and in 2000, airing on the CBC and then Global in Canada, and on HBO and later qubo in the US. The series was broadcast in 30 languages in over 150 countries, making it one of the largest distributed animated shows up to that point. There have also been two movies, Babar: The Movie in 1989 and Babar: King of the Elephants in 1999, but both came and went at the box office with little fanfare.

A new All-CGI Cartoon version, Babar and the Adventures of Badou, began airing on the Disney Junior block of Disney Channel on Valentine's Day, 2011.

Tropes featured in the original books include:

  • Anthropomorphic Shift: A central plot point in Babar the King. Once Babar returns from the human civilization, he shares his experiences with the rest of the elephants (who are at that point Talking Animals, who decide to adapt human customs such as houses, clothing and cars for themselves and become Civilized Animals, including building the city of Celesteville.
  • Ascended to Carnivorism: In Babar Comes To America, Babar and his family were shown eating meat. Becomes Accidentally Correct Writing in that such behavior was observed in elephants in real life.
  • Christmas Episode: The book Babar et le Père Noël (Babar and Father Christmas), made into an animated TV special in 1986 (three years before the TV series was launched, making it Babar's first animated appearance).
  • Fully Dressed Cartoon Animal: The citizens of Celesteville wear complete clothing, including shoes.
  • The Good King: Babar is a benevolent autocrat.
  • Hollywood Natives: In the 1932 book, Babar's Travels, Babar and Celeste crash their balloon on a tropical island where the natives attack them. The portrayal of natives is full of Values Dissonance, and the book was removed from some libraries because of this. Several editions of the book simply cut out the scene, making the book a few pages shorter.
  • Karma Houdini: Unlike in the TV series, the hunter who kills Babar's mother receives no comeuppance (and only appears in the first book).
  • Kissing Cousins: In the books, Babar and Celeste were cousins. This aspect was ignored/changed for the TV series' and film, which made them unrelated to one another.
  • Mood Whiplash: The Story of Babar starts like this. First, we see a gentle moment between Babar and his loving mother; then on the next page, Babar's mother get shot and Babar runs off in panic; then Babar is in the city, curiously checking out the clothes in a department store.
  • No Antagonist:
    • The book Babar the King, which is about the construction of Celesteville, has no antagonist (and not much of a conflict) at all; neither the hunter nor the rhinos make an appearance. The closest it ever gets to an antagonist is Misfortune, the personification of Babar's own misfortunes who comes in for a metaphorical conflict in a two page Nightmare Sequence towards the very end.
    • The book Babar and Father Christmas also lacks an antagonist, focusing on Babar's ordeals to find Father Christmas so that he can deliver toys to the elephant children. The Animated Adaptation adds Rataxes to the story, trying to foil Babar's plan so that he can get the toys for himself.
  • No Name Given: The Old Lady.
  • Product Placement: Several in Babar Comes To America.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: At least once a book.
  • Scarecrow Solution: In the book Babar's Travel, when Rataxes and his rhinos declare a war on the elephants, Babar disguises the elephants as monsters to scare away the rhino army.
  • Token Human: The Old Lady is the only human in the Land of the Elephants. No one remarks on this, ever.

Tropes featured in the Babar animated series include:

  • 0% Approval Rating: Rataxes, in various Rhinoland polls. Despite his tendencies, this often worries Rataxes.
  • Action Mom: Celeste (and, to a lesser extent, Babar's mother) when the situation calls for it.
  • Added Alliterative Appeal
    • Pompadour's numerous 'Pachyderm Public Opinion Polls'.
    • In "My Dinner With Rataxes," after the children get lost in dark tunnel, Basil discovers a "document detailing the diverse detours within those dark, dank dungeon depths."
    Lady Rataxes: (after Babar and Celeste stare at each other) He's found the map.
  • Adult Fear: Babar is a king and a father with a lot of responsibilities and his family has been in real danger at times.
  • Aerith and Bob: Babar and Celeste. Rataxes and his wife, Lady Rataxes, AKA Louise.
  • An Aesop: You bet. Pretty much used in every episode.
  • A.I. is a Crapshoot: Arthur’s robots “Bob” and “Bob Jr.”
  • Alternative Foreign Theme Song: The Japanese version uses "Graduation" by Arisa Mizuki as its theme song.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Pompadour. Tuskless and very effeminate.
  • And That's Terrible: In "The Coin," everyone gets upset when Rataxes suggests that he might take various things of theirs... but everyone stops their complaining to Babar at once to express outrage when Isabelle reveals that he threatened to take her dolly.
  • Animal Gender-Bender: Madmoiselle Soretoza from "The Show Must Go On" is a female ostrich with black-and-white male plumage.
  • Animal Stampede: The rhinoceroses celebrate a holiday called "Rhino Rampage Day", during which they collectively go on a stampede. The conflict arises from the fact that elephants' peanut patch is in their way.
  • Anthropomorphic Shift: Willingly invoked by the characters themselves. After Babar returned from the city and shared his experiences there, the rest of the elephants (plus other jungle animals, all of them being Talking Animals) found such human civilization aspects (houses, cars, books, clothes, walking upright, etc.) as highly appealing, and decided to adapt them for themselves and become Civilized Animals, including building the city of Celesteville.
  • Are We There Yet?: "My Dinner With Rataxes" opens with Babar and Celeste's kids whining this.
  • Bears are Bad News: Ursa Major and his polar bear pack in "Land of Ice", who terrorize the neighboring penguins and refuse to negotiate when Babar and his family try to reason with them.
  • Beleaguered Bureaucrat: Pompadour, Cornelius and Basil occasionally suffer from this.
  • Big "NO!": Babar when he discovers his mother's dead body.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Rataxes.
  • Bowties Are Cool: Babar sports a red one.
  • Canon Foreigner: Pompadour, Trubadour and Basil.
  • Characterization Marches On: In Babar and Father Christmas, Rataxes is the only rhino, and he is portrayed as a petty criminal and a Man Child who wants to get toys from Father Christmas. In the animated series he is portrayed as a dictator ruling over the land of rhinos.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Babar and Celeste.
  • Civilized Animal: The citizens of Celesteville. Before then, they behaved as they do in nature.
  • Crying Wolf: The episode "Monkey Business" is very much centered on this where Zephyr keeps sounding the alert for if Rhinos come to the peanut patch. After doing it too many times, no one believes him, and Rhinos do come.
  • Does Not Like Guns: All animals, including the rhinos.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Pompadour is a tall, effeminate, Know-Nothing Know-It-All elephant in a yellow/golden outfit, and his companion Trubadour is a short, smart, mute elephant in a blue outfit. Now replace "elephant" with "droid"... Although the similarity may be accidental, these two specific characters were created specifically for the TV show in 1989, a decade after the first Star Wars movie, and Nelvana animated the Boba Fett segment of The Star Wars Holiday Special and the Droids and Ewoks animated series to boot.
  • Downer Beginning: The very first episode, "Babar's First Steps", is also the darkest one, with Babar's mother getting killed by an Egomaniac Hunter, and Babar getting left behind as the herd flees from the hunter. The later episodes are much Lighter and Softer in tone.
  • Drama Bomb: "The Coin". Babar is held to a promise by a pirate artifact, three shards of a gold medallion, and whoever hands him one of the pieces gets whatever they want from him, without question, without compromise. One of the shards is obtained by Rataxes, who uses his wish to take over Celesteville. It didn't last long thanks to Cornelius, but it was easily one of the darkest episodes in the series, not counting the premiere.
  • Egomaniac Hunter: The Big Bad of the Five-Episode Pilot, who kills Babar's mother and attempts to do this to every other animal in the forest.
  • Everything's Better with Monkeys: Zephyr, Babar's best friend.
    • Other monkeys or apes appear in certain episodes as well, such as a gorilla princess Babar is supposed to escort at a palace ball in the episode Babar's Choice, and a King Kong-like giant ape in Conga the Terrible.
  • Everything's Better with Penguins: Freeo and the other penguins from "Land of Ice".
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Rataxes has a rather deep voice.
  • Expospeak Gag: After Rataxes refuses to allow the elephant to build a railroad through Rhinoland and Babar just cannot build it through Pleasant Valley (where he grew up).
    Rataxes: Haha, so the elephant express will not go through! No chapter in the history books for good King Babar! You lose!
    Babar: No, Rataxes. The whole jungle loses. And now you'll get that chapter in the history books!
    Rataxes: (exited) I will?!
    Pompadour: You're right, sire! "Rataxes, the rapscallion who deliberately expunged the amalgamation of the jungle!"
    Rataxes:' What does that mean?
    Basil: Loosely translated, it means: "You'll live forever in the memory of every creature in the jungle as the pigheaded barbarian who cheated them out of their railway!"
  • Fantastic Racism: Rataxes' contempt for all things elephantine is a running gag.
  • Five-Episode Pilot: The first five episodes chronicle Babar's dealings with the Hunter and his attempts to bring civilization to the jungle. The status quo is achieved at the end of the fifth episode and remains for the rest of the series.
  • Full-Boar Action: One episode has a warthog acting like an Angry Guard Dog. It also creates Furry Confusion, as most animals in the setting are anthropomorphic.
  • Fully Dressed Cartoon Animal: The majority of the cast.
  • Fun with Acronyms: In "Rhino War," Rataxes's general convinces himself that a shipment of crates containing games is actually weapons because GAMES is acronym for "Gonna Attack My Enemies Soon."
  • Furry Reminder: This series makes it clear that despite being civilized, the animals still have their instincts. For example, each year the Rhinos run on all fours and embark on "Rhino Rampage", because it's in their blood.
  • Goofy Print Underwear: One of Zephyr's pranks in the episode Monkey Business is replacing the royal flag with Cornelius's underpants.
  • The Good King: Take a guess.
  • Good Parents: Babar and Celeste are very loving and supportive towards their children.
  • Happily Married: Babar and Celeste.
  • Henpecked Husband: Probably the only person Rataxes is scared of is Lady Rataxes.
    Rataxes: I could handle this job in my sleep.
    Lady Rataxes: You always have, dear.
  • High-Class Glass: Pompadour, and Babar in "City Ways" when he tries to be someone he's not.
  • Honorable Elephant: The elephants live in The Kingdom, while the rhinoceroses seem to be a military dictatorship ruled by an Insane Admiral.
  • Hyper-Competent Sidekick: Basil, who seems to put in more effort in running Rhinoland than his boss Rataxes.
    Rataxes: Only 4,444 forms to go. How does Basil do it? Wait a minute— I'm just supposed to sign this stuff! Nobody said anything about reading it!
  • Hyperspace Holmes Hat: In the episode The Missing Crown Affair, Zephyr produces a deerstalker by turning his usual hat inside-out.
  • I Am the Noun: Mademoiselle Soretoza in "The Show Must Go On." - "I am the show."
  • I Miss Mom: Young Babar does this in some of the earlier episodes.
  • Inevitable Waterfall: Used in "The Land of the Underground" in the final season, when Babar jumps into the rushing river to save one of the mole brothers.
  • Insecurity System: Rataxes has Basil design and install one of these in the Rhinoland royal pyramid in one episode.
  • Instrumental Theme Tune: A gentle tune used throughout every season except the final one. Given the unique nature of this season, it used an entirely new opening complete with an opening theme that was a livelier remix of what had always been the show's closing credits theme.
  • Isle of Giant Horrors: As a Shout-Out to King Kong, Skull Island, where Conga the Terrible, a giant Killer Gorilla that dwarfs even the elephants, lives. In a subversion, the gorilla turns out to be quite friendly once they get on his good side.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Rataxes.
  • Killer Gorilla:
    • Conga the Terrible is believed to be this. He's actually a Gentle Giant who scares people to be left alone.
    • In "Babar's Choice", Babar is worried that the Gorilla King may go furious if he doesn't escort his daughter Midge to the ball. Fortunately, it gets avoided when Midge takes a liking towards Zephyr instead.
  • Kill It with Fire: The Hunter attempts to do this to every animal in the forest. He ends up getting killed by his own fire in the end.
  • The Kingdom: A kingdom of elephants, no less.
  • Later Installment Weirdness: The final season was an unusual case, as it aired nine years after the previous season ended. It dropped the previous setting and instead focused on the cast travelling around the world in a balloon. It's a wonder that it was officially considered part of the same series rather than its own installment like the later Babar and the Adventures of Badou.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Most of the cast, though they can often be seen sporting situation-specific costumes in various episodes (raincoats, racing jumpsuits, party costumes, fishing clothes, swimwear). Lampshaded in one episode when Zephyr, temporarily acting as Babar's personal assistant, has all of Babar's trademark green suits sent to the cleaners, resulting in the King of Celesteville having to give a public address in his bathrobe.
  • Lions and Tigers and Humans... Oh, My!: The Old Lady, Babar's surrogate mother is the only human in Celesteville, living among Civilized Animals.
  • Mama Bear: Babar's mother, who fiercely defends her son from the hunter before she gets shot. Celeste also grows up to be this.
  • Mischief Making Monkey: Zephyr is often mischievous, especially in the episode "Monkey Business".
  • Mock Cousteau: Babar's old friend Jacques-Yves Crouton, a French-accented bird and famous underwater explorer called in to investigate "The Unsalted Sea Serpent".
  • Monster is a Mommy: The mother sea serpent from the episode "The Unsalted Sea Serpent" is fiercely protective of her child but is otherwise a Gentle Giant.
  • The Movie: More or less a remake of the cartoon series though.
  • Never Say "Die": Zig-Zagged. In early episodes, death is discussed and even shown, but after the construction of Celesteville, things have become so safe that the worst thing an assassin can be said to have planned for Babar is kidnapping.
  • Not Allowed to Grow Up: Averted somewhat with Babar and Celeste's youngest daughter, Isabelle, who goes from baby to toddler over the course of the series.
    • Pompadour, Cornelius, Rataxes, Basil, Lady Rataxes, and the old lady all look exactly the same age as they did when Babar, Celeste and Arthur were kids.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Pompadour and Basil can both throw literal mountains of paperwork at you on a moments' notice.
  • Ostrich Head Hiding: Mademoiselle Soretoza does this often in "The Show Must Go On".
  • Papa Wolf: Babar won't let anything bad happen to his family. And neither will Celeste.
  • Permission to Speak Freely: Babar's subjects occasionally ask this of him. Though Babar is so cool-headed that they could probably just speak their minds without having to ask it.
  • Polar Bears and Penguins: "Land of Ice". Justified in that the titular land is fictional.
  • The Prima Donna: Mademoiselle Soretoza, the ostrich ballet dancer, from "The Show Must Go On".
  • Put on a Bus: The Old Lady, Pompadour, Trubador, Basil, Lady Rataxes, and Victor in the final season. Isabelle and Cornelius only appear in the first and last episodes, and Arthur appears in the last. Rataxes makes a cameo appearance in a story told by Babar.
  • Raised by Humans: Babar was raised by Madame.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Babar could very well be the type's exemplar. Cornelius is also a good example.
  • Re Tool: The final season of the original series featured a major shift in direction, sending Babar and his family on a hot-air balloon through a number of Magical Lands including the Land of Toys and the Land of Mysterious Water, journeying for the great Land of Happiness. To signify this, the opening credits sequence was altered for the only time in the show's history and the opening and closing themes were changed to a remixed version of the theme that had previously been used for the closing credits. This version of the program is technically an Anime - it was made in part by Ellipse Anime and the episodes were written by Japanese writers.
  • Rhino Rampage: Happens several times in the earlier episodes.
    • There's also a Rhinoland holiday of the same name.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Babar (and his family). Possibly also Lord Rataxes.
  • Same-Sex Triplets: Averted: Pom and Alexander are boys, Flora is a girl.
  • Self-Serving Memory: Affects Celeste and Zephyr's accounts of the fender-bender that lands them in court in one episode.
  • Sherlock Homage: Zephyr in "The Missing Crown Affair" puts on a deerstalker hat and walks around with a magnifying glass when he helps Babar find his stolen crown.
  • Shorter Means Smarter: Basil is often shown being more intelligent than Rataxes, but is a lot shorter than him.
    • Trubadour is somewhat smarter than Pompadour, too.
  • Shout-Out: Many, to everything from The War of the Worlds to The Phantom of the Opera to old Hitchcock films.
  • The Speechless: Trubadour.
  • Stock Ness Monster: The titular creature of the episode "The Unsalted Sea Serpent".
  • Talking Animal: Apparently, in this universe, all animals are like this. The humans aren't surprised at all that Babar can talk.
  • Title Theme Drop: The opening and closing themes are regularly featured as background music.
  • Torture Cellar: Rataxes' son Victor implies that the basement dungeon of the family pyramid was like this, until "Mom had it redecorated".
  • Tsundere: Lady Rataxes.
  • The Unintelligible: The Gorilla King from "Babar's Choice". He speaks in a language consisting of grunts and gibberish words, and Pompadour has to use a dictionary to interpret what he says. At least until the end of the episode, where he cheers for his daughter's dance in English.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: When young Babar arrives to the city, people don't bat an eye at a baby elephant walking around, and nobody is surprised that he can talk. They practically treat him as if he was a human child.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: The episodes of the first and second seasons consist almost entirely of these, with each being introduced through the device of the adult Babar recalling some incident from his childhood to his children as a bedtime story. Later episodes take place entirely in the present, mostly focusing on the kids (Pom, Alexander and Flora}.
  • With Due Respect: Another phrase that crops up, given the setting.
  • You Killed My Mother: What the hunter did to Babar's mother.
  • Your Size May Vary: Correlates with the Anthropomorphic Shift. While walking on all fours, the elephants are as big as real elephants should be compared to humans, but after starting to walk on two legs and wear clothes, they become not much bigger than large humans.

Tropes featured in The Movie include:

  • Adaptational Villainy: Rataxes is far more menacing than in previous incarnations.
  • Alternate Continuity: May be the case, considering the Continuity Snarl below.
  • Award Bait Song: "The Best We Both Can Be."
  • Continuity Snarl: Celesteville (which is not referred to as such in this movie and instead called Elephant Land) seems to already be built on Babar's first day as king here, unlike the books and original TV series. Granted, as the movie was actually made BEFORE the TV series went into production...
  • Evil Overlord: Lord Rataxes, which is quite surprising considering his character is more complex in the series. He captures elephants from villages, enslaves them, and ultimately tries to conquer their kingdom. (A last-minute ruse from Babar sends him and his rhinos fleeing—quite literally, from his property.)
    • "Well, you'll have to excuse me, Your Majesty, BUT I'M OFF TO CRUSH YOUR PUNY KINGDOM TO A PULP!"
  • Large Ham: Rataxes may have gotten meaner, but he's now also sporting a huge appetite for scenery.
  • Never Smile at a Crocodile: Croc appears to play this straight at first but turns out to be a subversion.
  • Protagonist Title
  • Rescue

Tropes featured in Babar: King of the Elephants include: