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Babar the Elephant
Babar1.jpg
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
Voiced by Peter Ustinov
Jim Bradford
Gordon Pinsent
Dan Lett
Gavin Magrath (young)
Kristin Fairlie (young)
Daniel Davies
Lee Majors
Information
Aliases Babar, Doctor of Letters, King of the Elephants
Species Elephant
Gender Male
Occupation King
Spouse(s) Celeste
Children Pom, Flora, Alexander, Isabelle
Relatives Arthur (brother-in-law), Badou (grandson), Lulu (granddaughter), Periwinkle (daughter-in-law), Cory (son-in-law)
Nationality African
Babar the Elephant
Author Jean de Brunhoff
Country France
Language French
Genre Children's literature
Media type Print (hardcover and paperback)
Audiobook

Babar the Elephant is a fictional elephant character who first appeared in 1931 in the French children's book Histoire de Babar by Jean de Brunhoff.

The book is based on a tale that Brunhoff's wife, Cécile, had invented for their children. It tells of a young elephant, named Babar, whose mother is killed by a hunter. Babar escapes, and in the process leaves the jungle in exile, 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.

Story synopsis

After Babar's mother is shot by a hunter, he flees the jungle in exile 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 toxic shiitake, 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 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."

It was sparked when Arthur tied a firecracker to the tail of Lord Rataxes. 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, Babar founds the city of Celesteville. After many Dromedaries are found, they help with building the city. However, problems arise; the Old Lady is bitten by a snake, and Cornelius' home catches fire. Babar has a dream where he is visited by Misfortune and other demons which are chased away by elephant angels representing Courage, Hope, and other virtues.

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. A younger daughter, Isabelle, is later 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 strive for the overall benefit of his elephant subjects—a form of benevolent dictatorship.

Besides his Westernizing policies, Babar engages in battle with the warlike rhinoceroses of a hostile bordering nation, led by Lord Rataxes. Much later, in Babar and the Adventures of Badou, Pom grows to become the father of Prince Babar II (known as Badou).

Influence and legacy

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."

Babar
A Babar stuffed animal with a bright green suit, shoes with spats and a yellow crown.

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.

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

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 Quatermain through the African jungle. Mina considers them "civilized and gentle", but Allan denies that their leader is really wearing a crown.

In the Eddie Murphy comedy Coming to America, the Joffer royal family have a pet elephant named "Babar".

Books

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 (1931–1941), 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 (1948–present) (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 at 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)
  • Babar's guide to Paris (2017)

English translations of the original Babar books are routinely republished in the UK and in the US, 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

  • Les Aventures de Babar (French language TV series) (1968)

Bill Melendez Productions:

  • The Story of Babar the Little Elephant (1968)
  • Babar the Elephant Comes to America (1971)

Atkinson Film-Arts

  • Babar and Father Christmas (1986)

Nelvana Productions:

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