Reviews: Babar – Volume 1 (DVD)

Babar was an absolute cornerstone of my childhood television-viewing experience. Beautifully animated and cleverly written, the show combined heart, whimsy and serious ethical and social issues in the kind of seamless way that children’s shows have to to be successful. The series is presented in a split-timeline format, with present-day adult Babar (King of the Elephants) recounting tales of his youth to his two young children.

Volume 1 consists of the first four episodes of the series. I can say with complete certainty that these four episodes are four of the greatest, most effective and most emotionally real episodes of children’s programming ever made. The series opens with the traumatic death of Babar’s mother at the hands of a poacher in ‘Babar’s First Step’. The episode is perfect, elucidating just how strong the bond between Babar and his mother is before suddenly ripping it asunder. This was real drama, and it was all the more effective because it didn’t pander to its audience. Babar was forced to survive by himself, and kids sympathised with his plight.

Babar is taken in by a kindly old woman (Madame) who helps him to understand the ways of the city. He then attempts to teach the elephants who remain in the jungle about the benefits of the city – no poachers, for one. They don’t listen, causing Babar no end of frustration and ultimately costing more lives at the hands of the poacher. It’s a fantastic commentary on traditionalism versus adaptability, delivered via the narrative in a way that teaches kids important ethical lessons without coming across as preachy or boring.

By the end of these four episodes, Babar has just about found what will become its regular format. The DVD is part of Roadshow’s ‘Classic Children’s Collection’ – the ‘classic’ in that title is well-deserved. Babar is quite possibly the best narrative-driven children’s program ever made, and this Volume 1 DVD is a must-own for parents with young children as well as those of us who grew up loving the show.


review by Ben Vernel


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