Babar the Elephant is a French children's fictional character who first appeared in Histoire de Babar by Jean de Brunhoff in 1931 and enjoyed immediate success.[1][2] An English language version, entitled The Story of Babar, appeared in 1933 in Britain and also in the United States. The book is based on a tale that Brunhoff's wife, Cecile, had invented for their children.[3] It tells of a young elephant called Babar who leaves the jungle, visits a big city, and returns to bring the benefits of civilization to his fellow elephants. Then he comes back and becomes king of the elephant kingdom. He then has children and teaches them valuable lessons. [4]

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.[5]

An animated TV series 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[6] where he is befriended by an old lady, who buys him clothes and enrolls him in school. 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.


According to Laurent de Brunhoff, Babar's name is pronounced /ˈbʌbɑr/,[7] although it has been popularly pronounced /ˈbæbɑr/.[8] This can be distinguished from Babur or Babar (pronounced /ˈbɑːbər/), the first Mughal emperor of medieval India.


Some writers, notably Herbert R. Kohl and Vivian Paley,[9] 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 civilisation described in the early books had already been destroyed by the Great War and the books were originally an exercise in nostalgia for pre-1914 France. Ariel Dorfman’s The Empire’s Old Clothes[10] 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."[11] 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."[11]


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 Girafon (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 à New York (1966) — Babar in New York
  • Babar Loses His Crown (1967)
  • Babar Vists another Planet (1972)
  • Babar Learns to Cook (1980)
  • Babar and the Ghost (1981)
  • Babar's ABC (1983)
  • Babar's Counting Book (1986)
  • Babar's Little Circus Star (1988)
  • Babar and the Castle (1993)
  • Babar's Rescue (1993)
  • Babar's Little Girl (2001)
  • Babar's Little Girl Makes a Friend (2002)
  • 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)

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:[12]

  • 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


  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". LA Times. Retrieved 2010-08-25. 
  3. "FREEING THE ELEPHANTS". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2010-08-26. 
  4. "Cécile de Brunhoff". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2010-08-26. 
  5. Rothstein, Edward (2008-09-22). "All About Mr. Elephant, in His Becoming Green Suit". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-08-26. 
  6. 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.
  7. Laurent de Brunhoff - Exclusive Video Interview at YouTube.
  8. Examples of this pronunciation can be found on YouTube
  9. 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 1595581308
  10. Dorfman, Ariel. The Empire's Old Clothes: What the Lone Ranger, Babar, and Other Innocent Heroes Do to Our Minds, Penguin (1996), ISBN 978082234671-5
  11. 11.0 11.1 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 978-0875981512
  12. Works of Jean and Laurent de Brunhoff
  13. Babar at the Internet Movie Database
  14. Babar Comes to America at the Internet Movie Database
  15. Babar and Father Christmas at the Internet Movie Database
  16. "Babar the Elephant Making Jump to TV". LA Times. 1989-03-25. Retrieved 2010-08-26. 
  17. "Reviews/Film; A King, a Very Big King, Battles the Rhino Menace". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-08-26. [dead link]
  18. Babar: King of the Elephants at the Internet Movie Database

External links

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