I don’t remember the last time I opened that big red covered picture book with that elephant doffing a derby hat in his trunk and carrying a sign with the title on his back to read The Story of Babar, but to this day, though there is much that I have forgotten, I can still remember that elephant in a Paris department store for the first time riding up and down on the elevator. I can still picture the pompous store manager admonishing him, something to the effect: “That’s not a toy Mr. Elephant.” Now although this kind of sentimental childhood memory may not resonate with quite the cache of Proust’s petite madeleine, it is the kind of memory we clearly want for own children. For many of us the best place to get that experience is the original, and luckily the original and all its sequels are still available.
On the other hand in this age of electronic media on demand, parents may find it difficult for books in general let alone these classics from a bygone day to compete for their children’s attention. With a children’s TV landscape cluttered with the likes of the Bubble Guppies and The Backyardigans,not to mention Dora and Sponge Bob, parents who remember with fondness having those classics of children literature read to them at bedtime, books like The Tale of Peter Rabbit with those wonderful Beatrix Potter illustrations and Ludwig Bemelman’s Madeline, may have better luck with an electronic introduction to Jean and Laurent de Brunhoff’s beloved elephant . The upcoming DVD release of Babar: The Classic Series: School Days offers just this kind of opportunity.
The digitally restored and remastered DVD offers four different episodes based on the original stories. It also offers a little eight-page coloring book. Most all the characters from the books are there and they are drawn much in the traditional style. Backgrounds, especially in the episodes that take place in France have an authentic period feel. In general, the series’ cartoons are more carefully realized than much of the fare on children’s television today and the artwork compares favorably to the original.
The episodes themselves are all aimed at teaching the young child some life lesson. “School Days,” the first of them illustrates the importance of accepting all people regardless of their individual differences as a young Babar is bullied at school because of his trunk. “Kings of the Castle” has Babar trading places with Rataxes the king of the rhinos and both of them learning that different situations must be handled differently. “Every Basket Has a Silver Lining” teaches the importance of telling the truth and working patiently to get what you want, as Pom tries to make the school basketball team. “Peer Pressure,” the last of the episodes, shows a young Babar recognizing that it is a mistake to do things you know are wrong in order to make friends.