Babar’s first steps to tragedy
How does children's television deal with themes of violence and death in cartoons?
The subject of death and the way it is depicted in Children’s Television are treated carefully by the ABC, if an episode of Babar is any measure.
This week ABC replayed the pilot episode of the animated series in which the baby elephant loses his mother to a hunter after being shot by a rifle.
Produced by a Canadian company in 1989 it doesn’t shy away from the separation of mother and child, as written in the original Babar the Elephant stories.
Key scenes 1:20 min – 4:20 min.
An ABC Spokesperson told TV Tonight it had carefully considered the content which aired at 3:30pm on ABC2 for a G rated audience.
“This episode of Babar was carefully classified prior to broadcast in accordance with the ABC’s Code of Practice. As a result of this process, the program was classified G, meaning that it was considered to be suitable for all ages and could be broadcast at any time of the day.
“The episode to which you refer is the first episode of the series, and tells the story of how Babar lost his mother and left the jungle. In subsequent episodes, Babar travels to the city and learns its ways, and then returns to the jungle and uses his new knowledge to overcome the hunter threatening the elephants. He is then crowned king of the elephants and builds an elephant city, Celesteville.
“At no point in the sequence was there any depiction of blood or wounds, and the depiction of the rifle being used was very careful and discreet. The simple animation style reduced the level of detail of the rifle and the action. While there was a sense of threat and menace associated with the hunter and his use of violence, having regard to the animation style, the level of visual detail, and the stylised manner in which the action was depicted, Audience & Consumer Affairs considers that this sense of threat and menace was very low. The violence in the sequence was very discreetly implied, and was not gratuitous as it was a pivotal, dramatic moment of great significance to the story.”
It was certainly a pivotal moment to the story of Babar, even if it was more confronting than the death of Bambi’s mother in 1942. Elephants sure get a raw deal in kid’s TV and movies. Poor little Dumbo was sadly parted from his mother in 1941.
Having lost his mother in such dramatic circumstances, little Babar gets his own back, eventually turning hero and ridding his herd of the dreaded hunter.
Which may raise other questions about taking justice into your own hands… but let’s not go there.