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.

23 Responses

  1. I loved farthing wood when I was a kid and have been waiting for them to show it again so I can see why I was so fond of it ( I still have the theme song in my head). I’ve been wanting to see other childhood favourites on DVD, got the first season of the silver brumby but they haven’t released the rest. Gargoyles was another that I loved but haven’t seen again any where, I watched Babar but I don’t think I’ve ever seen the first episode.

  2. This was and still is a quality children’s tv show. What as happened to children’s tv? The quality has dropped soooo much…..

    One important question that needs to be asked is when can we expect to see this series on dvd so I can turn off the the garbage that’s currently passing as children’s tv and let them see what a real treasure of a show the story of Babar is!

  3. I am seriously worried about the children of the parents who have complained. Cotton wool kids much?

    Do they ever happen to catch the nightly news? I sure hope not if they can’t handle a cartoon.

  4. Kudos to you David for picking this up. Isn’t this a good thing? That broadcasters are required to comment on and justify their reasons for broadcasting programs, or in some cases, defend why they won’t? Hardly a justification for “slow news day”! On the contrary, gives (we) viewers an opportunity to comment and question.

  5. @Matt – not so. There is an orange-brown cast present throughout the entire shooting sequence, including before any shots were fired. You can clearly see that the water is this colour at 2:21 before the first shot. The colouration does enhance the sense of menace so you could perhaps complain about that if you felt it was too much, but the orange-brown liquid, including the splashes on Babar himself, is simply water.

    @Stan – I liked Harvey Birdman so much that I bought the DVD. And I’m a complete tight-a*se!

  6. Secret Squïrrel,

    I believe SBS has let their Happy Tree Friends rights expire. I think I’m correct because you can find episodes at NineMSN Video & Village Roadshow has taken the SBS logo off all their DVDs.

    They also aired Harvey Birdman Attorney At Law during the Happy Tree Friends & Friends program. That was so good!

  7. It’s only because we live in a country where content quotas come with strict regulatory requirements that this even sticks out as something interesting.

    Not surprisingly, a lot of kids TV deals with challenging issues (childhood being challenging and all), sometimes even taking the risk of eschewing things like production values to focus on relevant and respectful content.

    Sadly, the vast majority of that is produced and aired overseas. And if it does come to our kids, it comes through the ABC (who do not have to bow to ACMA children’s TV regulations) and it comes with out the Australian accent that would attach deeper relevance to our kids.

    But it’s a circular argument, because if life stops parents from viewing TV with their kids, then kids TV has to settle with being a safe babysitter for children viewing alone.

    Pity. Lost opportunity really.

  8. This is the fourth repeat of the Babar series on the ABC2, since the ABC bought the rights again. Would be good if the ABC would get the rights to the final season, which was not shown as much in the past.

    The Animals of Farthing Woods, Redwall and Watership Down (TV series) have featured the death of characters too. Although only the Animals of Farthing Woods has been shown on (free to air) TV.

    Unfortunately the ABC doesn’t seem interested in showing animated series with any depth anymore.

  9. Well, Jason S. I appreciate that David will occasionally pick up on a comment on a post, do some digging, and write an article on it.

    In this case it was informative because in his comment Matt had given us all the impression that there was a large amount of blood depicted when, in fact, there was none. It also gave the ABC a chance to give their perspective, something they wouldn’t have been able to do unless someone from there had noticed the original comment and then responded.

    PS. SBS, bring back Happy Tree Friends. Cartoon violence done properly.

  10. I remember watching this all the time.
    I had it on VHS and loved it.
    This show and the animals of farthing wood are great examples that just because it is a kids show dosn’t mean that it has too be stupid.

  11. Obliviously people haven’t seen The Animals of Farthing Wood either, i watched it as a kid and half the cast died…
    Don’t see why such a big deal id being made of this, if a kid can’t handle this, how on earth are they going to cope with the real world.

  12. What a big deal over nothing. This Babar story has been around for years, and shown on tv for years. Yes, it’s confronting for kids but also carries a powerful message that is worth kids being exposed to. The PC Brigade can feck off!

  13. Slow news day?

    I rememeber watching this when I was a kid in the early 90’s back when there was only one ABC station, and I’m now 25. I dont think I was scarred for life then, so what standards have changed?

    Interesting article all the same…

  14. The only issue with this episode of a *kids* TV show is the fast that it has, after 22 years and repeats being shown several times, have such a big deal made out of it.

    While I appreciate the importance of censorship to a certain level, this is a classic TV series! If the kids didn’t see the first episode, they wouldn’t understand the rest (assuming they’re old enough to understand). If they’re not old enough to understand, they wouldn’t even notice what’s happening on the screen.

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