Babar the Elephant is a children’s literary character who has seen a couple of adaptations, including a charming, fairly-long running series from the late 80s by Nelvana. Now, in the age of digitally restored and remastered theme-based single disc DVD releases, the 80’s Babar cartoon (or The Classic Series as the case calls it) returns in a Christmas special appropriately titled “Babar and Father Christmas”. The DVD includes three winter and gift-themed episodes.
Babar has always had a unique magic to him and his world. He’s an elephant king/family man who lives in a land called Celesteville, which is populated by talking animals. The character designs and the scenery are all very simple, but that just adds to the whimsy. There’s a sense of fun, innocence, and wonder about everything. It’s pretty much the perfect setting for a Christmas story.
In “Babar and Father Christmas”, Babar’s kids learn out about Father Christmas and, seized by the Christmas spirit (i.e., greed), write to him in the hopes that they’ll get presents just like human children do. There’s just one problem: No one knows where Father Christmas lives and whether or not he’d even visit Celesteville. It’s up to Babar to journey to Man’s Country to find Father Christmas and have a chat with him, elephant king-to-mythological figure.
Actually, make that two problems. The second comes in the form of Babar’s nemesis, Rataxes the Rhinoceros. Ever-burning with jealousy and resentment, Rataxes will stop at nothing to cause any bit of mischief he can to ruin Babar’s day. Despite being a minor annoyance through the whole affair and going barely noticed by Babar, Rataxes manages to steal the show. He’s absolutely hilarious. It’s amusing to watch him trail Babar throughout his journey and getting abused along the way. Rataxes is so emotional about everything you can’t help but laugh. And he’s got a cool music theme accompanying him. He’s the villain you love to hate, but even Christmas can’t be completely cruel to him. There’s a lot of time wasted looking for Father Christmas and Babar wandering around cluelessly in Man’s Country, but fortunately, Rataxes provides enough comedic relief throughout.
Although “Babar and Father Christmas” does a decent job of capturing the Christmas spirit, there’s more magic in “A Child in the Snow”. Babar takes his family to a place in the mountains he used to visit as a kid, hoping to find the mythical Great White Mammoth, but no one buys into his story. The episode is about the wonders of being a child and believing in the impossible. It’s got a lot of heart. However, it brings up some an odd logistical question or two. I can accept an elephant king in a hidden society of talking animals, but if he’s rich, why does he have to drive a beat-up old car with his family crammed in the back seat? Plus, his mountain cabin looks kind of shabby. And, sadly, there’s no Rataxes. But when all’s said and done, it’s a solid episode with a heartwarming ending.
Luckily, Rataxes returns in the final episode of the disc “The Gift”. It’s Babar’s wife’s birthday, and the kids are trying to figure out what to get their mother. Naturally, being the children of an extremely wealthy monarch, they ask their father for an ungodly amount of money. Like many human children, rather than get cash, they are instead subjected to a long-winded story of when their father, as a child, went with his monkey friend Zephir on a quest to find a rare bird feather to give as a gift. Along the way, they had to deal with Rataxes and his sycophantic sidekick, Basil, who want the bird’s feather for Rataxes’ wife. It’s a funny story, and like all the Babar cartoons, is sweet and has a good message in the end.
It’s smart to package this disc with episodes that are reminiscent of the holiday season, but I can’t completely recommend this DVD simply because it’s short on the run-time. Looking at the DVD case, you might think “Babar and Father Christmas” is longer than an average episode, but it isn’t. Then again, it does come with an 8-page coloring book, which is a pretty nice touch. So it’s a mixed bag. Pretty good episodes for people who like Babar, but it’s up to the individual to decide if it’s worth it. Maybe they should’ve included some crayons too as an extra incentive.