"Babar," a new animated series that debuts on HBO Sunday at 8 a.m., captures the look and much of the charm of Jean and Laurent de Brunhoff's popular children's books.
Babar, the king of the elephants, never allows his duties to interfere with the needs of his children. Most of each program is devoted to a story about his childhood that shows his offspring how to deal with a problem.
In the second episode (airing April 9), Babar finds his son, Cornelius, trying to impress a new friend. In the ensuing account of a party he almost ruined by affecting a false charm, Babar (along with writer J.D. Smith) makes his point without becoming smarmy or pompous.
The designs for the characters and the simple animation capture the essence of Jean de Brunhoff's understated watercolor illustrations. The artists occasionally seem to loose their sense of the characters' size and weight: The young Babar jumps and climbs in ways that seem very unelephantlike (but very few elephants wear uniforms and crowns, as the adult Babar does).
As the voice of Babar, Gordon Pinsent ("The Thomas Crown Affair") gives the elephant king a reassuring presence and keeps the mildly didactic stories from bogging down in moralizing. Child actors provide the voices for the young Babar and his friends, which makes the show sound a lot like a "Peanuts" special at times.
Created by the Canadian Nelvana studio--the producers of the entertaining "My Pet Monster"--"Babar" manages to be endearing without sliding into the saccharine cutesiness of "Hello Kitty." Parents with children in the 4-to-10-year-old range should plan on setting their VCRs: The kids will probably want to watch "Babar" more than once.