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OF, BY AND FOR THE CHILDREN

King of the Elephants (and a family man too) prepares for a move

August 15, 1993|N.F. MENDOZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The elephant long has been considered a symbol of good luck in many cultures. And this year, Babar, one of the world's most beloved pachyderms, turns 60. Jean Laurent de Brunhoff's King of the Elephants didn't move from the printed page to animated life until 1989. The syndicated cartoon is soon moving from HBO, where Babar and Celeste and the rest of the elephant kingdom nestled for four years, to the Family Channel.

That's probably an apt change of address for Babar, who is a family man at heart.

"Maintaining an emphasis on the family is a major thing for our stories," says executive producer Michael Hirsh, noting that the books shared the same spirit. "The recurring theme is about growing up in a family and what it's like."

Hirsh points out that very few animated characters have a family. In fact, he adds, there are few grown-ups in cartoons who are portrayed in a realistic, loving fashion. "Babar is regal and never silly," he says.

The animated "Babar" stories have incorporated the original tales and newer contemporary stories. Topical concerns the show has tackled: environmental issues, conflict resolution and prejudice.

"The stories are appealing, from babes to grandparents who remember having the stories read to them when they were kids," Hirsh notes.

The Babar tales originated with De Brunhoff's wife Cecile, who, in 1931, began to use Babar tales to lull her boys, Laurent and Mathieu, to sleep. Author-illustrator Laurent de Brunhoff carried on after his father died in 1937, when Laurent was 10, by filling in some color on the two books in progress when Jean died. As an adult, he then began working on his own Babar stories.

While the Babar books told the chronological story of a little elephant who witnessed the brutal loss of his mother in the great forest, ran away to the city and grew up to be a much-loved king, the television series uses the device of Babar's children triggering the king's memory. Another story is then told in flashback, featuring Babar as a youth.

The Canadian (Nelvana)/French (Ellipse) co-production has already completed a library of 65 episodes and one feature-length film, and Hirsh says there is a possibility of new shows.

"Babar" airs weekdays at 8 a.m. HBO. Starting Sept. 6, it moves to the Family Channel and airs weekdays at 8 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 9 and 9:30 a.m. For ages 2 to 8.

MORE FAMILY SHOWS

How does that box in the kitchen cook food in just seconds? This week, Beakman explains electromagnetic energy by using a microwave oven. He shows that electromagnetic energy travels in waves--with definite wavelengths that excite the molecules in the food, creating heat. Beakman's World (Sunday 8:30-9 p.m. Learning Channel) also looks at spiders. For ages 6 and up.

On Thursday, CBS rebroadcasts Anything to Survive (8-10 p.m.), a 1990 TV movie starring Robert Conrad. It's a tale of survival: A man and his teen-age children endure 24 days of cold and starvation in Alaska after a severe storm strikes their boat and drives the family into the sea. For ages 9 and up.

For kids who are convinced that their stepparent comes from another planet, there's My Stepmother Is an Alien (Saturday 9-11 p.m. CBS), starring Dan Aykroyd and Kim Basinger. Alyson Hannigan plays the teen who realizes her stepmother is beyond odd with her strange habits. For ages 9 and up.

The depths of the ocean have held secrets that have fascinated humans for centuries. The concept of the food chain is the focus of Films for the Family's "Predators of the Sea" (Saturday 10-11:30 a.m. Discovery). Youngsters can observe the carnivorous habits of the better- and lesser-known marine predators, from sharks to plankton. Though typically shy, octopi can be formidable hunters, ambushing then subduing prey by injecting them with venom. Moray and wolf eels fiercely attack and devour their quarry. Jaw fish patiently wait within their sea-floor burrows and gobble passing, unsuspecting victims. Even in the microscopic world of plankton, minute predators stalk for food. For ages 7 and up.

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