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UPSETTING DAY

Upsetting Day: Baby Follies 🌭

At some point, society decided that babies hold the secrets of the cosmos within their tiny, still-developing brains. Countless pieces of media have explored this truth, from Baby Geniuses to Rugrats to Boss Baby. But only one such effort suggests babies live in a heavenly city controlled by a baby mafia. Also there’s a baby Sigmund Freud diagnosing baby psychosexual issues. Actually maybe Boss Baby did that too? I never saw Boss Baby.

Welcome to 1993’s Baby Follies. Before you ask, yes, it’s French. This might be the most French cartoon ever created.

The babies live in the sky in a cloud kingdom. They have jobs like shop manager, game show host, and bartender. Yes, there’s a bar in Baby City, or Baby Land, as it’s sometimes rendered. Babies go there to drink bottles of milk. Where does the milk come from in a land populated exclusively by babies? “Existence precedes and rules essence,” existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said. Maybe this is what he was talking about.

As premises go it’s a little bleak, projecting as it does mid 20th-century capitalist living onto an all-baby fantasy land, but it’s not outlandish in itself, right? Evidently the creators of Baby Follies thought so too, because most of the show isn’t about babies going about their daily lives. No, Baby Follies is primarily about a baby Humphrey Bogart attempting to foil the plots of the Galopin gang, led by the evil Scrogneugneu, who hovers menacing above Baby City in his blimp.

Is Scrogneugneu a baby? No, that would be absurd. There are no evil babies. Sure, there are babies who can be lured into working for an evil entity through coercion or bribery, but Baby Follies is careful not to make an argument about the existence of essential, inborn evil by depicting a baby criminal mastermind.

Anyway, how could a baby fly a blimp? Scrogneugneu is an elf who used to work for Santa Claus until he was kicked out for hoarding toys. I thought that would be obvious.

See, he put so much love and care into his craft, but then Santa always took them away to give to the children. So now he wants to usurp Santa and I guess shut down Christmas? We don’t really get too deep into that.

Throughout the series, Scrogneugneu and the Galopins try out various schemes, like getting the babies addicted to a game show or robbing the baby bar. Bogey, our noir baby protagonist, stops them from getting away with it. Occasionally he’s helped by a Superbaby.

It’s possible that you’re thinking that noir and babies, as concepts, don’t mix together so well. A world-weary detective baby is kind of funny on its face, but there’s not much you can do with it considering how violent and gritty noir tends to be by definition. You, my friend, lack vision.

The only limitations that exist in this world are those we place on ourselves. Again, in the words of Sartre, “Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.”

In other words, there is no god to stop us from depicting a baby Humphrey Bogart sucking pacifiers to approximate the chain-smoking, alcohol abusing noir detectives of yore.

Haha, great bit, good work everybody. But regardless of what the luminaries of mid-20th century continental philosophy might tell you, we live in a society. By accepting the benefits of communal living, e.g. grocery stores and not being stabbed for taking the last ripe avocado in the grocery store, we have agreed to certain rules and regulations, even if only tacitly. Those rules include: don’t stab people, don’t take other people’s stuff, and don’t put a Lauren Bacall baby in a cartoon, even if it does complete the famous Bogie/Bacall duo.

Wait a goddamn minute, the character is named Lauren, but that’s a parody of a scene from The Seven Year Itch with Marilyn Monroe, arguably one of the most famous images of the 20th century! You’re mixing your goddamn golden age of Hollywood references!

And what’s maybe the worst thing about this scene is that there isn’t even a vent on the sidewalk. Where is that updraft coming from?

Sorry, no, the baby upskirt with bedroom eyes is the worst thing about it. And now the animators, me, and everyone who reads this is going to jail. Fantastic.

But we needn’t stop there. Should we? Yes, absolutely. But “man is continually transcending himself,” Gabriel Marcel once said. And we wouldn’t want to make him look like a jackass, would we? Surely not. Can we get uhhhhhhhhhh Lauren the baby dancing in pasties and singing, “they’re blind to all else except Lauren’s charm / and they dream of holding this gorgeous girl in their arms.”

Sure we can! Nothing means anything.

That’s the one named black baby on Baby Follies, by the way. His name is Baby Crooner. He’s the star of an episode where he’s trying to figure out how to make money off of being the Baby Crooner after he gets fired from the bar. Some people hate this. I don’t know what it is, but they fuckin’ hate it. There’s people that wanna kill him.

Anyway, Simone de Beauvoir, in her landmark work of feminist philosophy The Second Sex, said “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” Clearly she didn’t know of the existence of a pre-birth dimension populated by sultry dancing she-babies.

But back to our noir detective, who after all is the nominal lead of Baby Follies. He’s your typical hard-bitten protagonist. He has an on again off again thing with a dangerous dame and he spends too much time drinking. These things, in my experience, lead to dark places.

“There is only one really serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide,” Camus said. He was talking about how in a world of absurdity, all that truly matters is whether or not you get up every day and decide to keep going or just kill yourself. So why not? Let’s do a storyline where a baby noir detective becomes so disillusioned with his life as a baby in a city in the clouds that after a night of binge drinking he decides to be born and the whole thing is played as suicidal depression.

Let’s even show him writing a suicide note where he says “I can’t stand this darkness anymore!”

Ultimately, though, the writers of Baby Follies were cowards. They faltered at the finish line of actually showing a hard-drinking baby detective jumping onto a cabbage and letting a stork take him away from Baby City forever. Instead, Lauren and his friends show up and convince him not to kill himself be born.

Of course, this raises a lot of questions about the nature of Baby City. If being born is like suicide in that you can choose to do it whenever you want, is it like death more broadly in that it eventually comes for us all? Storks seem to run the baby delivery system in this world — are old babies taken away by them to be born against their will? Are seemingly young and healthy babies occasionally snatched up off the street by the birds, leaving their remaining friends to wonder at the random senselessness of it all? Let’s go with yes.

We’ve done baby burlesque, we’ve done baby existential crises. Where do you go from there? Uh, a Star Wars parody? A baby trial of Scrogneugneu? I can only guess based on the episode titles, because Baby Follies is a very difficult show to find. It aired in the US and UK during the ’90s, but I couldn’t find any English-language episodes online, and only found a few of the original 52-episode run in French and Spanish on YouTube. However, Baby Follies aired in a lot of countries. In Poland, it was called “Bobaskowo”, or “Baby Doll.” In Sri Lanka, viewers knew it as තොත්ත බබාලා, which Google Translate tells me means “Totta Babies.” And in China, it was titled 婴儿城 (pronounced yīng’ér chéng), which means, simply, “Baby City.”

And that brings us to our diabolical twist. See, I’ve been working on you throughout this whole article, building on your deeply-held biases to convince you that Baby Follies was a uniquely French show. But it was, in fact, the result of an international collaboration between French studios and the Shanghai Animation Film Studio.

I want to be absolutely clear here: people grew up watching Baby Follies in China. Go into the comments sections on the Chinese language episodes on YouTube and there are the typical comments you see on any children’s series from thirty to forty years ago. “I watched this when I was in primary school,” “the best memory of my childhood,” “my father left home when an episode of this was playing and now I can’t achieve climax unless my lover calls me ‘Bogey’,” that sort of thing.

The Chinese government controls the vast majority of mass media in the country, and children’s cartoons are and were no exception. Other ’80s and ’90s series like Black Cat Detective featured morally upstanding characters banishing crime, while Journey to the West: Legends of the Monkey King drew on historical Chinese fiction, retelling beloved stories in the medium of animation.

Meanwhile, there was Baby Follies, which promoted… well, I guess not killing yourself, so that’s something. But you have to imagine that the guy whose job it was to read through the scripts for this show and approve or reject them just wasn’t paying much attention that day.

I mean, we’re talking about a market where foreign media companies have self-censored everything from skeletons to homosexuality to reduce the likelihood that their cultural products will be tied up in red tape. But somehow sexy baby pasties are ok? Suicidal babies are fine? This is fine?

I guess!

“There is in fact no such thing as art for art’s sake, art that stands above classes, art that is detached from or independent of politics,” Mao Zedong told us. Well, perhaps Baby Follies indeed represents the proletarian struggle in some manner that I, with my limited knowledge of the Chinese language, can’t fully grasp. Maybe Bogey is meant to represent the worker, kept in toil by the gangster capitalism whose schemes hold Baby City in their evil grasp? Maybe Lauren is actually a satirical figure, calling attention to the ways in which the capitalist mode of production demeans women and distracts them from revolutionary fervor with the meaningless pursuit of beauty through consumption. Maybe we’re meant to see Baby Crooner’s struggles as emblematic of the ways in which the owner class divides and conquers the workers using the tool of race, much like Paul Schrader’s Blue Collar?

Nope, it’s an international crime. Please call Interpol and have them arrest those responsible for Baby Follies, me, and everyone who made this article possible.

This article was thanks to a hot Hot Dog tip from Yeyo.

This article was brought to you by our fine sponsor and Hot Dog Supreme: Max Baroi, a loose cannon baby cop and the only one who can save Baby City from rampant corruption.

5 replies on “Upsetting Day: Baby Follies 🌭”

I mean, the French have a grooming victim and his groomer as President and First Lady, respectively. And it’s also the country that houses Roman Polanski. I expect sexualization of minors, even infants, from the people that think being openminded and sex positive means children and animals are ok to fuck. But China? Really? Huh, you learn something new every day.

I actually remember watching this cartoon in the 90’s, and yes, that episode about Bogey commiting suicide by being born is absolutely bonkers.

It’s been a long time since I read it in college, but I’m pretty sure half of this plot was stolen from Samuel Butler’s Erewhon.

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