Along with French movies, animated series and films are a great way to practice French comprehension and vocab. It will also give you an insight into French culture, history, and will even familiarize you with some of the most famous French lines from TV and cinema. To help you make your choice in the wide range of titles, we have listed six of the most popular French cartoons, depending on your age, your tastes and your language level, as well as how and where to watch them:
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One of the most iconic comics in French, Astérix has long expanded its wings to other media, including animated films. The small but witty and strong Gallic hero will take you on unexpected and always funny adventures. Full of puns and cultural references like the comic books they’re inspired from, these movies may demand a certain level of French, especially compared to shorter cartoons. That said, this means the cartoons can be equally enjoyed by children and adults. They are also easily available on streaming services like Amazon Prime Video.
2. Les Aventures de Tintin
Another iconic comic hero, Tintin is a young and astute reporter who travels the world to investigate and solve mysteries. The comic books have been turned into several TV cartoon series over the decades, though the one from the early 1990s is probably the best known.
To get a feel of it, you can watch several video extracts on the official Tintin website. Alternatively, full episodes are available on YouTube.
3. Il était une fois…
With its educational mission, Il était une fois (which literally means “once upon a time”) is one of the best and most acclaimed French animated series for children. It’s so popular it even has its own YouTube channel and is available on DVD. Biology, history, space or the Earth: whatever the topic, the same characters enact various scientific or historical scenarios to make them easy to understand for young audiences. Even as an adult, you might learn a thing or two from the program, in such varied subjects as the human body with Il était une fois… la Vie (“Once upon a time… Life”) or world and French history with Il était une fois… l’Homme (“Once upon a time… mankind”).
Aimed at younger audiences, from nursery to the first years of primary school, Babar is a lovely elephant in a green suit who happens to be a king. The series, which has its own official YouTube channel, focuses on his adventures with his wife Céleste and his children. While it’s a great fit if you are a beginner in French, the cartoon is unlikely to catch your interest as an adult. But if you have little children, they are bound to love the simple plots and narration.
5. Le Petit Nicolas
Originally a series of books written by René Goscinny (the author of Astérix) and illustrated by Jean-Jacques Sempré, Le Petit Nicolas tells the misadventures of a young boy in France in the 1960s with humor and tenderness. Through his eyes, we get to see not just his daily life, but his understanding of the world around him, including the adult world. While the TV animated series, available on its YouTube channel, is more aimed at children, a more recent animated film, presented at the Cannes Film Festival in 2022, tells the genesis of the character in the same visual style as the original drawings from Sempré. It’s the perfect way for adults to discover this most beloved character while practicing their French.
6. Les Shadoks
This satirical cartoon from the late 1960s and early 1970s depicts the shadoks, bird-like creatures living on a two-dimensional planet. Both stupid and ruthless, they are known to make useless machines that don’t work. While the shadoks themselves only speak four monosyllabic words, it is the voice-over comments that make the show so funny. Each episode may only last two to three minutes, but they are packed with memorable lines that you may still hear quoted to this day.
Thanks to the shadoks, you will wonder “Pourquoi faire simple quand on peut faire compliqué ?” (“Why make it simple when you can make it complex?”). You’ll also learn that “S’il n’y a pas de solution, c’est qu’il n’y a pas de problème” (“If there’s no solution, it’s because there’s no problem”). And you may even realize that “Je dis des choses tellement intelligentes que le plus souvent je ne comprends pas ce que je dis.” (“I say such intelligent things that most of the time I don’t understand what I’m saying”). As such, this very funny French cartoon is aimed at a more adult audience with a more advanced grasp of the language. Check some of the episodes on ShadokTube, the bespoke YouTube channel.
Watch and learn French with some of the best cartoons
Whether you’re an adult or a child, French cartoons are a great way to learn and practice the language in a fun way, especially if you want to improve your listening skills or develop your vocabulary. So, take your pick in our list of six titles and get watching!
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Anne-Lise is a translator and copywriter working for various industries, such as hospitality and travel, as well as health and well-being. Settled down in London since the end of her university years, she cannot get enough of the exceptional cultural life in the English capital city, starting with theater, be it to see a new West End show or to roll up her sleeves with her amateur drama group. She is also interested in photography, as her Instagram profile shows. She indulges her passion for languages in a translation blog she writes with other linguist friends. Go to her Linkedin page to know more about her background and her professional experience.