That’s right. Get your tissues out. It is time to talk about Bambi.
Yes millions of Americans have been forever traumatized by this sequence and probably even avoid watching Bambi as a result. If so, that’s a real shame because there is a lot to like about this Walt Disney classic.
Bambi is based on a novel by Felix Salten and it evidently was ‘too grim’ for an audience with children (I can only imagine what horrors must happen!). At first, MGM was planning on adapting it as a live action film, but fter 4 years of attempts they handed it over to Disney. Disney planned on it being their 2nd feature after Snow White but delays in creating life-like animals made it not really get going until 1939. Eventually it would be the 5th animated feature by Disney and was released in 1942.
What makes Bambi special is the music and the animation- particularly the colors and backdrops. Along with most of Disney’s earlier works they can be appreciated more as an art piece than a film. A modern comparison would be Tree of Life. It has a thin plot but it is special because of the artistry. Same with early Disney.
In the last post we spoke about Dumbo’s backgrounds being plain simple colors. Bambi is the complete opposite.
The animators also used color to show emotion throughout the film. For instance, during the fire sequence we get red, orange, purple and black.
The other thing that is incredible about Bambi is the music. Taking a page from Fantasia Walt Disney decided to move away from sound effects to a complete orchestra and choir. None of the characters actually sing but there is music accompanying their actions.
Watch this scene and listen for how the music creates the sounds of raindrops, water and the forest.
Bambi was released in 1942 and with the war raging American pocketbooks were tight and the European markets were off limits. This caused Disney to lose money on Bambi (costing 1.7 million to make and only grossing 1.64).
Immediately some hunters rejected the movie and still do. I’ve heard park rangers call the over-population of deer the ‘bambi problem’. Evidently even Walt’s daughter Diane didn’t like Bambi’s mother dieing but Walt said he was only following the book.
This is another early Disney movie where there is no real villain. ‘Man’ is the villain but we never see them and they don’t have any distinguishing traits like a villain song or plot.
So how does it hold up? This one I am a bit more mixed on. I own it and enjoy watching it for the imagery and music but certain parts are challenging.
For instance, there really is no central plot. It is just the story of a deer growing up. Do deer mature so quickly that Bambi can go from being a baby to having his own baby in the 2 year time frame of the movie? I don’t know if they do but regardless this doesn’t give us much time to get to know him like we do Simba in Lion King. We never hear Bambi talk much beyond words like ‘ice’, ‘snow’, ‘meadow’ so it’s hard to feel much of a victory for him in the end.
All the deer are pretty bland and boring. Thumper, Daisy, Owl are cute but not really that interesting. The death scene is very sad but it doesn’t hold a candle to what I feel when Mufassa dies- a character we have come to know, who has taught us something, shown some personality. Bambi’s mother and Faline are basically the same person and not that interesting of partners for Bambi.
Aside from a Mother and various love interests all the rest of the characters are male and kind of blah and the story goes through the motions. Again, think about the Lion King and how much happens to Simba, the pridelands and everything else.
Even Fox and the Hound, which is a weak Disney offering, still gives you some dialogue between the characters so the emotional scenes have more heft and the plot is more engaging.
But, then there are the visuals and like most of Disney’s early films they should be viewed like one would go into an art museum or symphony. Every frame is gorgeous and the music gives you each emotion that the story might lack.
Just look at this forest scene. It is almost 3D with all the layers going all the way back to the waterfall. Stunning.
So, do I think Bambi is worth owning? Yes. Is it one you are going to want to watch every month? No. It’s a beautiful art piece with great music and enough of a plot and characters to be tolerable, even enjoyable.
Overall Grade B- (It is also only 70 minutes making the problems less noticeable)
It is interesting to think of these first 5 Disney feature films. They all have darker themes, many involving separation or death. A friend suggested to me that films were made for all ages at that time and animation was not as clearly a child’s medium. That makes sense in the pre-Disneyland days.
But I wonder if it is also because of the hardships facing many families in the late 30s and 40s. People losing their homes, waiting in soup kitchens, sending family members off to war. Perhaps Disney wanted to provide a medium where these tough themes could be contemplated but through art, music and storytelling?
Next 6 Movies
Moving forward we get to a section I am calling the animated short era. From 1942 to 1950 Walt Disney Studios released groups of animated shorts put together to create a feature length film. This is partly because their studios were used to help in the war effort.
The 6 film collections are :
1. Saludos Amigos (1942)- on wikipedia it says this was released a week after Bambi
2. The Three Caballeros (1944)
3. Make Mine Music (1946)
4. Fun and Fancy Free (1947)
5. Melody Time (1948)
6. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad (1949)
I have not seen any of these except for the last, so it should be a lot of fun. Have you seen any of them?
What do you guys think of Bambi and the other 4 early films- Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Dumbo?