Bambi (1942)

The fifth film in the Walt Disney Classics collection is the David Hand-directed Bambi. Based on a book by Austrian author Felix Salten, Bambi is a pretty good entry in Disney’s catalogue. It’s not an excellent movie, but it is a classic tale of getting along in the world and it sets up a lot of other Disney flicks with its use of animals and natural settings. Human characters, in fact, are nowhere to be seen, but their impact is most assuredly felt by the animals of Bambi.

Bambi took a lot out of the Walt Disney Company. The animators worked hard at getting a realistic feel to the talking animal picture and production on the movie was slow. According to Wikipedia, the expert animators on Bambi only managed about eight drawings a day. This amounted to about a half foot of animation compared to the usual ten feet. A dozen minute of the flick were eventually cut due to budget concerns, which may explain its mere 70 minute run-time.

The movie gives us the title character as born to a doe in the forest. Bambi is, of course, a white-tailed deer. His parents are the Great Prince of the forest and an unnamed mother, the latter of which becomes his guardian as he grows up. The first portion of the movie follows Bambi as he grows up and makes friends in the forest. There’s the young rabbit Thumper and the young skunk Flower, both of whom become very close acquaintances with Bambi.

Tragedy strikes soon enough, however, and Bambi is taken into the care of his father. We fast-forward a few years and the film becomes about the mating process and about the romance between Bambi and Faline, a doe-fawn. Man gets involved, harming the animals in the forest through carelessness and aggression.

The finest moments of Bambi take place in the first half as we explore the scope of the forest and follow the young deer as he learns to walk and go along with his friends. The threat of Man always looms, however, and Bambi must learn to grow up in difficult circumstances. He still has a joyous existence, for the most part, and is a compelling character in his dogged determination to stand up and be the animal he is destined to be.

Bambi isn’t a terribly detailed film, so there’s a lot of complexity missing. We never really feel overly close to any of the characters for the simple fact that we aren’t given much time to form thorough and satisfying connections. It’s true that we do feel Bambi’s tragedy, as one of the move pivotal moments in American animated film history still holds emotional weight even though we don’t know the characters overly well. More than anything, this Disney picture uses the outrage of Man’s encroachment as a “villain” and as a catalyst for getting us to feel something for the animals.

We get upset because the peace of the forest is undermined by Man, by flames and by bullets sailing from hunters’ guns. We feel emotional because of the general ebb and flow of destruction and new life, greeting the cycle of life at the end of the movie with welcome enthusiasm and greeting the inevitable separation of Bambi from his family with knowing sadness. It’s the circle of life, after all.

Bambi was released to theatres during World War II and it was, for the most part, kind of a tough sell for Walt Disney. It lost money during its first release in the summer of 1942, but a 1947 reissue helped it recoup some losses. Part of the reason for this was that the European markets, those that may have been more receptive to a film entirely about animals, were shut away from Disney films for the time. Hunters also hated the film due to its apparent “anti-human” message.

In any event, Disney’s Bambi is a worthwhile experience. It’s one of Disney’s best looks at a purely natural world and, while it lacks the depth of some of their other pictures, it manages to tell a reasonable story within a slight time frame. It is still a film with problems, though. The animation isn’t overly notable and there are no typical Disney songs to grease the wheels (save for “Love is a Song,” the Oscar-nominated piece), so the movie’s overall flow suffers a little. Still, Bambi is worth seeing for an early sample of some of the ideas Disney movies would attempt to realize in later years.

Trailer:

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