Bambi, released in 1942, is the coming-of-age tale of a young deer growing into adulthood as the Prince of the Forest. I approached this one with trepidation. As a child I can recall sitting in the waiting room of the doctor’s office-I couldn’t have been more than 6 years old- Bambi was on the small box TV set, likely playing from a VHS that they rewound and replayed over and over. I was excited because I hadn’t seen it before. My mom shook her head and told me it was too sad. In fact, into my adulthood it seems like with every mention of Bambi someone says, “Oh, it’s sad, the mom dies.” So, having only seen 10 or 15 minutes of the film as a kid, and worrying that it would just make me sad, I never watched it until I guess this blog forced me to.
So I queued it up, held my breath for the worst, (and like, I just watched Dumbo so I was really bracing myself), and I watched “Sad Bambi”. Except, it wasn’t that sad! Okay, there are some sad parts. Let me acknowledge them quickly:
The Sad Stuff
-*Spoiler alert* Bambi’s mom dies. They don’t actually show it, but you hear the gunshot and it’s enough. When she tells Bambi ‘don’t look back’ as they’re running away from the hunter- (Was this so he wouldn’t get tripped up, or because she didn’t want him to see her possibly be shot?) that was a gut punch.
-The fact that the forest creatures have to fear being hunted at all.
-A definite underlying theme that man is responsible for the demise of nature. –Hold on. Let that one sink in for a sec.– Even a children’s film made in 1942 serves as a cautionary tale for the harm the greed of man brings upon our animals, and our earth. Major credit to Disney for this insightful representation that hopefully had a lasting impression on the youth who grew up with this film.
Now! Let me convince you that even though those “sad” elements are there, the film didn’t leave me heavy, and shouldn’t be feared as too sad to watch. You don’t need to be fearful of it the way I was. And if you’re any kind of a Disney movie fan, you’ve seen your fair share of parent deaths and greed or evil. Cinderella? Sleeping Beauty? The Lion King?
The Good Stuff
-The Animation: The imagery is pastoral and lovely. We see the forest in blooming spring, blankets of snow, buckets of rain and a blaze of flame, but the focus is always on the forest creatures. The scenery is sometimes muted in the background, not in a way that reads unfinished, but rather intentional and serene while Bambi, Thumper, and Flower are strikingly depicted in the foreground. It’s all beautiful. That’s the thing about this film. It’s just pretty. In my research I read that the animators were perfectionists when it came to this project. They started working on it in 1936 and planned for it to be released after Snow White but ended up finishing Pinocchio, Fantasia, Reluctant Dragon, and Dumbo first. A lot was weighing on this film and it wasn’t exactly a smash at the box office, but in my opinion, as far as animation goes, and especially for the time, Bambi’s a success.
-The Music: This film is somewhat unique for Disney animation because while it has musical numbers, the songs aren’t sung by the characters. When the song “Let’s Sing a Gay Little Spring Song” played I was searching the birds to see why they weren’t singing, and for a second wondered if it was some kind of mistake that their beaks weren’t mouthing the words. It seemed strange to hear song lyrics and not have the characters doing the singing! I guess Disney has me conditioned for the animated musical, but in any case, I did like the songs and it was fun to hear some Disney songs that I had never heard before. “Love is a Song” is probably the best in the bunch.
-The Story: The story of Bambi is straight-forward enough that young children can follow it, and emotional enough to endear the viewer to the characters. We’re happy when they succeed because we watched them grow and overcome. We have a connection to them. And like I said before, the idea of man as the villain is resoundingly pertinent, keeping the story of Bambi relevant today.
I have to say I’m relieved to get back to the warm and fuzzy stuff this go-round. I thought for sure that Bambi might bring me down and after Dumbo, I was somewhat dreading having to write another heavy review. Disney took the extra time to bring magic in story and aesthetic to Bambi and now I’m a “Bambi person” for it.