Directed By: David Hand (Supervising)
Produced By: Walt Disney
Based On: Bambi, a Life in the Woods by Felix Salten (1923)
Premiered On: August 21, 1942
Distribution By: RKO Radio Pictures
A film like no other in most of Disney’s Animated Feature Films, Bambi was a film that was, not surprisingly mind you, panned by critics simply for the fact that it was a huge opposite to what Disney was famous for at the time. Far from a fantastical and even cartoony storyline, Bambi is the tale of a young white-tailed deer named Bambi and his life in the Forest. However, Bambi is no mere baby deer but the young heir to the Great Prince of the Forest, the oldest and wisest of the deer who protects the forests and its inhabitants.
Bambi’s childhood is carefree and fun, especially in the company of his rabbit friend Thumper, who helps to teach Bambi to speak and walk, and a bashful skunk Bambi names Flower. However, the young prince’s happy times come to a swift and tragic end as winter comes and with it the one and only creature that all animals fear, Man. Though Bambi survives the brief brush of Man, his mother… does not. Taking pity on the young buck, the Great Prince breaks the ancient tradition of the deer and takes Bambi with him and raises him on his own.
Times passes and it’s in the opening buds of spring where we see Bambi, Thumper, and Flower as young adults whom are warned of the dangers of “twitterpation” by Friend Owl. Twitterpation being the old bird’s rather unique, if not on the nose, term towards lovey-dovey affections that overcome most animals during this time of year. The three scoff at the idea and meet it with scorn but one by one, they each fall head over paws in love and though Bambi stays strong, he finds himself totally and utterly twitterpated with a doe named Faline, whom he had known as a fawn.
Unfortunately for Bambi, Faline’s affections are also wanted by another buck by the name of Ronno, whom attempts to try and drive Faline away from Bambi. Having none of it, Bambi fights and successfully defeats. However, just as before with his mother, tragedy strikes the forest once again as a wildfire is accidentally started by a group of hunters and though Bambi is warned and guided by his father, he and Faline are separated during it.
Thankfully, Bambi manages to not only find Faline but rescues her just in the neck of time from a pack of hunting dogs. He leads her to safety of a riverbank where most of the animals have already gathered. The following spring shows that, though damaged, the forest and life itself continues as Faline gives birth to not one but two new heirs to the forest as, from afar, Bambi watches on with pride.
In a fashion, I can understand why this film was initially not well received by critics when it was first released. It had broken a lot of the standard themes that were set by Disney’s earlier films. There are absolutely no cartoony qualities to the animation in any form as all the animals were animated to be as realistic as possible.
The few songs in the film are more background music than actual singing in the film itself. Admittedly the song “Little April Shower,” is rather artistic as a scene of how animals take shelter from the rain and is easily the most recognized in the lot. However, the song “A Gay Little Song of Spring” is still credited as an example of trying to turn a dark and serious moment around in films, a technique that has been done again since in Disney films as well.
Even the story itself was disliked for the fact that it had no fantastical elements despite the fact that the book from which it was based was acclaimed for its realism. Speaking of the Austrian novel, there are a few major differences between it and the film.
Some major scenes that are in the book were left out in the film though this could likely be blamed on the financial difficulty Disney was facing at the time with the poor reception of Dumbo and Fantasia. In all, twelve minutes of the film had been cut before final animation was complete and considering how much can happen in just a single minute…
The biggest difference between the book and film though is the lack of both Thumper and Flower as companions to Bambi. If anything, the book has far more deer, both young and old, that Bambi meets and learns from, including a deer that was rescued and raised by humans. Either way, both the book and the film are considered to be one of the first of the “environmental” types of story, warning those of the dangers that can be wrought both by intention and by accident.
Overall, I give Bambi four out of five stars. The fun and carefree childhood of Bambi is just as entertaining to watch then as it is now and the epic battle and flight as an adult are just the same. It’s a great film to watch young and old but I do stress the fact that one should have an adequate amount of tissues on hand for those who’ve never seen the film for themselves. Trust me, it’s needed.