Bambi (1942)

Posted by on Dec 19, 2011 in Fun With Animals | 0 comments


Disclaimer: The Disney film that set the standard for child-orphaning death (e.g. The Lion King, Finding Nemo, Oliver & Company, The Jungle Book).

Bambi is not your traditional movie, but a series of emotional reactions that mature just as the title character must over the course of one year. If Bambi died at the moment the screen faded to black (as horrible a thought as that is), this film would be the image that flashed before his eyes. It’s also one of the biggest guilt trips in cinema history (much more so than The Passion of the Christ was for Christians), as we’re reminded just how evil human nature tends to be.

The film spans four seasons, beginning with spring as forest animals congregate to see the newborn prince. We follow the fawn as he takes his first wobbly steps (and those first executed on ice), befriends adorably curious rabbit Thumper and a skunk with an inferiority complex named Flower, speaks his first words, encounters water (resulting in a Narcissus-esque fascination), discovers females, trades his spots for antlers, escapes a forest fire, falls in love with Faline, battles to the death, and takes a spot in the upper echelons of the forest with his brave and respected 10-point buck father. Not bad for only 69 minutes. Somewhere in his first fall, Bambi learns of the dangerous meadow. “Why did we all run?” Bambi asks his mother after the animals rushed to the thicket. “Man was in the forest,” she replies. Though the film never shows Bambi’s mom’s infamous death, which comes the following winter, the spine-tingling gunshot and Bambi’s resulting expression are enough to make viewers wilt. In turn, the American Film Institute named “Man” one of the most fearsome on-screen villains of all-time, even though “he” never appears.

Bambi’s forest is chock full of memorable creatures from the melodic birds and dangling possums to the surly owl that warns Bambi and his friends about love. “Look out, it could happen to anybody,” he says. Young-uns will certainly get a kick out of the slight moments of comic relief, like a mouse seeking shelter from the rain, a duck testing the frigid meadow water, and two moles knocking heads underground.

Disney contracted children for the character voices in the first half of the film (which wasn’t common back then), leading to rewarding results – most specifically with Thumper, whose mantras “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all” and “Eating greens is a special treat; it makes long ears and great big feet” are delivered perfectly and with a vocal pizzazz that recalls Tommy Corcoran (Swiss Family Robinson, Old Yeller). Though not in nearly enough of the film, Thumper is one of Disney’s most memorable sidekicks ranking right up there with Jiminy Cricket, Tinkerbell, and Timon/Pumba.

You’re sure to find the beautiful Fantasia-esque Little April Showers orchestral sequence a delightful musical portion that becomes integrated into the plot (as do the other seasonal songs) instead of acting as a useless break from it. It earned three Oscar nominations for sound, score, and original song, but took home zero statuettes. Bambi’s deadly battle for Faline is a similar Fantasia-inspired sequence, but draws away from the rest of the film’s look, calling unnecessary attention to itself.

More than anything else, Bambi is known forBambi2 its incredible, cutting-edge artistry. Some (such as The Disney Version author Richard Schickel) have labeled its detailed naturalistic backdrops an artistic waste, as they could have done just as well using photographs. However, Chinese animator Tyrus Wong inspired the soft backgrounds (which are stunning), while Disney contrasted them with cartoonish and anthropomorphized animals (the females have eyelashes, for instance) to call more focus and attention to the characters. For the right effect, Disney kept live animals at an on-site zoo to ensure animators could capture movements and behavior accurately. While today they can use multiple planes of animation and swap them together on a computer, back when animated feature films were in their infancy this process took considerable time. The film began in 1936, intended to follow Snow White, but their quest for perfection led to a $2 million budget and three other releases coming before Bambi. Based on Felix Salten’s novel, Bambi is allegedly Disney’s favorite film (though so are several others). But believe it or not, it lost money at the box office (as did Fantasia and Dumbo) until it was re-released in 1947.

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