Bambi is the first Disney animated movie to focus entirely on animals. If it’s not a fairy tale, then chances are it’s an animal picture. Although Dumbo did feature an animal protagonist, there were still humans in it. Bambi very much focuses on the animal world, with no visible humans at all. Unlike everything else made at the time, Bambi was based on a recently published novel titled Bambi, a Life in the Woods. It was an Austrian book brought to Walt Disney’s attention before World War II.
Although intended to be live-action, animation was really the way to go. So Disney bought the rights with the intention of making it his second animated feature after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It may not show too much in the final product, but the book was actually much more somber. Cuddly sidekicks were added, while the most memorable plot points stayed the same. The only thing that stalled production for so long was the complicated task of animating deer realistically. So other movies took its place until Bambi became the fifth animated Disney film (and the last from the Golden Age)…
Bambi is known for its reputation as one of the saddest Disney movies ever made. Which made many children who saw it cry their eyes out (myself included). I saw it when I was very young, although I never owned it on VHS. Just like the book’s title indicates, Bambi is about Bambi’s life in the woods. From his birth as a fawn, to childhood, to adolescence, and finally as a grown up buck. Instead of a roe deer, Bambi is a mule deer born to his caring mother doe. She teaches him all about the forest and his destiny as the Great Prince of the Forest. It’s Bambi’s childhood appearance that’s the most iconic. Since that’s when the most memorable moments take place. He meets an energetic bunny named Thumper who helps him to walk and talk. And a sweet skunk ironically named Flower. Both became beloved Disney sidekicks.
Bambi is eventually introduced to his father the current Great Prince of the Forest. As well as the dangers of “Man.” It’s not till the first winter that Bambi fully understands what those dangers are. In the most infamous scene in the entire movie, Bambi and his mother desperately run away from hunters. Bambi escapes and his mother doesn’t. Nothing is more heartbreaking than seeing Bambi tearfully call out to his deceased mother. The Great Prince steps in and decides to raise him. Bambi grows into a strapping young buck, antlers and all. With mating season on the horizon, Friend Owl teaches Bambi, Thumper, and Flower all about being twitterpated. Thumper and Flower pair up in no time. While Bambi runs into his childhood doe friend Faline.
Of course this wouldn’t be nature if Bambi didn’t have to fight for her affection. A jealous deer named Ronno fights Bambi in an intense confrontation. However “Man” is still the bigger antagonist when they accidentally set off a raging forest fire. In the end there’s still hope when Bambi has children of his own. While not to the same degree as the book, the movie still has a strong environmental message. A message so strong that “Man” was named the 20th greatest villain in movie history according to AFI. Without ever having to appear on screen. All it took was the single sound of gun fire.
The animation is highly expressive with movements that do manage to capture realistic animal movements. Made even more powerful with dramatic silhouettes and believable seasonal changes. This was one of the earliest Disney movies that animators carefully studied real life animals for. A practise that continues to this day. The only thing that Bambi doesn’t have is memorable songs. The only one that comes to mind is a song about “Little April Showers.” It’s really the stronger focus on music without lyrics that works well for the story. In fact, there are only 900 words spoken in the entire movie. So the visuals are truly the highlight of the movie. Bambi is a precious coming-of-age story that isn’t afraid to teach children difficult life lessons.