Bambi is the quintessential archetype of the life-cycle narrative, exemplified by the coming-of-age über-mythological thread popularized (and, perhaps, polemicalized) by the erstwhile dean of the philosophy of historical narrative, Joseph Campbell (or however you spell his name). Or so press releases would have us believe.
Based on the novel Watership Down, Bambi begins with the birth birth of the deer of the films title. There's a great deal of fawning (no pun intended) over the newborn, and we see him learning to walk, learning to talk, potty training, and befriending various forest creatures. Two of Bambi's little playmates -- a rabbit named Thumper (because he's got a bit of a lisp and considers himself "thumpin thpecial!") and a skunk named Flower (so named because the myopic Bambi thinks he's a plant) -- become his life-long friends.
There's a rainstorm set to music, and the animated death of a pair of leaves, setting the stage for the rest of the film.
Bambi's mother takes Bambi to a meadow where the good grazing is, warning him that he has to be careful because "man" may be nearby. The fact that Bambi's father is pretty much never around (and when he is, he spends most of his time posturing instead of looking for work) may give this warning a bit of a double meaning to this warning.
Bambi meets a young doe named Faline who quickly befriends the young buck, possibly because she didn't hear the warning about men.
Winter comes and snow covers the ground. Bambi attempts to cross a frozen lake in a humorous scene inspired by the "Eliza from Uncle Tom's Cabin crossing the ice" skit popularized by blackface minstrel shows. By this time, the entire audience is incredibly endeared (no pun intended) to Bambi and his friends, and if anything bad happened to them, we would be devastated.
Bambi and his mother are grazing in the meadow when they sense "man." The deer make a run for it, but Bambi's mother doesn't make it. Everyone in the audience cries. Grown men are reduced to sobbing infants. Some children become hysterical and/or are scarred for life. One kind in the back of the audience tries to take his own life with a bucket of popcorn. Germany invades Russia.
Bambi swears revenge.
We are treated to a "training" montage that shows Bambi becoming a strong adult and growing a rack of dangerous-looking antlers. A kindly owl warns Bambi against becoming "twidderpated" -- letting soft emotions dampen his thirst for revenge. But the warning is not heeded, and Bambi begins to fall for Faline.
A hunter's campfire sparks a forest fire. Animals flee, but Flower is consumed by flames. The hunter's dogs get Thumper.
Bambi swears revenge again.
The final scene shows Bambi and his battle-scarred father watching over Faline who has just given birth. It becomes clear that Bambi, like his father before him, is going to leave his family so that he can follow the path of revenge. Bambi walks off, and Faline looks up suddenly -- "man" is in the forest.
The screen goes dark and we hear a gunshot. But was it Bambi or his family that was killed? The audience is left to speculate.
Bambi is a delightful film, loved by adults and children alike. Despite the fact that it famously has a dark moment or two, it rightfully takes its place as a classic fit for the whole family. Most children either overlook the stories intense focus on death, realize that it's just part of nature's way, or grow up to be half-crazed xenophobic militants.
The film has several wonderful songs. "April Showers" (originally sung by Al Jolson) is particularly memorable, as is the scene in which Bambi and his mother walk through the forest singing the names of things they see ("Doe, a deer, a female deer. Ray, a drop a of golden sun." etc.)
Walt Disney began pre-production for Bambi in 1935, intending it to be the studio's third feature film (after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and the never-completed Make Mine Mayonnaise). The technical aspects of creating hyper-realistic hand-animated forest creatures caused a number of delays, however. The difficulty of animating rigid objects (antlers, for example) in motion inspired Ub Iwerks to invent what he described as a "difference engine" to perform some of the more mechanical animation tasks. To help animators create believable animals, a variety of creatures were brought into the studio and studied, including deer and rabbits. Despite urban legends to the contrary, the animals were not dissected, but instead studied in life. Many of them survived to become "guests of honor" at the Bambi world premier (or, rather, at the buffet after the premier).
Like any feature, Bambi went through a number of revisions before and during production. The original script and storyboards included a scene in which, after his mother's death, Bambi sees the hunters carrying her off, so he follows them into town, meeting a number of other animals (a dog, a cat, and a rooster) who had also experienced tragedies along the way, and accompanied by his new friends finds the hunters in a small house preparing to cook his mother, so after night falls the animals all get on Bambi's back outside of the house's window and "sing" at the top of their lungs, making the hunters flee because they think that there is a ghost outside, after which Bambi and friends go into the house, liberate his mother, and give her a grand, Viking-style pyre funeral. The scene was cut due to time constraints, as was the scene with Bambi's mother being awakened by a kiss from the Prince.
Bambi was, and continues to be, a very influential film, and it has left a broad legacy. For example:
Hidden naughty bit: Bambi's running time is 69 minutes.
Trivia: The scene in which Bambi's mother tells him that "Man was in the forest" was so frightening, that for years mothers would tell their children that if they weren't good, "'Man' will come and get me."
Attraction Connection: Because of the success and popularity of Bambi, several Bambi-based attraction concepts were considered (including a "run from the fire" ride and shooting gallery). Eventually, it was decided that no attraction was quite right for this feature, and Bambi became the official mascot of the "Lost Parents" room at Disneyland (for obvious reasons).
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