Filmsite Movie Review
Bambi (1942)
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Bambi (1942) Bambi (1942) is one of the most appealing, gracefully-told, lushly-beautiful, and popular Disney animated film classics. It was based on Austrian writer Felix Salten's 1923 storybook Bambi, A Life in the Woods. [Note: Salten was a pen-name for Siegmund Salzmann.] Nazi Germany banned the novel in 1936, accusing it of being an allegory of Jewish persecution.

The studio's fifth animated classic, with a running time of only 69 minutes, was released after five years of development, and was the last Disney feature to emerge mostly unscathed from the problems of the previous year's studio strike, or the start of WWII. Some considered that Bambi's story (the pastoral peacefulness and unadulterated vision of the natural forest destroyed by Man's cruelty) paralleled the traumatic shock that America felt when its stability and innocence were shattered by the attack on Pearl Harbor in late 1941, and worldwide conflict began against outside hostile forces (the Japanese and the Germans) when men were sent away to die in faraway places.

Although the film project was initiated in 1937 and was planned to be the studio's 2nd feature-length animated film following Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), other films took precedence, including Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940), and Dumbo (1941). After Bambi (1942), it would be another 8 years before Disney would release its next true, feature-length single story-line animation, Cinderella (1950). In the intervening years, the studio created less-expensive compilations:

  • Saludos Amigos (1942) (short)
  • The Three Caballeros (1944)
  • Make Mine Music (1946)
  • Fun & Fancy Free (1947)
  • Melody Time (1948)
  • The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)

In terms of detail and realism, it was one of Disney's most remarkable achievements, but it lacked the fantasy element of other animations. Two live fawns in a small studio zoo were used as models for the young animated creatures, and many of the detailed drawings of the forest were based on photographs taken in the states of Maine and Vermont by Maurice "Jake" Day. The impressionistic background drawings of Tyrus Wong, a Chinese animator who became the film's art director, were also prominently used. This was the first time that backdrops in an animated Disney feature were done with oil paints rather than watercolors. The many gorgeous pastoral backgrounds were reflective of the views of American naturalist John Muir, or of photographer-artist-environmentalist Ansel Adams who memorialized the virgin wilderness in his works of art. No one can argue against the notion that the visuals of nature remained the dominant feature of the film, compared to the sparse and minimal script dialogue that consisted of about 2,000 very simple words (including the song lyrics).

Bambi was not only a charming and simple tale, but also uncompromising, recalling the surprisingly dark themes and scenes of two earlier Disney films: Pinocchio (1940) with its scary "Pleasure Island" sequence, and Dumbo (1941) with alcohol-caused hallucinations in the "Pink Elephants on Parade" sequence, and the capture of Dumbo's mother Mrs. Jumbo. Bambi's thematic subject matter and tone became the basis for Disney's later series of 14 short-documentary nature films known as True-Life Adventures, from 1948-1960 (the best known titles were The Living Desert (1953), The Vanishing Prairie (1954) and White Wilderness (1958)). In particular, the 5th True-Life film about a young female squirrel - Perri (1957) - followed the same basic framework of Bambi and was also based upon Felix Salten's 1938 book of the same name. The soulful, doe-eyed characters in Bambi would also become one of the chief inspirations for anime characters in Japan.

Although Bambi lost money during its initial release in 1942 (the war years severely limited distribution in Europe), future re-releases and re-issues in 1947, 1957, 1966, 1975, 1982, and 1988 (followed by home video releases beginning in 1989) helped to secure its financial viability. With the release of a sequel, Bambi II (2006), it marked another milestone. It became the oldest Disney classic to have a direct-to-video sequel - a world record of 64 years - for the longest gap between film installments.

The legendary film, showing off the revolutionary multiplane camera, followed the life of newborn baby fawn Bambi, a "Little Prince" white-tailed deer born to his unnamed loving mother and distant father - the Great Prince of the Forest. [Note: In the original book, Bambi was a Black Forest roe deer, but since they were not native to Eastern North America, the species was changed by the animators.] The title was derived from the Italian word for 'baby' - bambino. The woodland forest friends of Bambi included Thumper - a cute, chubby-cheeked, pink-nosed gray rabbit, Flower - a shy, black/white striped male skunk (slightly feminized), and the grumpy Owl with a rotating head, and also a flirtatious female fawn named Faline, Bambi's future mate. In real life, it would have been unlikely for the Great Horned Owl and Thumper to harmoniously co-exist peacefully - in the wild, rabbits provide a significant food source for large forest owls.

The maturing of Bambi in this coming-of-age story illustrated the struggles, turmoil, and changes that accompanied the changing of seasons, the passage of time, nature's perpetuation, and life's survival, as he grew up as a character and completed the cycle or arc of life. Initially as a young fawn in the cutest stage, he progressively discovered birds, flowers, butterflies, a thunderstorm and raindrops, the meadow, winter snow and ice, and then as an adolescent, love. As he went through life, Bambi experienced death - the loss of his mother and life in the forest - caused by unnatural outside forces (Man - as a hunter, and Man - who carelessly left a campfire unattended). He fulfilled his destiny as a 'young prince' - and eventually ascended to become the leader of the herd - a magnificent stag or buck - like his father before him.

There were four different voice artists for Bambi at different stages of his life: (1) Baby Bambi (Bobby Stewart), (2) Young Bambi (7 year-old Donnie Dunagan), (3) Adolescent Bambi (Hardie Albright), and (4) Young Adult Bambi (John Sutherland). Multiple voices were also used for Thumper (with three voices, including the incredibly charming voice of 6 year-old Peter Behn), Flower (with three voices including veteran Sterling Holloway), and Faline (two voices). [Note: All voice artists were uncredited on-screen.]

Memorable scenes included Bambi's tentative steps on the surface of an icy pond, the killing of Bambi's mother by an unseen "Man," and the raging forest fire (excerpts were initially used in wildfire prevention campaigns). There was significant criticism of the emotionally-devastating shooting death scene, and some of the resulting side-effects included denouncement of the sport-hunting industry, and the development of animal rights and wildlife conservationist movements. Reportedly, the National Audubon Society compared the film's consciousness-raising power to Harriett Beecher Stowe's 1952 novel Uncle Tom's Cabin that helped galvanize attitudes toward slavery. Others would criticize the animation for its candy-coated, idyllic sentimentalism, its over-simplified and distorted views of nature, and its portrayal of cute talking animals. The long-lasting effects of the film were dubbed "The Bambi Syndrome" by historian Ralph Lutts.

In terms of Academy Awards, it was a three-time nominee with notable nods: Best Sound, Best Original Music Score, and Best Song (Love Is A Song). None of the unremarkable songs in Bambi (none were break-out hits) were sung by the characters, but rather by an off-screen soloist or choir.

In some regards, the short B/W animation Bambi Meets Godzilla (1969) presented a quick, black comedy interpretation of the film's most controversial scene - an idyllic and cute Bambi was grazing and foraging peacefully in a meadow when suddenly, without warning, a gigantic reptilian Godzilla-like foot descended from the sky, squashing the young fawn. The animation's final note, at the moment of the crushing, was from the Beatles' "A Day in the Life" (in the group's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band LP album released in 1967).

Plot Synopsis

Opening Credits:

The opening title credits were set to the Oscar-nominated Best Song: "Love Is A Song" (sung by Donald Novis):

Love is a song that never ends Life may be swift and fleeting
Hope may die, yet love's beautiful music Comes each day like the dawn
Love is a song that never ends One simple theme repeating
Like the voice of a heavenly choir Love's sweet music flows on
Like the voice of a heavenly choir Love's sweet music flows on

Awakening Forest Animals at Dawn:

The story began at dawn with a slow pan from left to right into an idyllic and lyrical setting on an early spring day - there was a verdant dark forest, with a distant waterfall and the sound of chirping birds. A sleepy-eyed, nocturnal old Owl flew to its tree dwelling and yawned as it prepared to sleep. As the camera rose in the tree higher up, a gray squirrel and a smaller chipmunk were just waking up. A mother bird flew to its nest to feed its squawking trio of chicks. A small mouse reached for a drop of dew hanging on a nearby leaf for use as a wake-up face-splash. A young rabbit named Thumper emerged from its hole and scratched its back on a tree trunk.

Exciting News of the Birth of Bambi:

An excited blue bird suddenly arrived to spread news of a momentous occasion - as the forest creatures all perked up and wondered what had happened. Thumper's family, a quail and its line of baby chicks, and other animals rushed to see, while calling for the Owl to wake up as he grumbled: "What now?" Thumper and other siblings told the Owl about the new event: "Wake up. lt's happened. The new prince is born. We're going to see him." The Owl flew after the other creatures (quail, raccoons) to gather around and view the newborn "Little Prince" sleeping by the side of his calm mother doe, and to congratulate her. They watched in amazement as the young fawn opened his eyes for the first time, after his mother urged: "Come on, wake up, we have company." At first, the young fawn was frightened by the surrounding animals, and especially by the loudly-hooting, big-eyed Owl, but then responded with a smile and cute laugh.

Thumper watched as the young newborn attempted to rise up on its tall and spindly legs, keep its balance, and cautiously take a few awkward steps. The precocious rabbit commented on the fawn's instability and stumbling: "Look. He's trying to get up. Kinda wobbly, isn't he?" Thumper's mother scolded the young and cheeky male rabbit as he cowered: "Well, he is." After a few tentative steps, the fawn fell backwards and tiredly yawned back in his resting spot next to his mother. Owl suggested it might be time to leave: "Looks to me like he's getting kind of sleepy. l think it's time we all left." As Thumper was about to leave, he turned and asked the fawn's mother: "Whatcha gonna call him?" She sweetly replied: "Well, l think l'll call him Bambi...My little Bambi!" - to Thumper's satisfaction, before he jumped off after his family. As she snuggled next to her sleeping newborn, the camera pulled back and upward from the brush to reveal Bambi's grand and imposing father with an impressive set of four-point antlers ("The Great Prince of the Forest"), majestically watching out for them and guarding against any harm, from a nearby rocky cliff overlook.

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