Directed by David Hand (supervisor)
Two years in the life of the mule deer Bambi, from birth, through adolescence with his friends Thumper and Flower, the death of his mother to human hunters, young love, and eventually a great forest fire and the birth of his own children.
Bambi was originally intended to be Disney’s second animated feature, after Snow White. However, the original novel that it was based on was a dark one, written for an adult audience, and it required significant plot reworking to make it appropriate for children. With this, and the fact that the animators had a hard time animating realistic deer, the movie kept getting pushed back more and more, eventually coming out almost five years after production had begun. Because of this protracted production schedule, Bambi was massively over-budget, and they ended up having to cut over 10 minutes out of the film before final animation was done to lower costs. Even with this cut, the movie still didn’t make a profit until it was re-released after WWII. It didn’t help that for once the critics didn’t actually like the movie, and sporting and hunting magazines actively waged a campaign against it (one called it “the worst insult ever offered in any form to American sportsmen”).
Of the movies that I’ve reviewed so far for this project, both Disney and nostalgic, this is the one that I remembered the least. I’m sure that I watched it at some point as a kid, but I can’t consciously remember having seen it since I was at least a teenager. There were large chunks of this movie that I had absolutely no memory of at all, so I’m pretty much approaching this review blind. I knew about the death of Bambi’s mother, and the fire at the end, but that’s about it.
Overall, I enjoyed the experience, but not quite enough to wax rhapsodic about the movie like most modern-day critics do. I think part of the problem I’ve been having with the last couple movies is that I grew up with the Disney Renaissance movies, all of which were very heavily story-driven. These more episodic early movies just aren’t holding my attention quite as much, despite being wonderful to look at.
Now, one thing I do know is that I definitely enjoyed Bambi more than I did Dumbo. Unlike that movie, which had an entirely silent protagonist and an overabundance of cruelty, Bambi is very sweet and charming. Bambi actually has a personality, though his timid nature is frequently overshadowed by the excitable Thumper (who completely steals the show, in my opinion). In fact, in a complete one-eighty from Dumbo, I don’t think there’s an animal character I didn’t like in this one.
The animation is simply gorgeous. It’s clear that all of the time that the animators spent perfecting realistic animal movements paid off. While Pinocchio might have the best detail and compositions of Disney’s early films, I think that Bambi has its best use of color, from the pastels of the spring sequence to the vivid reds and oranges of the forest fire at the end. Unfortunately, with Disney’s financial woes this sort of impressive visuals would soon become a thing of the past.
If there is one aspect where Bambi definitely drops the ball, it’s the music. Unlike all of the previous movies, there wasn’t a single song here that stood out to me at all. I wouldn’t even be able to hum a tune from it if you asked me to. Even Dumbo had “Pink Elephants” and “When I See an Elephant Fly.” Ironically, Bambi was actually nominated for both Best Score and Best Song at the Oscars that year. It lost to the score from Now Voyager and the classic Christmas song “White Christmas,” respectively.
Finally, I want to talk about the famous death of Bambi’s mother. I knew it was coming, of course, so it didn’t get particularly dusty in the room or anything. However, I do think it’s a very effective scene. They showed a lot of restraint in not depicting her body (compare the scene to Mustafa’s death, for example), instead choosing to focus on Bambi, alone and calling for his mother, not aware of what the audience knows has occurred. I was surprised that it came at the halfway point of the movie, however. I’d always had her death and the climactic fire linked in my mind, and had assumed that all of the scenes with the human hunters came at once, near the end.
Overall, Bambi was a bit too slow and episodic for my personal tastes. However, it was definitely a significant step up from Dumbo, and I can see the impact that it would have had on younger audiences who grew up with it more than I did. And all of the animal animation is wonderful, the best attempt yet at portraying realistic, non-“cartoony” animals in animation. I just wish there’d been a little more meat on the story’s bones.
Animation: A (some of the best-looking nature animation to come out of the studio)
Main Characters: B (Bambi is a little timid, but definitely a step up from Dumbo)
Supporting Characters: A- (Thumper pretty much steals the movie)
Villains: C+ (some lists put “Man” as one of the best Disney villains, but I don’t buy it. Sure, the death of Bambi’s mother is one of the most impactful deaths in the canon, but you neither see the death itself or her killer. It’s more an abstract force of nature than a real, tangible villain)
Music: C- (it’s kinda just there, and I can’t remember any of the songs or the score)