Each week, THN takes a look back at one of the Walt Disney Animated Classics. The ones that the Walt Disney Company showed in cinemas, the ones they’re most proud of, the ones that still cost a bloody fortune no matter how old they are. The really good ones get through more editions than the Star Wars trilogy, and that’s saying something.
This week it’s time to die of adorability with BAMBI.
Directed by James Algar, Samuel Armstrong, David Hand, Graham Heid, Bill Roberts, Paul Satterfield, and Norman Wright
Box Office: $267,447,150
The world was at war. A second world war. And you better believe that times were tough. Amidst all the death and destruction even cartoon deer couldn’t help being bombs at the box-office. Walt Disney picked up the rights to the 1923 Austrian novel, Bambi: A Life In The Woods by Felix Salten, after Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer decided to abandon plans for an ambitious live-action version. Originally intended to be Disney’s second feature length animated film, BAMBI has to wait its turn as writers struggled with the adult themes of the book and the fact that deer were a bitch to animate.
SYNOPSIS: We’re taken through a dark and cold forest. Mysterious as it is, we are gradually brought into the world of small and cute creatures. IT’S SPRING! And that means adorable liddle baby animals are polluting the silence with happy songs. It is soon announced that a great prince has been born and, in what will probably happen at the birth of William and Kate’s child, all the commoners rush over to give their congratulations. It’s not quite the soiree put on by the likes of Mufasa in Africa, but it’s a gentle little arrival. The (forever unnamed) mother names her child BAMBI, because that will strike fear in the hearts of the invading nations. If deer did invade other nations that is.
As Bambi grows up, he becomes friends with a precocious little go getter named Thumper. Thumper is a fantastic creation of how to handle such a boisterous character without becoming an annoying little bugger. Should have cast him in HOME ALONE and JINGLE ALL THE WAY. Bambi learns to walk and talk in some of the cutest scenes ever created. As Bambi gets a bit older, he learns about the meadow and the evil unseen entity known as Man. After an initial attack, Bambi and his mother survive, but the next time Bambi’s mother isn’t so lucky. She dies off-screen, and there isn’t even a hint at a burial, but Bambi’s (absent until this point ) father turns up to take some damn responsibility and raise his son. This story arc is covered in the surprisingly decent mid-quel, BAMBI II.
Finally in his adolescence, Bambi rejoins forces with Thumper and effeminate skunk, Flower. But not all is well as Old Owl warns the trio that they are going to become “twitterpated”, which means they’re gonna start thinking with their dicks. Sure enough Bambi becomes infatuated with Faline and has to prove his worth by beating ten shades of excrement out of a rival male, because that’s how us men sort out our problems. ROAR! It goes from bad to worse when Man returns to the forest with a bunch of dogs and a camp fire that gets out of control.
We see Bambi go from birth to fully fledged action hero. The John McClane of the forest. Seeing Bambi overcome obstacles such as walking, ice-skating, winning the favour of some damn fine Deer honeys, and challenging fellow suitors. Best of all though, he overcomes the death of his mother and becomes a strong and brave leader, instead of a whiny little pansy. He turns, what could have been an X-Factor sob story, into real motivational drive.
Flower the skunk…wait…what? Flower’s a dude? Oh man! Well then, that leaves us with Bambi’s mother who does a good job raising her son and giving the ultimate sacrifice, or Bambi’s future suitor Faline. You have to wonder if she would have stayed with Bambi if he’d had his arse handed to him by Ronno.
MAN! Man is the villain here, you disgusting and cruel shit. Brilliantly kept off-screen, humanity was forced to make their own face of evil, and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a huge mirror. There’s a little bit of antagonism from Ronno, another male deer that wishes to get frisky with Faline, and then there’s the vicious wildfire that proves that nature and man are just as bad as each other. Even if man did kind of start it.
THEIR FATE? Man ends up visiting the cinema and watching his heartless acts unfold on the big screen. Or perhaps it isn’t that simple. In the original script for WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT it was revealed that undercover toon Judge Doom had killed Bambi’s mother. So perhaps we’re off the hook. Judge Doom was melted by his own Dip.
We get the adorably obnoxious Thumper who helps Bambi to walk, as well as support him throughout those difficult adolescent years. He’s the Barney Stinson to Bambi’s Ted Moseby. We also have Flower, an ironically named skunk, whose sexual preference comes under question with his flirtatious delivery of the line “He can call me a flower if he wants to.” The trio of friendship on display here is beautiful, and none of the characters are disposable ‘comedic’ slosh that would later become a staple of the Disney film diet.
Not so much a plot, as just generally growing up and realising that life can be cute and adorable one minute, and then filled with pain the next. It’s pretty much The Circle Of Life, but without someone coming right out and saying it.
Most laughs come in the form of a chuckle followed by an “AAAAAAWWWWW” at how damn cute everything is. The big ones are all courtesy of Thumper and his recollection of his father’s rules.
Plenty of scares as Bambi and his mother run for their lives. The encroaching fire that brings meaningless destruction, and of course the fact that life is very fragile is something that should scare you damn kids. Also Old Owl’s bizarre facial lunges towards the screen would be pant-wetting were they in 3D.
Well, hopefully not everything that applies to deer applies to humans, but there is certainly a lot to take in here. Love the ones you’re with while you have the chance, and when they do eventually start pushing up the daisies don’t just give up, but become the best that you can be. Single parent families CAN work, as the mother raises Bambi and then the father takes on the responsibility, and not once do we see Bambi turning to drugs, drinking cider on the streets, or giving handjobs to men in public toilets.
This was at a time when the music often took over from sound effects, creating adorable little montages. The score received an Academy Award, however, I was never a fan of ‘Little April Shower’ and would always skip it when playing my Best Of Disney tape. The opening song also sounds far too outdated. Where are the Elton Johns and Phil Collins when you need them?
Well, I once named my own rabbit after Thumper. It also set in place the mature themes that would grace all woodland/animal tales to come. THE LION KING, THE FOX AND THE HOUND, BROTHER BEAR, all owe something to BAMBI, and that’s just the stuff in Disney’s own catalogue. I highly doubt THE ANIMALS OF FARTHING WOOD would exist without a bit of BAMBI.
FINAL SCORE 45/53
(By about March we should have enough movies on this list to bother with a scoreboard.)
Any thoughts, questions, complaints? As the Candlestick said, ‘Be our guest’.