#429) Bambi (1942)

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#429) Bambi (1942)

OR “So Deer to My Heart”

Directed by David Hand (but as always, this is Walt Disney’s show)

Written by Perce Pearce and Larry Morey. Based on the novel “Bambi, a Life in the Woods” by Felix Salten.

Class of 2011

The Plot: Bambi (voiced by Donnie Dunagan) is a newborn deer who will one day succeed his father (voiced by Fred Shields) as the Great Prince of the Forest. We watch Bambi as he grows up, learns about the world from his mother (voiced by Paula Winslowe), and becomes friends with Thumper the Rabbit and Flower the Skunk (voiced respectively by Peter Behn and Stan Alexander). But Bambi is also made aware of the looming threat of Man, and if you don’t know where this is going, I welcome you to our planet.

Why It Matters: The NFR praises the film’s “beautiful images”, “iconic characters and moments”, and “emotional power”. There’s also an essay by Disney expert and environmentalist John Wills.

But Does It Really?: “Bambi” tends to get lost in the shuffle of Disney classics (no magic or catchy songs to be found), but is definitely worthy of its place as top-tier Disney. Like “Fantasia”, Walt is pushing the animated medium beyond cartoons and towards more creative forms of realism, and his animators are clearly relishing the opportunity. “The Lion King” may be my generation’s definitive “animal coming-of-age” movie, but “Bambi” still holds a special place in our popular culture to warrant NFR inclusion.

Everybody Gets One: Voice credits for “Bambi” are a bit sketchy, but we know the young prince himself was voiced by at least three actors: child actor Donnie Dunagan (who kept his participation in the film quiet when he joined the Marines), actor Hardie Albright, and possibly producer John Sutherland, who claimed to have voiced adult Bambi. Sutherland was married to Paula Winslowe – the voice of Bambi’s mother!

Seriously, Oscars?: While “Bambi” suffered at the box office due to WWII, it still managed to receive three Oscar nominations. It lost all three bids to more worthy contenders: Sound to “Yankee Doodle Dandy”, Original Score to Max Steiner’s “Now, Voyager” composition, and Original Song (for “Love is a Song”) to “White Christmas” from “Holiday Inn”.

Other notes

  • MGM producer Sidney Franklin gets a shoutout in the opening credits. Franklin had purchased the film rights to “Bambi” before the book was published, but couldn’t translate the film to live-action, and sold the rights to Disney.
  • The original novel is much darker in tone, and believe it or not Disney actually did lighten things up. The major change was the addition of Thumper and Flower, who do not appear in the novel.
  • In a push for realism, Walt brought in actual deer to the studios for his animators to study. The depiction of animal behavior in “Bambi” is very close to the real thing, aside from the obvious animated liberties (more human expression, the ability to talk, etc.). This attention to detail caused the film’s production to be delayed for three years!
  • Revolutionary for 1942: casting actual children to voice the younger characters. At times “Bambi” sounds like a Charlie Brown special.
  • Wow, Bambi gives Flower a major identity crisis during their first meeting. Didn’t he have a name before meeting Bambi? And where are his parents?
  • “Little April Shower” is the closest this film has to a memorable song. Also, a reminder that every drop in that scene is drawn by hand.
  • I do not recall Thumper being this annoying.
  • Perhaps the film’s best decision: Man is never seen on screen. In a bold step for environmentalism on film, the hunter is not some cartoon stereotype an audience can dismiss; his anonymity forces the viewer to reflect on their own treatment of animals. Needless to say, real-life hunters hated this movie upon its release.
  • The ice skating sequence is always a highlight, and may be the first known iteration of “Disney on Ice”.
  • For the record: Skunks don’t hibernate. Yes, they tend to be inactive in the winter (and live off of their stored fat), but they don’t hibernate as seen in this movie.
  • Am I a bad person because I didn’t cry when Bambi’s mother died? I was touched by it (it’s the innocent line reading of “Mother?”), but it didn’t move me to actual tears. I was surprised too.
  • The “Twitterpated” sequence is definitely the film’s most cartoonish. The detailed realism takes a break in favor of some squash-and-stretch slapstick. Someone fell asleep at the wheel.
  • For those of you keeping count; Number of NFR entries with Lauren Bacall: 1. Number of NFR entries with Sterling Holloway: 5.
  • I appreciate that the hunting dogs avoid the standard movie henchmen cliché and attack Bambi more than one at a time.
  • The forest fire sequence is all the proof you need that humans are indeed the worst. Where’s Smokey the Bear when you need him?
  • I need the Great Prince’s repeated plea of “Get up!” as my alarm tone.
  • Welp, Circle of Life, I guess.

Legacy

  • While not a critical or commercial success upon its initial release, a 1947 re-release led to some serious re-evaluations, and “Bambi” has remained a classic ever since. Walt repeatedly called it his favorite out of all his features.
  • Disney would make two movies based on Felix Salten’s other work: 1957’s “Perri” and 1959’s “The Shaggy Dog”.
  • Because of its plentiful wildlife animation, Bambi and his forest friends tended to get recycled quite a bit when Disney was cost-cutting their animation process.
  • Like a lone deer in the meadow, “Bambi” and its inherent sweetness leaves itself wide open to darker parodies. We’ll stick with “Bambi Meets Godzilla” for now.
  • Even a classic like “Bambi” was not immune to the direct-to-video sequel phase of the 90s/00s. 2006’s “Bambi II” was a midquel, focusing on The Great Prince raising Bambi after his mother’s death. It means well, but it’s no “Bambi 2002”.
  • Oh good, “Bambi” is getting one of those CGI “live-action” remakes that Disney is so fond of these days.
  • My favorite bit of this film’s legacy: Anytime a Disney employee needed to alert their co-workers that Walt was coming, they would simply say, “Man is in the forest.”

Further Viewing: This seems like a good time to recommend “Frank & Ollie”, a wonderful documentary about the inspiring animation/life-long friendship of Disney animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. No school like the old school.

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