Ah, Bambi. The movie that started this whole project. I was super excited to watch this, since it looks beautiful and I’m tired of being berated for having never seen it (why yes, I am talking about my husband, however did you know?). I had high expectations for Bambi, which is both a classic and iconic. Usually when I have such high expectations, nothing can live up to them.
Bambi did. The problem with Bambi being a classic is that everyone knows that his mom dies. I thought it happened in the first five minutes. Guess what? It doesn’t. So when Bambi excitedly runs into the meadow and Mom jumps in front of him to stop him, I thought for sure she was going to get it. I also thought she was going to get it when she and Bambi get separated in the same scene. And again, and again, and again. I felt like I was watching a scary movie, I was so in suspense of when it would happen.
Then, finally, I relaxed. It’s winter, they’re hanging out, having some quality Mom-and-Bambi time. Then grass starts growing, I feel hopeful. And it’s then, when I least expect it and love her most, that she gets it.
It’s just not fair. I know, a four year old would say that. But you know what? It’s true. And watching little Bambi run through the woods frantically, calling out for his mother, is quite possibly the most heartbreaking image of the film. It’s just as bad as Simba cuddling with Mufasa after the stampede. It’s this image of a child who has lost a parent but can’t bear to let them go, they can’t admit that parent is really gone.
The animators for Lion King must have watched Bambi while they were working on it. There are certain scenes that just correlate too much—the young stags prancing around the meadow, in sync and disregarding what little ones may be in their path are a mirror image of the stampede, with Simba running to get out of the way. The mood is completely different in the two scenes, but the images definitely correlate (and yes, I remember from psychology: correlation does not equal causation. But for real, this is super-correlation).
While Bambi is a timeless story, which is part of what makes it classic, parts of it clearly identify it as distinctly 1940’s American. Some of the music, particularly the Spring song preceding the twitterpated section (who could not love a film that uses the word twitterpated?!), is very 40’s. I love it. I love the 40’s and 50’s, and having that culture be a part of this forest-centric film was a reminder of the people who made it.
Bambi was the second film Disney started production-wise and the 5th animated feature released. It took nine years to complete. That thoroughness and attention to detail shows. It’s a spectacular film. It’s certainly my favorite of the older films so far. The watercolor backgrounds are beautiful but don’t distract from the characters. In story meetings, Walt discussed how sometimes the plot gets in the way of the characters, saying the characters should lead the story and not the other way around. It makes sense, and it’s why his films are so special. He also addressed failures straight-on and didn’t tiptoe around them. In the story meetings available in the special features section on Bambi, there are a lot of references to Pinocchio. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who didn’t like it. Walt himself didn’t like the character of Pinocchio, and that’s how Jiminy Cricket was born, to make Pinocchio more likeable. There’s a distinct shift in the Disney method from making the backgrounds and environment as real as possible to making it the best for the story.
The more I learn about Walt, the more I admire and respect him. He was constantly moving animators around, making sure their talents were both recognized and continually challenging them. He paired weaker animators with stronger ones in order to help both of them. He hand-chose who worked on what piece, and who in that group worked on which character. The amount of time and attention to detail Walt had…well, it’s just plain amazing.
Part of what makes Bambi such a special character is that we see him grow so much throughout the film. He starts off not knowing really much of anything, and he always needs a little help. He’s constantly running into new, strange situations that he doesn’t know how to deal with. That’s relatable. Although, I have to say it, when he’s fighting for Faline? He looks like he’s losing pretty much the whole time. And then he wins, and my only thought was, How on Earth did he win? Wasn’t he losing? I’m glad he won, don’t get me wrong. But I just couldn’t see the connection.
The advances in animation are continually astounding with each film. From the lightning at the beginning to the repeated use of reflection and water, it’s just amazing. This world they’ve created feels more real than the actual real world. It makes you want to believe all these animals are actually friends. And the music—oh my goodness the music! It was amazing. The use of music and how when you heard the hunter’s theme, you immediately felt fearful without really consciously knowing why. It was just amazing. It was beautiful in so many ways.
I didn’t so much like the lack of involvement on the Stag’s part in the beginning, or the implied lack of involvement on Bambi’s part at the end. I’ve encountered deer in the wild, and it was a little family. It was kind of an odd experience and one I’d forgotten about, despite how special it was, simply because it was so long ago.
I was living in Indiana in a new development. When we first moved into the house, ours was the only house on the street for about a block. There was a big open park across the road with a trail through the woods and plans for a playground. A middle school, one I would attend later on, sat on the other side of the park. One day when I was 12 or 13, I got into a fight with my parents or a friend, I can’t really recall, and went for a walk. I walked off the trail, into the woods and behind the school. I found a little clearing, maybe five feet wide by ten feet long. I sat down in the grass, crying and feeling sorry for my pre-teen/teen self. I made a little circle around me out of sticks, like Sarah Crewe does in A Little Princess with chalk when she wants to feel safe. I wasn’t frightened; I just always wanted to feel like I was in a movie.
I was pleased with my little stick-circle when a small spider approached and then turned back instead of crawling over the sticks. I heard a rustling noise and looked around but didn’t see anything. Then a little baby deer stepped out of the woods and into the clearing. The mother followed. I sat completely still, not wanting to frighten them. They walked closer to me, obviously curious and realizing I wasn’t dangerous, and I continued to sit still and watch them. I may have whispered a, “Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you—I’m a vegetarian.” Then got within a few feet of me and stopped. I stared, they stared. They were beautiful. Then a big male deer appeared at the edge of the clearing, his antlers big and pretty but not quite as big or pretty as the Stag’s in Bambi (which I know now but didn’t know then). He huffed at them, walked a few steps into the meadow, looked at me. The mother dear and fawn walked toward him and they all retreated back into the woods.
I sat there frozen, in awe. I had never been that close to deer before. The only time I have since was in a controlled environment at the Reindeer Farm in Palmer, Alaska. We got to feed and pet baby reindeer and big reindeer alike and it was amazing. We’ll probably go there twice a year as long as we live here because we love it so much. Or because I love it so much.
As I thought about Bambi and how much I loved it, I remembered that encounter. And I felt a little better, knowing that in the wild Bambi would stay with his little family. Or at least if he lived in Indiana, he would.
It’s hard to top Bambi—I’ve seen Chicken Little and know it won’t, I even feel a little bad for it for having to follow Bambi. But, so is life.