Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.” (This article was originally posted on the Disqus site.)
Directed by: Supervising director David Hand
A doe gives birth to a fawn named Bambi, who will one day take over the position of Great Prince of the Forest, a title currently held by Bambi’s father. The fawn is quickly befriended by an eager, energetic rabbit named Thumper, who helps to teach him to walk and speak. He soon makes other friends, including a young skunk named Flower and a female fawn named Faline.
One day out in a meadow, Bambi briefly sees The Great Prince but does not realize that he is his father. As the great prince wanders uphill, he discovers the human hunter named “Man” by all the animals is coming and rushes down to the meadow to get everyone to safety.
During Bambi’s first winter, he and Thumper play in the snow while Flower hibernates. One day his mother takes him along to find food, when Man shows up again. As they escape his mother is shot and killed by the hunter. Taking pity on his abandoned son, the Great Prince leads Bambi home as he reveals to him that he is his father.
Years later, Bambi has matured into a young stag, and his childhood friends have entered young adulthood as well. They are warned of “twitterpation” by Friend Owl and Thumper and Flower soon both encounter their beautiful romantic counterparts. Bambi encounters Faline as a beautiful doe. However, their courtship is challenged by a belligerent older stag named Ronno, who attempts to force Faline away from Bambi. Bambi successfully manages to defeat Ronno in battle .
Bambi is warned by his father that Man has returned with more hunters. The two flee to safety. He finds Faline cornered by Man’s vicious hunting dogs, which he manages to ward off. They all manage to reach shelter on a riverbank. The following spring, Faline gives birth to twins under Bambi’s watchful eye as the new Great Prince of the Forest.
Source Material: Bambi, A Life in the Woods by Austrian author Felix Salten. For the movie, Disney took the liberty of changing Bambi’s species into a white-tailed deer from his original species of roe deer, since roe deer are not native to North America, and the white-tailed deer is more widespread in the United States.
Background: 1933, Sidney Franklin, a producer and director at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, purchased the film rights to Felix Salten’s novel Bambi, A Life in the Woods, intending to adapt it as a live-action film. After years of experimentation, he eventually decided that it would be too difficult to make such a film and he sold the film rights to Walt Disney in April 1937.
Walt was eager to capitalize on the momentum Snow White, intending it to be the second film released, but Bambi needed a more delicate hand, so he kept the film in development and promoted first Pinocchio and then Fantasia to be released before Bambi.
The script went through many changes. One of the biggest issues was how to show the death of Bambi’s mother. Would we see the mother’s body or her being shot? Walt ultimately decided to not show the moment of her death but instead show Bambi searching for her. In 1938, Disney assigned Perce Pearce and Carl Fallberg to work on the film’s storyboards, and on August 17, 1939, production on Bambi began in earnest.
Animation: Walt wanted the animals in Bambi to be more realistic and expressive than those in Snow White. He had Rico LeBrun, a painter of animals, come and lecture to the animators on the structure and movement of animals. The animators visited the Los Angeles Zoo and Disney set up a small zoo at the studio with animals such as rabbits, ducks, owls, and skunks, and a pair of fawns named Bambi and Faline.
However, the characters had to be slightly anthropomorphic, otherwise they lacked relatable emotions. Marc Davis created the final design of Bambi by incorporating LeBurn’s realistic study of deer anatomy but exaggerating the character’s face by making his proportions slightly cartoonish. Other such moments included Thumper and Flower’s interaction with their females. Actress Jane Randolph and Ice Capades star Donna Atwood acted as live-action references for the scene where Bambi and Thumper are on the icy pond.
The backgrounds for the film were inspired by the Eastern American woodlands. Tyrus Wong’s backgrounds were revolutionary since they had more detail around the center and less around the edges, thus leading a viewer’s eye to the characters.
The fight between Bambi and Ronno is shown in backlit silhouette. The fire sequence is particularly intense.
Sterling Holloway returns Young Adult Flower
Character actor Will Wright who appeared in several Westerns as Friend Owl
Otis Harlan appears in his final role as Mr. Mole
Critical Reception: Bambi lost money at the box office for its first release; out of its $1.7 million budget, it only grossed back $1.64 million. The film received three Academy Award nominations: Best Sound (Sam Slyfield), Best Song (for “Love Is a Song” sung by Donald Novis) and Original Music Score.
Some of the harshest criticism came from hunter. Raymond J. Brown, editor of Outdoor Life , wrote that the movie was the “worst insult ever offered to American sportsman and conservationists. ” Today, however, Bambi is viewed as a classic and recouped a considerable amount during the 1947 re-release and subsequent re-issues. English film historian Leslie Halliwell wrote that Bambi was “one of Disney’s most memorable and brilliant achievements with a great comic character in Thumper and a climactic forest fire sequence that is genuinely thrilling”.
Legacy : Bambi and pals don’t have much of a presence in the parks, although a topiary of Bambi, Thumper, and Flower appears at Epcot during the annual Flower and Garden Show. Soon after the film’s release, Walt Disney allowed his characters to appear in fire prevention public service campaigns. However, Bambi was only loaned to the government for a year, so a new symbol was needed, leading to the creation of Smokey Bear.
Sequel: Direct to video release Bambi II takes place in the middle of the original film after his mother’s death. It stars Patrick Stewart as the Great Prince.
Next: Disney heads to South America for Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros