Bambi (1942)
Bambi (1942)

Genre: Fairy Tale Running Time: 1 hr. 10 min.

Release Date: August 21st, 1942 MPAA Rating: G

Director: David Hand Actors: Hardie Albright, Peter Behn, Thelma Boardman, Tim Davis, Donnie Dunagan, Sam Edwards, Ann Gillis, Otis Harlan

 


 

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pening with an impressive pan across multiple layers of forest elements (trees, water, background colors poking through, and more), a groggy owl, a snoozing squirrel, and hungry baby birds are just a few of the colorful denizens initially spied in this dense patch of woods. These inhabitants aren’t too different from Disney’s short cartoons, appearing like typical anthropomorphic creatures rather than actual animals. The introduction of newborn Bambi the fawn, however, is a bit better, looking less like an exaggeration than the others – despite his oversized eyes, which are classic components of cute designs.

“The new prince is born!” As Bambi clumsily strolls through the land, familiarizing himself with a wide array of fauna, he meets Thumper the rabbit – an overly vocal, critical fellow, who prods the long-legged youth into exploring, jumping, and speaking English (all while imparting a series of common statements about politeness, reiterating maxims from a father who is never seen). It’s not the most believable progression, but it establishes two parts of a soon-to-be inseparable trio, also including a skunk dubbed Flower. As is also moderately expected from Disney’s feature-length animations, it’s not long before a striking, tragic, and – especially for the younger crowd – traumatic episode occurs. From a child’s perspective, this must surely pose a biting anti-hunting message. “There might be danger.”

Before the unforgettable incident in a snowy clearing, there’s plenty of time for frolicking and playing in the meadow and on a frozen lake – and for Bambi to meet his perfect doe counterpart, Faline. The seasons come and go and the notion of humankind – the ultimate enemy – is floated. But it’s the roar of a rifle, separating Bambi from his mother as they flee into the thicket, that remains more haunting than the abundance of mirthfulness before it. Little is shown surrounding this cataclysm, but the concept is potent, and regularly the most talked-about piece of this woodland epic.

Not much singing is conducted by the characters themselves, though there are choral arrangements running in the background, over the top of various events – such as an April shower and the dawn of a new spring. These sequences, along with animals and items of nature moving rhythmically to the clash of cymbals or the blasts of trumpets, remind of “Fantasia” – perhaps the greatest example of music merged with animation. Clearly, the orchestral soundtrack is a significant ingredient, used to set the mood, foreshadow, or heighten emotions.

With its limited dialogue, “Bambi” succeeds in telling a moving story predominantly through imagery. And some of these artistic sequences are exceptional – from a scene in which leaves fall into a stream, causing ripples in a reflection, to the grumpy owl seeing double (or quintuple) after his vision is rattled. Even the moment when adult Thumper spies a voluptuous female bunny is impressive in its highly comical composition – mirrored by Flower’s romantic interest as well as Bambi’s daydream about Faline (during an extended segment demonstrating the effects of being twitterpated – a whimsical term that didn’t survive, despite its use in an enduring Disney production). Chronicling the life cycle of a deer is simple, yet this simplicity is key to “Bambi’s” allure; from the darker brushes with death to the cheeriness of love to the adventurous flight from a raging fire (again, the result of amoral man) to a heartwarming union, this complete journey is full of poignancy, excitement, and considerable satisfaction.

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10