Director: David Hand
Cast: John Sutherland, Paula Winslowe, Sam Edwards, Ann Gillis, Donnie Dunagan, Peter Behn
Plot: Bambi chronicles the life of the eponymous hero as he goes through childhood, puberty and the transformation into the Prince of the Forest.
If you had to summarise Bambi in one word, it would be adorable. Of course, it is impossible to reduce an animated masterpiece like Bambi into a single word, but adorable is probably the one that swims to the forefront of your mind, whenever you treat yourself to the mesmerising world of one of Walt Disney’s most powerful creations. After two successful animated features, both Disney and Hand come to the conclusion that their strong suit are the anthropomorphic animals, especially with Snow White’s background of lively critters that instantly stuck in the memory. Therefore, Bambi abandons a human cast completely and goes with a wide range of woodland creatures as the leads in this movie. Even when we aren’t focusing on the three heroes, Bambi, Thumper and Flower, other animals are dancing into the spotlight. Birds, moles, owls and squirrels are but a few other characters that get moments to shine, certain gags being the extent of their appearance in the movie, yet somehow being memorable additions to any animal-loving children. The animation is beyond spectacular this time around. The key thing that makes Bambi such an aesthetic treat is the way the animators blur the background of the piece, so the foreground, namely the characters and objects they interact with, are clearer. It creates a dreamy feel to the movie, as well as the idea that the background is seemingly endless. There is too much detail to focus on if you like. Just like the other movies we have already seen from Disney, it is easy to pause a frame and just get lost in the magic of the moment.
Of course, there is one moment that will always take precedence in Bambi. Yes, this is the film that gave us one of the most traumatic deaths in children’s cinema. Watching back with the knowledge that Bambi’s mother is about to bite the bullet makes the movie a little more thrilling a watch. If you are like me and cannot quite remember when in the movie she is written off, every scene is a potential shocker. You are always aware of how fragile deer are as an animal. Bambi spends his early months stumbling around the forest, clumsily. When exposed in the beautiful yet dangerous meadow, you cannot help but expect a gunshot to ring out at any moment. A scene where Bambi’s mother checks to see if the coast is clear is a real nail-biter. The atmosphere is perfect, some movie fans finding comparisons between the theme music for Man and Jaws, both sharing a minimal amount of notes, yet symbolising great danger. And when the horrific death does happen, older audiences might find themselves not only saddened, but amazed at the cinematography and cleverness of the moment. Everything about the scene is expertly precise from the several scene’s worth of build-up, the sudden ‘did that just happen?’ kill and, even more heart-breaking in my books, the aftermath, as Bambi struggles to come to terms with the fact that his mother has passed away. It is easy to see why this one moment is so resonant.
Bambi has an added kick today for us British, as there are rumours of the fox-hunting ban being lifted. Walt Disney is very clever on his depiction of Man in Bambi. There is never any moment where he turns to the audience and spells out that Man is bad. In fact, as far as the dialogue actually telling us that Man has an adverse effect on nature goes, it is pretty much just the way the woodland animals, especially the chief Deer of the Forest, spits the word ‘Man’. Disney understands that their actions in the movie are more than enough to convey his message to the audience. The most shocking thing about Man’s involvement in the plot to Bambi, is the fact that they are never present. They are represented by gunshots, camps in the distance and, in a late scene that rivals Bambi’s mother for nail-biting dread, carnivorous hunting dogs. For a movie villain, they are very passive in their malice. The message is clear: they are disastrous to the characters of the movie yet they don’t have the grace to acknowledge it. Maybe Disney is suggesting that we are ignorant to the damage we cause. A forest fire to send off the film, accidentally caused by the hunters, hammers this point home. In an original script, this fire killed the villains, but Disney changed their fate to a more ambiguous ending. They could still be out there, symbolising Man in general, of course, which makes Bambi’s plight all the more engaging. Watch this movie and try to stick up for fox-hunting. I dare you!
Final Verdict: One of the finest Disney animations, perfecting the beauty and cuteness we expect from a Disney picture, but also achieving a sense of danger, tension and social commentary.