Like Dumbo before it, Bambi was another Disney movie that I never really cared for, but also like Dumbo, it is a movie I appreciate a lot more as an adult. For starters, the animation style is unique for its time and astoundingly beautiful. It was intentionally drawn to look more natural and it clearly shows. From the fluid motions of the deer, to the startling harshness of the forest fire to the impressive water effects during the thunderstorm, every brushstroke is lovingly rendered and masterfully splashed across the screen. Yet the picture never feels to crowded and the minimalism only adds to the sense of realism in its woodsy setting.
It is Walt Disney’s first of many coming-of-age stories, in which we see a main character go from infancy to childhood to finally adulthood. There are many similarities to another coming-of-age Disney story, one about a leonine royal, but while that one has more instances of soul-searching and lessons learned, this one is more straightforward. Both involve the loss of a parent early on in the story and both have the two love interests as childhood friends who reunite when they are older.
In Bambi’s case, the parent lost is his mother, another character who, though unnamed like Mrs. Jumbo in Dumbo, I like very much. She is graceful and polite, as one would expect a doe to be, but she is also playful with her young son and fiercely protective of him when the need arises. Her passing can be a traumatic moment for young viewers, especially given that it is offscreen and there is no real closure for young Bambi, and in an oddly bipolar moment, the grim scene goes directly to a cheerful springtime song, which is rather jolting. As for Bambi’s dad, the Great Prince of the Forest, while more aloof than say Mufasa, he comes through as a father when his son needs him, and his regal presence is welcome.
Bambi himself doesn’t really develop much as a character. He simply goes through the motions of being a deer. That doesn’t necessarily make him unlikeable, just rather boring. More entertaining are his friends, the precociously outspoken and aptly named rabbit, Thumper, whose maxim, “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all,” is probably a staple in many household, and the less aptly named skunk, Flower, whose fondness for his namesake makes him almost a precursor to Ferdinand the Bull. Then, of course you have Friend Owl, whose laugh-out-loud explanation of being ‘twitter-pated’ or falling in love is a classic to this day and when Thumper and Flower actually do get ‘twitter-pated’, it’s Looney Tunes style cartoon hilarity at its finest. Bambi’s ‘twitterpation’ with childhood friend, Faline, is more romantically straightforward. Also, as part of the more natural approach to his story, he has to fight a rival buck for the right to court her, a nice touch and an intense scene.
Equally intense is the arrival of one of film history’s most insidious villains, MAN. I like that you never actually see MAN, but his presence is well-known to and feared by all the woodland creatures, who instinctively flee when they sense him. There is a message here about dealing with nature responsibly: the devastating forest fire that is the film’s climax is clearly caused by MAN’s irresponsibility and the fact that they were willing to shoot a doe with a spotted fawn (meaning it was young enough to still be reliant on its mother) shows they weren’t responsible hunters either, at least to my understanding. However, that may be the most one could glean from Bambi in terms of any sort of moral. As I said before, the story is more involved in depicting a deer’s life cycle in a forest than actually developing that deer as a character who actually learns things.
So, in the end, while Bambi the deer may not be particularly interesting and there aren’t too many big lessons or moral statements here, Bambi the movie is still a good watch, for its memorable humor and side characters, for its beauty in animation, and for its simple, natural-flowing storytelling, which is engaging, charming and ultimately worth fawning over.
Alternatives: there are none, as far as I know. I think ‘Bambi’ stands on its own in Disney movie history, although they did follow it up in 2006 with a direct-to-video sequel, Bambi II – not a bad film as far as Disney sequels go, giving a closer look to young Bambi’s relationship with his father.