Disney By the Numbers: Bambi (1941)

One Man, One Woman, Eight Decades of Disney Animated Features watched in order, and the overly complex system they invented to grade them. These are our thoughts, rants, and observations.

This is Disney by the Numbers.


 

bambi

 

One Saturday morning when I was a kid, I sat on the floor participating in the weekly ritual all kids my age did, eating a bowl of cereal while watching cartoons. I didn’t particularly care or like the cartoon that was playing, I just watched it because it was on before the cartoon I actually liked.

Then, my older sister came in and put in a VHS of The Fiddler on the Roof I protested of course but her rebuttal trumped anything I could say. She sat on my back and forced me to watch along with her. Needless to say, I didn’t really get much out of that viewing.

Years later, I rewatched the musical and something funny happened. I found that I loved it! As a kid I never appreciated the bits of acting, the clever dialogue, the music, or the overall tone and theme.

During this rewatch of Disney movies I’ve had a similar experience. Except for the being pressed into the carpet and being forced to watch these against my will.

bambidinosaur
Though some have felt like it.

Not only with Bambi, but others as well, I’ve found that films I didn’t care for as a kid grew on me much more once I was old enough to appreciate different aspects of film. Strange how things change when you’re metric for judgment is no longer how awesome the lasers are. The young me would have scored Bambi in the negative digits, so how does it fair with the more adult version? Let’s go to the numbers to find out.

Storytelling

  • Theme 1
  • Tightness of Script 1
  • Dialogue 2
  • Use of Comedy 2
  • Use of Drama 3

So a fun fact about Bambi, it was the first movie slated to be released after Snow White. It was supposed to premiere before Pinocchio, Fantasia, and definitely before Dumbo. Yet here it sits as the last film of the Golden Age. So what happened?

The story happened is what.

The film rights to Bambi had previously been purchased by MGM but they couldn’t figure out what to do with it. Once the Disney crew got a hold of it their luck didn’t prove much better. The longer it took in deciding what scenes to adapt and what to exclude, the further back Bambi’s release got pushed until three entire films were produced before it.

The difficulty came in the more somber, stoic nature of the source material. Without the usual fantastical flairs of fairytales, myths and legends, and… baby elephants… there was less room for the typical avenues of “Disney Magic”.

So Disney fell back hard on what they knew they could do best. A film with many loosely connected scenes built for showcasing comedy, character, and enough saccharine sweetness could be shown at Dental Conventions.

bambiflower
Pictured: the film before the film about gingivitis

Bambi feels like a perfect kids movie, filled with talking animals, cute moments, and little bits of gentle humor. This could be a stereotypical example of Disneyfication, if it wasn’t completely necessary, because the second half of the film grows more serious and plot driven after… well…

bambimother

It’s hard to maintain a cute, fluffy tone after horrific matricide.

And this is one of those areas where Bambi, and early Disney in general, excels. There are no pulled punches, no real considerations for whether or not it was too intense for kids, we don’t see Bambi’s Mother go down but we feel all the impact of it.

This is why Bambi scores so high in the drama department. Say what you will about a film, but if it has the guts to practically orphan a protagonist before the halfway mark, it’s not just your standard kids fair.

 

9/15

Music

  • Lyrics 1
  • Score 5
  • Number of Songs 1
  • Notoriety of Songs 1

Well this is a first. Bambi is the only one of the 05 to not crack the double digits in the music category. It’s unfortunate too because the songs that do exist in film aren’t bad at all. The “Little April Shower” song in particular is a joy to listen to.

Unfortunately the music almost all feels incidental. None of the characters sing a single note and none of it impacts them. So while the music isn’t completely unnecessary, as convey atmosphere and  necessary emotion, none of it really stands out as “Disney Music.”

However, this does benefit the score. Without musical style songs sucking up all the oxygen in the room, the score comes to the forefront, giving the whole film an almost pastoral feel. This is particularly noticeable as it adds an underlying tension and drama when Man invades and the mood of the film grows more dangerous.

There’s a lot to love about Bambi’s music… it’s just not going to keep pace with the other Disney classics in this regard.

8/15

Animation

  • Fluidity of Animation 3
  • Use Of Color 3
  • House Style 3
  • Character Design 3
  • Breaks New Ground 3

Not sure if you’ve heard, but Disney is known for cartoon animals.

Yeah, I know. It surprised me too.

But the studio’s bread and butter was animated animals. The world’s most famous mice, the world’s meanest duck, and the world’s doppiest dog (and yes, Goofy is a dog, not a horse) all made their big screen debut well before Disney made Snow White or even considered Bambi.

So audiences knew what to expect when Disney announced they were making a feature based on woodland creatures.

And while Disney had tried their hand at animating more realistic animals in Snow White, Fantasia, and Dumbo, Walt wanted this movie to stand out, like he did all his early animated work. If he couldn’t afford the best artists he would pay for the artists to take art classes so they could become the best.

In the case of Bambi he filled his studio with live models for them to draw.

bambirealdeer
About as live as they come.

And this attention to detail and quality shows. Thumper’s nose wiggles just like a real rabbit’s does, Bambi’s limbs collapse on each other the way a real fawn’s would when he’s learning to walk, the stags and doe’s leap and prance just as they would in real life. Because of this, Bambi and Co are easily the best looking creature animations until the Jungle Book

bambijungle1
Nope. Not this one

 

bambijungle
There you go.

 

The character designs do lose a little something when the movie transitions into the second half and all the animals grow up. The faces aren’t quite as expressive and the designs veer closer to realistic, but as children, Bambi, Faline, Thumper, and Flower all have that trademark Disney appeal that we’ve come to love and expect from one of these movies.

15/15

Love Story

  • Character Interaction 1
  • Importance To Overall Plot 1
  • Complexity 1
  • Pulls At Heartstrings 1
  • Overcomes Obstacles 0

Bambi opens with a ballad called “Love is a Song that Never Ends”.  This is a clear cut case of promising more than is delivered. Because while Bambi, like all Disney movies, has a love story… none of them stack up to the usual standards of what we come to expect from a Disney Movie.

It’s hard to even pin down who do focus on as having the love story. The obvious one would be Bambi and Faline given the entire section of the movie where Bambi falls in love with her and fights another stag to be with her, but on the balance it’s fairly shallow and inconsequential to the story.

Bambi’s mother is the next likely choice. The strength of the relationship is stronger than the one with Faline, and her death is the dramatic high point of the film. But all that said, once she leaves the film, she’s all but forgotten. Nothing in the second half of the film suggests that Bambi even remembers her. Hardly a case of “Love is a Song that Never Ends”.

Finally, the most unlikely choice is Bambi and his Father. Of all the potential relationships in the film, this is the dark horse. The audience, and Bambi himself, don’t know The Great Prince even is Bambi’s father until halfway through the movie after Bambi’s mom has been shot.

bambidad
So I’m thinking a world’s greatest dad mug or embroidered shirt? I’ll let you surprise me kid.

In spite of being an absentee father for the first half of the film, Bambi’s dad is the most enduring relationship in the film. He’s there to take care of Bambi after his mother’s death, raises him, and then is the one to save Bambi’s life after he’s grazed by a bullet. Not only that, he’s also the character Bambi end’s the film with.

So it’s the closest to being a song that never ends but still plays it rather shallow as far as love stories go.

4/15

Hero

  • Sidekick 1
  • Charm 1
  • Goodness 1
  • Emotional Transformation 0
  • Comedy 1

Like many classic protagonists Bambi’s arrival on the scene has everyone abuzz. He grows up with a couple of friends who help him navigate the new world lives in and he lives in fear of an all powerful disembodied villain that hunts him.

bambiharrypotter
What I’m saying is that these two things are basically the same.

And like Harry Potter, Bambi is also the least interesting character in his own story.

He’s cute as a kid, sure, but he’s not as cute as Thumper or Flower. He’s even outclassed as an adult by his own father who still remains mysterious and commanding in spite of barely having any screentime or dialogue.

Worse of all is that he falls victim to a common criticism of classic Disney characters where the plot essentially happens to him not because of him. Snow White actually affects her own story more than Bambi does his.

This isn’t to say Bambi isn’t a likeable protagonist… but there’s only so much being likeable can do for you.

4/10

Villain

  • Evilness 1.5
  • Comedy 0
  • Sophistication 0
  • Henchmen 0
  • Poses A Threat 2.5

If there’s one lesson Bambi wants you to take away from the film. It isn’t what the opening song is telling you about love never ending. No. The message of Bambi is…

bambiman
Sorry to burst your bubble if you thought this movie was about cute woodland creatures.

 

Since this isn’t exactly a hot take, the film about nature goes about presenting Man as less of an actual physical villain but almost a force of nature himself. We never see him, or hear a human voice, only the warning peal of calling crows and a song with an oppressive three note melody that builds as he nears.

Anytime Man is in the forest his presence is all consuming. The animals cower and hide, they talk about him in hushed tones, and live in fear that the slightest exposure could mean death. It isn’t like the Hag in Snow White where the Dwarfs can chase her off, or Monstro that Pinocchio can outwit into dashing himself onto rocks.

In Bambi, Man can’t be defeated, the only recourse is to flee.

So this is why Man can score in the evil category and max out the threat category… but unfortunately, being a disembodied, emotionless, unseen threat precludes him from scoring in any other way.

But what if we could see what Man looked like? What would this arch villain, the one that all the woodland creatures fear look like? Would he have the terrifying visage as say… a Maleficent, or a Chernobog? Well… probably not. If we could pull back the animated curtain he’d probably just look much less intimidating. He’d probably look like this dumbass.

bambigaston
Man is in the Forest.

 

4/10

Supporting Characters

  • Comedy 2.5
  • Inventiveness 2.5
  • Clear Help Or Hindrance 1.5
  • Strength of Relationship with Main Character 2

Disney gets accused a lot of relying on overly cute woodland creature characters to populate their movies. And if we’re being honest that’s 95% Thumper and Flower’s fault. Just like Snow White being the quintessential princess in our collective minds, Bambi’s pals occupy that space as the stereotypical cute, funny, animal sidekicks.

This is an oft maligned trope and with good reason. Over the past eight decades, Disney has put out a lot of side characters, many steal the show and practically drive the plot. But the worst of them, possibly the worst Disney characters possible, are the ones that just occupy the screen to distract us from the movie by being exactly what was referred to above. “Cute” and “Funny.”

bambicute
Presenting “Cute” and “Funny” the quotation marks are there to indicate my “sincerity”.

Now that we’ve established that there’s a both a high and low bar for these characters… how to Bambi’s pals fair?

Even if they’re the prototypical cute characters… not too badly.

The reason being is that neither Thumper, nor Flower detract from the plot. They’re not distractions, they’re actual participants; Thumper especially pitches in to do his part. He serves as Bambi’s guide, explaining the world to the young prince, all while being funny to boot.

What I’m saying is that when you look at the role that Thumper plays, with his distinctive hair color,  plucky attitude, numerous siblings, and inclination to eat the wrong thing, is that he’s essentially this guy:

bambiron

 

This by necessity means that Flower is Hermione. I’m sure there’s plenty of jokes to be had there but I can’t make them all for you, I’d be here all day.

While Thumper and Flower play the part of cute buddies in the first half of the movie, and certainly matter more to adult Bambi than his mother does, they also fall by the wayside, only sticking around to get picked off one by one by twitterpation like their romance interests were villains in an 80’s slasher movie crossed with a nature documentary.

Flower is especially scared after the owl warns them of what’s coming. He is the first one to declare that he won’t be taken in. And given how ridiculously horrible Friend Owl describes falling in love, it’s understandable that Flower is terrified that he might wind up twitterpated–

bambihermione

 

8.5/10

Disney Magic and Legacy

  • Theme Park Presence 0
  • Timelessness 1
  • Impact On Culture 2
  • Scope of Audience 2
  • Disney Feels (Or Did It Make us Cry?) 1

You don’t see much of Bambi in Disney parks. Sure there’s the odd souvenir here or there, but that’s pretty much it. There aren’t even character meet and greets. But Bambi’s legacy, like a lot of the Golden Age features, stretches out beyond the confines of Disney.

The film, with its adorable woodland creatures and finale that involved said woodland creatures on the run from a raging forest fire, was the perfect fit when the U.S. Forest service were looking for a mascot to help raise awareness about forest fire prevention.

Disney loaned Bambi’s image to them for a year and a successful advertising campaign with Bambi and co began featuring posters warning kids about the dangers of wildfires. As the deal drew to its expiration date, the Forest Service began looking for a new mascot to fill Bambi’s  cloven hooves. And that’s how we got this guy.

bambismokey

Even more than inspiring the world’s most successful fire fighter, Bambi’s impact was felt in the hunting and wilderness conservation community.

Try not to be surprised, but the traumatizing death of a mother figure had an effect on the children of hunters. Crazy right? That  immediate effect manifested in the backlash from various hunter’s associations against the Disney studio, and many father’s having to retire their hunting rifles. While his mother’s death didn’t seem to affect Bambi much past the first five minutes of it happening, it did inspire countless generations of conservationist and animal rights activists.

So there’s little question that Bambi made a timeless, cultural impact across all audiences.

And while I’ve made a lot jokes about Bambi’s mother’s death being forgotten, you kind of have to have a heart of stone to not feel anything when it happens. For as cynical as I may sound, it truly is one of the most gut wrenching moments in film, particularly a Disney Film. And if we’re keeping track, it’s easily the second most heartbreaking death in any Disney film.

The first? We’ll get to that someday.

bambimufasa
Nothing to see here folks, move along…

6/10

 

Grand Total: 58.5

Here we are at the end and Bambi has the second lowest score of the O5 behind Fantasia. Given the fact that Fantasia has such a low score because it has no plot, dialogue or main characters, it could be really easy to assume that Bambi isn’t a very good movie.

But you know what they say about assumption

It’s… not… always accurate?

A low score doesn’t necessarily indicate a bad film. Just a film that’s not hitting all the high marks and tropes of a “Disney Film”

In Bambi’s case, and in others that we’ll see along the line, the lack of actual songs sung by the characters is a huge determent. Whether or not you like the film, the best Disney films are the ones where the music and the characters seamlessly harmonize.

Again this sounds like I’m down on this movie but I found watching it as an adult, that I kind of really like it. There is plenty of cuteness and sweetness, but the sobering seriousness of the scenes involving Man act as a wonderful balance. Bambi’s father also proves to be one of the most interesting characters in the Disney canon, seemingly aloof and uncaring, yet of all the characters in the film, he’s the one that is always there when Bambi needs him the most. When the world seems at its darkest, threatening to swallow Bambi up and destroy him, body and soul… well… I think you know where I’m going with this.

bambipatronus

 

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s