MOVIE REVIEW | Bambi (1942)

Of all the Disney characters, this one would have to be up there as one of the most recognisable after Micky Mouse.  By sight or by name, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know who (what?) Bambi was.  All while making it into my 30s without ever actually seeing the movie named after the clumsy little fella.  So now, after decades of assuming I know what Bambi is all about, I thought I should I actually watch It properly, and see if it has any surprises for me.

Short answer, no.  The story of Bambi did not surprise me any way at all.  It turns out  being an iconic movie for over 70 years means there’s very little left unknown.

It’s spring in the forest and after a busy time on the job, all the animals are popping out juniors left, right and centre.  There’s the baby skunk named Flower, and the real star of Bambi, a giant footed baby rabbit named Thumper.  But the animal kingdom has no interest in these little dudes, because they’re all stoked about the latest birth, the new ‘prince’, a baby deer named Bambi.

As a movie, Bambi doesn’t really have a traditional Disney storyline of a hero fighting to overcome an enemy or reach some goal.  Instead, it’s a series of short stories, following Bambi from new born, to young child, to teenager, to young adult.   And of course, there’s the unfortunate event that might be the most famous (infamous?) in kids’ movie history.

While the story had nothing unexpected to offer, the film making and animation had more than a few pleasant surprises.  I always associate prior decades with a certain level of conservatism.  The older the movie, the more conservative.  So being made in the 40s, I really wasn’t ready for the kind of experimental visuals Bambi uses more than once.

Present day animations seem to build rules within their world, how everything should look and parameters to stay within at all times.  While the latest offering from Pixar or present day Disney might indulge in the odd moments of weirdness, they usually need the excuse of a fantasy sequence to do so.  Bambi doesn’t worry about why it’s doing something different, beyond the fact that it looks awesome.  A flock of prancing and jumping deer all of sudden reduced to single coloured, flat silhouettes might not fit the rest of the look, but it looks amazing, so why not?

One aspect that does fit my preconceptions of the era however is the recurring theme of absent fathers.  Whether it was deliberate, or just a sub conscious by product of the time, fathers are largely painted as authority figures who’s almost  mythological powers are only heightened by their aloofness.

Thumper’s father is never seen, only every present through the little rabbit quoting  rules and life lessons taught by his old man.  Bambi’s father is mostly seen from a distance, bathed in majestic light and awe.  When he does interact with his son, the older strolls in with a Don Draper-like swagger, expecting automatic respect and admiration just for showing up.

Bambi’s a classic.  I can’t deny that.  And I hope it remains a classic that kids watch for decades to come.  I just recommend seeing it much earlier than I did, before you have the bigger plot points, character traits and imagery inadvertently ingrained in your mind without even knowing it’s happening.

Directed By – James Algar, Samuel Armstrong , David Hand, Graham Heid, Bill Roberts, Paul Satterfield, Norman Wright  
Written By – Larry Morey

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