This movie contains some of the best animation Disney ever produced; hell, some of the best anyone has ever produced. Current CGI technology can make photo-real images of incredible complexity, but it takes an artistic hand, not a computer, to come up with the images, and no computer can by itself decide to use less detail, and few humans today would think of it. After all, we can make it real. What could be better than that? Well, painters could make it real earlier than Rembrandt. The genius of the Impressionists was to realize that sometimes being less real is more evocative than reality. Much of Bambi is impressionistic: soft focus watercolors, backgrounds that bleed into each other, minimal brushstrokes that tell more than detail ever could. Against these backgrounds—or sometimes in the middle of them, thanks to the multi-plane camera—the sharply-drawn characters are shown to their best advantage.
Not a lot really happens in Bambi, which had to be a risky decision. Bambi is born. He frolics with his little friends. The seasons change. His mothers dies … wait a minute, did I hear you right? His mother dies? Shot dead by a human hunter? In a film for children? Talk about risky decisions! (I just learned that, originally, they were going to show the mother lying dead in a pool of blood. What were they smoking when they came up with that?)
Much has been written, pro and con, as to whether Bambi is a suitable film for children, as most would agree that the death of your mother is miles scarier than all the phony spooks and goblins Hollywood has ever produced. I’ve vacillated on the subject. I’m pretty sure that it’s too intense for some younger children, but I’m not sure what the cut-off age is. I must have seen it in its third release, in 1957, which means I was 10. I don’t remember if I cried or not, but if I didn’t, it was because 10-year-old boys aren’t supposed to cry and I was holding it back. Because I’m sure I wanted to cry. But I didn’t have nightmares about it, and I can’t see that it’s done me any permanent damage. Would it have harmed me at age 5? I doubt it. I think children are pretty resilient.
I remember being awed and a bit frightened by the forest fire at the end, but I had forgotten about the dogs. How could I have forgotten about the dogs? They were really frightening!
Some random thoughts:
Re: Thumper. I recall that my sisters and I loved Thumper. “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” Well, sorry, Thump ol’ boy, I can’t say anything nice about you today. I found him insufferable. But I remember that I did love him, and I’ll bet young children still do today, so I’m not complaining.
Predators: I know it’s a cartoon universe, but most of the animals are so realistically drawn here that it just drives it home all the stronger how insane it all is. There’s a scene of an owl waking up a chipmunk and shooing it away. Hello!!! Owls eat chipmunks! He was shooing away his breakfast! I’ve always been a little pissed off that predators are almost always cast as the bad guys. Hey, they’re part of the big Circle of Life! There’s nothing wrong with eating meat. I would hope that even a vegan would realize that a crocodile or a wolf is only making a living, same as Ingrid Newkirk, in the only way Great Nature has adapted it to. But when we get a predator as hero, as in The Lion King, we get the ridiculous idea that he decides to eat worms and maggots and grubs. Hey! You think maggots don’t have feelings? Just ask George W. Bush. Or in Madagascar they solve the dilemma by eating fish. Which one, I wonder? Pinocchio’s Cleo, or Nemo?
Mating: This is a very small gripe, and as I said, it’s a cartoon universe, and animals are anthropomorphized, that’s what cartoons are about … but somebody should tell Faline that after Bambi has vanquished his rival for her affections, expect to have at least a dozen more females for company in his harem …