As we approach the end of Disney’s Golden Age, can Bambi close it on a memorable note?
- While I’m not sure if Bambi is the first slice-of-life cartoon to come into existence, it’s definitely the one that set a lot of standards for the genre, in addition to setting Disney’s future practices of making talking animals as their main protagonists. And not the stylized trademark ones like Mickey Mouse and such. We’re talking about an actual deer living in nature, talking to other animals in animal speak that’s translated to English, and avoiding man. And really, that’s all there is to the plot: Bambi’s life from young doe to great stag.
- There is technically a story regarding the dangers of man and such, but that only takes up about a third of the film. Most of the runtime is spent getting the audience absorbed into the peaceful nature of the forest so that when the shift to dark and foreboding comes, it’s all the more impactful. And even then, a story that says “man is the true enemy” is pretty lame in of itself due to how shallowly simplistic it is as a moral. Now Bambi was made in the 40s so I understand I can’t be too hard on the film for using it as a major plot point, but it’s mainly how the movie just portrays mankind sucking as a natural thing in a wild animal’s life that prevents me from getting as annoyed with it here as I do in, say, Avatar.
- And that’s pretty much what makes this slice-of-cartoon a large step-up from its many successors: everything feels natural. Bambi’s childhood is basically an animal version of ours (if we grew up in a pristine-looking ghetto) in that as he grows up, he makes friends, gets shy around girls, lives without a father, and is cared for by a doting mother who ends up dying young thanks to violence. When he’s an adult, he’s muscular and strong, falling in love with the cute girl he used to be shy with, fighting off thugs who want to claim the girl for themselves, and running away from gunfire. That’s way more relatable than a thousand Barakamons, and even those who can’t relate to it can at least acknowledge that this mood piece has grit.
- Actually, something I noticed about this film is that while most Disney protagonists are known more for their older forms (Simba, Tarzan, etc.), Bambi is always marketed as his young self in all the advertisements, video games, and such. Probably because his adult self looks kinda generic, but I’m guessing a big reason is due to how many people prefer the part of the film when his mother is alive and caring for the little scamp.
- Not that I blame them. When I was little, I could barely watch this movie’s dark scenes because of how scary I found them. Remember when that bird just collapses to the ground dead after she flies out of her shelter where a gun is waiting for her? Shit scarred me for years.
- As someone who doesn’t enjoy slice-of-life, I definitely prefer the second half where Bambi has to deal with more adult issues and Flower’s gender isn’t as confusing (although seriously, those deep voices don’t match either him or adult Thumper), but the cutesy scenes that make up Bambi’s childhood aren’t that annoying/boring, mostly because they have purpose. And because this is a short film.
- Also, Bambi’s usage of color really helps. I like how things are all bright and plain during serene moments, only to get all dark and wild during climactic moments. In fact, while Bambi is capable of speech, there are a lot of scenes where he keeps his mouth shut and lets the animation itself do the talking. That’s something I find really cool, especially when you do it as well as in this film, and it goes a long way in reminding me why animation is my preferred medium of entertainment.
- You also never actually see “man” in this film. The animals are the only real characters that take up the screen, while everything man does is conveyed through either dramatic music and sound effects or a fucking forest fire. Which I should point out is a load of horseshit. You’re telling me that these guys are so into game that they’d set a forest fire in order to get it? Or was it supposed to be an accident? Either way, while I get the point of that finale, it takes things a little too far for my taste.
- Bambi as a whole doesn’t really interest me because of its “low by today’s standards” goals and simplistic characterization. I mean let’s be honest, aside from being a sort of audience avatar, there’s not really much to Bambi himself, and I think he even lost personality when he grew older (which could be another reason why people mostly remember his young self). Plus, I think most people who watch this movie today will be reminded of The Lion King and how much they’d rather be watching that instead, particularly since Lion King borrows a lot of the same formula and improves upon it in epic ways.
- However, there’s no denying the film’s impact along with its storytelling chops, so if someone invited me to watch it, I wouldn’t exactly fight hard to get out of the party. Just don’t expect me to cry at the Bambi’s mom scene, because who the fuck doesn’t know about that before watching the movie themselves in this day and age?
- Seriously, what kind of straight male skunk is named Flower, anyways?
- No real opinion on Bambi’s dad, so don’t bother asking.