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Disney Revisited: Bambi

Some thoughts after rewatching Bambi (1942)…

  •  It opens with a nativity scene. Like Pinocchio and Dumbo, Bambi begins with its title character’s birth and introduction to the world. Here, however, it’s an epoch-defining event, signified by much fanfare and an elaborate woodland tableau around the messianic “young prince.” Bambi is the center of the film’s universe, and the film revolves around his subjectivity and growth.
  • The depiction of nature is a continuation of Fantasia. Like the earlier film, Bambi not only relies heavily on Mickey Mousing, but also envisions its ecosystem as a dance—whether lyrical (as in the “Little April Shower” sequence) or primal, as when Bambi locks antlers with a rival to win Faline. In both films, animals’ interactions with the landscape and each other play out in sync with the music. The motion itself is just as important as who’s doing the moving.
  • Thumper provides unobtrusive comic relief. At least to the extent that he’s more demonstrative than Bambi and engages in mildly funny verbal tics, visual gags, etc. However, these jokes and the “sidekick” role do not define Thumper; instead, they’re subsumed into his identity as the newborn Bambi’s guide and, later, a rabbit patriarch-to-be.
  • The film is bisected by the death of Bambi’s mother. This wintry tragedy demarcates the end of Bambi’s childhood as well as his entrée into adolescence and adulthood. Furthermore, it ushers the film from loose, episodic fun to the life-or-death priorities that accompany Bambi’s maturation. It’s a sharp divide that structures Bambi’s bildungsroman narrative.
  • The Great Prince presides over the film. He’s the father figure as deity, always appearing majestically and only speaking a handful of authoritative lines. He passes his crown to Bambi, but has no real personality beyond being a signifier of masculinity and fatherhood. “He’s very brave and very wise,” as Bambi’s mother says, but his importance is less intrinsic and more as a gendered role model for the young prince.
  • “Twitterpated” is a euphemism for burgeoning, hormonal sexuality. As Flower, Thumper, and Bambi succumb to twitterpation, they seem to be merely following their biological clocks, their free will replaced by hyperactive sex drives. Especially with Thumper, the film is surprisingly overt in its visual representation of horny teenagers.
  • The climax is fixated on death and rebirth. Toward the end, Bambi turns grisly as the forest is consumed by gunshots and wildfire. But instead of ending the movie, the conflagration segues into yet another springtime nativity scene, with Bambi gazing down on Faline and her fawns just as the Great Prince had gazed down on his mother. The parallelism asserts that forest life is cyclical—it will always recover. But this cycle has dark implications: Bambi will live apart from Faline, Man will always Return, and Faline will die.
  • Man only exists through destruction. Writing about Pinocchio, I claimed that “Monstro is Cthulhu”; similarly, Man is the forest’s eldritch terror, unseen but experienced indirectly or instantiated through the hunting dogs. Ironically, everything in Bambi is anthropomorphized except for Man.

(This is part of “Disney Revisited,” my chronological film-by-film exploration of the Disney animated canon.)

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