Following Dumbo, the next of Walt Disney’s feature films was Bambi, released in 1942. Disney and his animators took a different approach with this movie, going for a more realistic or “painterly” animation style. Of course, they had done numerous animals up to that point, but generally, the artists were not accustomed to animating them as if they were real animals. This caused some real problems in the production, largely because the animators had to slow down their process. Painter Tyrus Wong was brought in to work on the film and lend his artistic style to the backgrounds. Ultimately, that very specific look of Bambi is due to his contribution and influence.
Bambi marked the end of what is now considered to be the Golden Age of Walt Disney Animation. In other words, the studios’ first five feature films. Bambi represented both a beginning and an end for the company. It was a beginning in that the artists were able to expand their talents by utilizing this style that was new to most of them. However, it was an end to that initial wave of films because, for the next several years following Bambi, the movies the studio made looked a lot different. World War II forced the company to take a different approach, creating what are known as package films until Cinderella in 1950.
Despite its obvious artistic difference, Bambi is thematically unique as well. Snow White, Pinocchio, and Dumbo were all fairly simple. Of course, there were lessons taught, but the focus was largely on telling fun, adventurous stories. Bambi moves away from this, and does so beautifully. It explores grief and loss in ways that are still being talked about today. The death of Bambi’s mother was unexpected at the time and is still shocking, even as an adult. One could argue, however, that the film is not “fun”. There is a lack of fantasy and adventure that sets it apart from almost every other Disney animated film to date. In another departure from Disney films of the time, it isn’t a musical. Apart one brief song sung by some birds, we get background songs instead. These songs are indeed beautiful, perhaps one of the most memorable things about the movie. Nevertheless, they give Bambi a flavor that is different from the films that came before.
There is no doubt that this film is a piece of art. It is a gritty, methodical look at animals trying to survive in the wild, which is not for everyone. However, this doesn’t lessen its great impact in the animation world.
Live-action remake: It was announced in early 2020 that a live-action remake of Bambi is in development. The film will be written by Geneva Robertson–Dworet of Captain Marvel and Lindsey Beer of Chaos Walking. It will likely be utilizing similar technology to that which was used in the remakes of The Jungle Book and The Lion King. For more details on this project, check out this article here.
Bambi in the theme parks: Of the original five films of Walt, Bambi seems to get the least representation in the theme parks. In fact, it is virtually absent. There are no rides that feature Bambi in any capacity, nor can the characters be seen walking around the park. There is, however, an attraction in EPCOT called Bambi’s Butterfly House, which is exactly how it sounds: a Bambi-themed butterfly house. In addition to the butterflies, there is a small garden, which features statues of Bambi, Thumper, and Flower. It is unclear to me whether this was a temporary attraction or is still open. In addition to this, a few scenes from Bambi can be seen in the firework show World of Color.
Sequel: In 2006, DisneyToon Studios released a follow-up to this film, titled Bambi II. Taking place within the timeline of the original story, Bambi II focuses on the relationship between Bambi and his father following his mother’s death. Click here for my discussion of this film.
Bambi is currently available to stream on Disney+.