It tells the simple and non-narrative driven story of a young deer growing up in the forest, learning the ways of survival and life. That’s pretty much it, making it an endearing choice to be adapted into a movie. Bambi is born and learns to walk, speak, and understand the world around him. He makes friends with Thumper, a mischievous grey bunny, and Flower, an effeminate skunk. A lot of the beginning revolves around his silent and innocent comprehension of his environment.
He’s fascinated by the changing weather and seasons, as well as the various kinds of woodland creatures. It’s all done in the charming Disney style, taking full advantage of large expressive eyes and colorful characters, despite the basis on a natural order of life. The forest itself, despite the hazards of the seasons and the difficulties of living in the wild, is an idyllic paradise for the animals. There are no natural predators, like wolves or bears, only the friendly owl (who I know is chomping on those cute little mice and chipmunks when no one’s looking).
The real threat is from the elusive and mysterious creature known as “Man”. Even though no human is ever animated or depicted in the entire movie, they still earn their place as one of the all time great Disney villains. Aside from the harsh lesson they force Bambi to learn, we see their presence as pure death and destruction. Faceless and cruel, Man is the gun, fire, and ruin of the natural world.
It’s incredible how much the early Disney films improve with each new endeavor. “Bambi” is a stark improvement over the previous year’s “Dumbo” in terms of animation. The color palette is lush with greens and browns and yellows, making the forest seem alive and detailed while at other times appear almost as though it were painted using watercolors. The backgrounds are larger than ever, spanning lengthy uninterrupted shots and proving how much the technology has advance in the few years since “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. There’s a natural peace to the forest backgrounds, and the cels of the characters blend into them much more consistently and effortlessly than ever before.
The animation style changes seamlessly to depict mood and match the season. A great example of this comes during the courtship sequence. Bambi feels as though he’s walking on clouds, thus changing the background into just that. He literally flies around on a soft white glow chasing after his potential mate. This is ended when a rival appears and challenges him, killing the mood of the scene and altering it drastically to one of harsh colors and dark shadows. While beautiful to look at, some of these shifts are a bit too drastic, such as the change from winter to spring.
Given the important plot point that occurs during the winter, we are left with a very cold and crucial lesson on life and death. This lasts all of two seconds however, for the following scene is that of bright colors and cute little birds singing to each other as if to say, “See kids? Forget about what just happened!”
Though not a true musical, “Bambi” is a very musical movie. There is rarely a scene without the classic Disney musical accompaniment to movement. The storm scene illustrates this to great effect. Every drop of rain has its own sound that eventually leads into the “Little April Shower” song which plays over the scene. No character ever sings or acknowledges the music around them, but this sort of musical quality has become a staple of the classic Disney films even before they started making them.
The impact of “Bambi” cannot be denied, whether from the strong reaction every child has to the story or even the awareness of the hazards of an unwatched campfire (Bambi was the original fire safety mascot before Smokey Bear). It’s one of Disney’s most beloved classics and, like so many of that golden era, is still a pure delight to watch.