Two traumas in a row
Hi there and welcome back to “Oof! Right in the Childhood” I’m Jen, and this is a podcast where I watch the Disney animated feature films in the order in which they were released, tell you the history of those films, and then react to them from a modern standpoint.
Today, I’m going to be talking about Bambi, because, if Dumbo wasn’t traumatic enough, Bambi will give you two traumas in a row!
When Snow White & the Seven Dwarves was released in 1937, Walt Disney already knew what he wanted the studio’s second movie to be. See, in 1933, MGM had bought the film rights to a book named Bambi, a life in the woods, but realized after several years that making a live action adaptation would be impossible. So they sold the rights to Walt Disney Productions.
The novel, published in 1923, is a story of the life of a male deer born in the forest. From his birth to becoming “old and grey,” the book shows the wonders of the wild and the horrors of man. It was also banned in Nazi Germany for being an allegory of the treatment of the Jewish man by the regime.
However, the novel, though popular when it was published, was also full of descriptions of violence, both against animals and men. So, Disney was going to have to work on the script to make it into a child’s film.
Instead of taking the book’s plot exactly, Walt decided he’d rather simply use the book as a way to explore the natural world. He planned all kinds of alternatives to how the movie appeared upon release. For example, he’d planned six rabbit friends for Bambi, similar to the seven dwarves.
Once the script was finalized, Walt turned to the art. Neither he nor the head animators were happy with how the animals looked in Snow White. According to Eric Larson, the deer looked, quote like big flour sacks. So Walt hired a wildlife artist named Rico LeBrun come in and teach the animators about animal anatomy and movement.
He also brought live animals into the studio for the animators to watch and draw. These animals included rabbits, ducks, owls, skunks, and a pair of fawns. They also brought in an ice capades star to demonstrate figure skating moves for an ice skating scene.
One of the artists was sent to New England to sketch the forests of the American Northeast. However, his drawings were seen as too busy. One of the studio’s animators, Tyrus Wong, then suggested a more impressionistic style of art. His forests had different levels of detail at different points. The edges were filled with trees and flowers, while the centres were more sparsely populated. That let the characters be the focus while still giving the appearance of a natural forest.
In the end, Bambi cost Walt Disney Productions $868,000. Adjusted for inflation, that’s about $13.8 million today. As the studio was hurting financially after the box office failures of Pinocchio and Fantasia, they ended up cutting 12 minutes from the final film to save money.
Due to World War 2, international markets were limited; however, in the U.S and Canada, Bambi did earn the studio about $1.3 million which is $20.2 million today. Despite the war, the movie did bring in $1.7 million in international markets or $26.8 million today.
It was also released in theatres 4 more times before its first home release in 1989. The numbers-dot-com says that Bambi’s lifetime earnings are 268 million dollars, 312 times its initial budget.
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In October, I investigate the role of Walt Disney Productions during World War 2 from the occupation of the studio by the U.S. Military to the hundreds of hours of training and propaganda that the studio released. I also provide synopses and commentary for eight of the propaganda pieces they released during the war.
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The opening credits are shadows of plants with a love song. I seem to have blocked that out. We pan through a beautiful painting of a forest.
The music over the first scenes of animals really shows how they picked up the scoring for this one.
Every animal in the forest gathers around Bambi’s mother immediately after she’s given birth, and that feels intrusive. Then she tells him to wake up and greet his guests. Absolutely no mother ever has been like, you know what this newborn needs? More wakefulness.
A rabbit named Thumper calls the baby wobbly and gets in trouble for it. I've always felt for him not being able to filter. The baby is wobbly, gosh, Mom.
“I think I’ll call him Bambi.”
“Yeah, I guess that’ll be all right.” Thank you small rabbit for the opinion no one asked for.
And all is right and well with the world, for a moment as the absentee father looks on from afar.
Bambi and his mom go on a walk, and the squirrels act like they’re surprised that he’s walking. A fawn can walk 7 hours after its born, for reference.
They go through the forest and meet all the animals in the world.
Mrs. Quail has 9 chicks. She's gotta have a time with that.
Bambi trips over a reed and 18 rabbits appear to comment. “He doesn’t walk very good does he.” Young Thumper is one of my favourite Disney characters of all time.
Now we’re going to teach the new baby dear to talk. He wiggles his nose like Thumper as he talks, which is adorable. And then he chases a butterfly. And all of a sudden, he goes from not being able to say “bird” to “butterfly”.
Then enters Flower. The best skunk ever drawn.
Thumper hears thunder and immediately abandons an infant deer in the woods. I’m not saying he’s responsible for Bambi. I’m just saying this is a baby and he’s like, “Good luck with that!
There’s this little song that isn’t really much of a song that goes, “Drip, drip, drop little April shower…” that I remember liking as a kid because my birthday’s in April and it talks about it. And the animators got to show off all their animal studies during this song.
Now Bambi’s old enough to talk and they’re going to the meadow. There are other deer in the forest, Mother! I promise, this is only a surprise to you.
“The meadow is wide and open. There are no trees or bushes to protect us.” Honestly, I think this scene is what gave me anxiety for life.
But now they’re playing in the meadow. Everything is fine.
They come across the rabbit family, and we get a morality plug about eating our vegetables. “Eating greens is a special treat.”
I do love how this scene indicates how often Thumper is lectured in rhyme by his father.
“Thumper, what did your father tell you?”
“About eating greens.”
“Oh that one.”
If anyone hasn’t caught on, Thumper is an ADHD child with no filter.
And now we’ve met another fawn! She scares the living heck out of Bambi.
The new fawn, obviously a girl with her long eyelashes and lighter colouring, chases Bambi to their mothers. It’s here, in the captions that I learn that Faline’s mother is named Ena.
Finally, Bambi has enough of Faline chasing him around and they end up on mini-pride Rock. Really, I need to start cataloguing how many times I see early versions of Pride Rock in these movies.
And the bucks are here. They fight each other to brass music! And it’s beautiful. But then, a stag shows up and everything stops.
As he walks by, Bambi says, “He stopped and looked at me.”
And his mother goes, “Yes I know.” There’s a special subtext of, ‘we had a special moment about a year ago…’
And now comes the "let's scare the bejeesus out of everyone with gunfire" scene. The deer run, and Bambi gets separated from his mother. But don’t worry, his absentee father will save him.
I always forget that his mom doesn't die in the first gunfire scene. I actually forget there are two gunfire scenes.
“What happened, mother? Why did we all run?”
“Man was in the forest.”
I run when there are men in the forest too.
We zoom through autumn. It’s very pretty. But then the final leaf falls, and it’s winter.
The ice scene has always been my favourite of all of them. it's the cutest thing Disney ever made. That ice capades demonstration really paid off on this. “Kinda wobbly aren’t ya?” I guess Thumper’s just immediately good at everything.
We wake Flower up from hibernation. That’s not a nice thing to do! He ate for months for this. I like how they drew him a little more plump for this scene. It makes it more like he has saved up his fat stores.
We move from adorable ice scene to "We're trying not to starve" scenes which were always way, way sadder than him losing his mother.
The grass has returned! They won’t die! From starvation! However the music says “audiences, pay attention!”
They run to the woods with a heart racing theme. But Bambi’s mother doesn’t make it back to their thicket. In the original cut, they were going to show us Bambi’s mom being shot as she jumped over a log, and though I continue to be impressed by the children of the 1940s, I just don’t think that would have been a good choice.
Point of order, as the guy who killed Bambi's mom hunting in off season? It doesn't seem like they'd give out tickets during "we're starving to death" winter. Or...were there fewer hunting laws back then? I've decided he's a poacher.
“Your mother can’t be with you any more.”[I guess I’ve gotta take care of you now.
But it’s spring now! All the birds sing about it!
Mr. Owl is grumpy about love. Or maybe it’s just that his neighbours won’t shut up.
So...okay, when the grass sprouted, Bambi was still a baby with spots. And now he’s all growed up with antlers. The antlers are itchy. He has to rub the velvet off them. Oh, it’s probably been a year since his mother died. According to the University of Missouri, it takes about 1 ½ to 2 years for a buck to grow antlers. That actually makes this seem a lot less like, “Mom died, so I fell in love.”
The Owl gives a speech about being twitterpated. Twitterpated is Disney for "horny."
Who hurt Friend Owl that he makes it seem that falling in love would be the WORST thing ever? Or is it just that’s how teen boys think about it until they meet a girl?
I've always enjoyed how the three characters are like, "I'll never be twitterpated" and then immediately find people to fall in love with.
Flower’s first. You cannot convince me me Flower is straight.
Now it’s Thumper’s turn. The girl he meets has blush, eyeshadow, and false eyelashes on. And he goes from “bah! Twitterpation!” to “look at the pretty girl” in 0.02 seconds.
I’d like to draw your attention to the fact that the female rabbit and skunk have chests that are drawn to look like they have breasts. Oof! Right in the Childhood.
Bambi and Faline meet again. She kisses him on the cheek and they dance through the clouds. It’s here I’m going to make you sad by telling you that, in the source material, they never see each other again after his mother dies. He reminisces as he’s old and grey that he wishes he’d seen her again.
Anyway, in the movie, they’re in love, but there’s a dude bro who wants to fight Bambi for her. So we have a nature documentary for a while. There are some more elements that remind me of the Lion King here.
Bambi wins, by throwing dude bro off a cliff into the water. And now they’re together. I mean, by animal standpoints, this is how it works.
And we’re going to sing a love song in the meadow.
They have, what I can only assume, is a lovely night together, but Bambi wakes to walk through the woods. I think he hears or smells something? Hard to tell.
But there’s a camp with smoke rising from it! His father appears from nowhere.
"It is man,” [and they're all jerks]. Disney doesn't like man, and that's completely fair.
“We must go deep into the forest.” But Bambi’s a good guy and goes back for Faline. The chipmunk and squirrel that you see together all the time were originally planned to be a comedy duo like Laurel and Hardy. That would have been real interesting.
The animals hide, but a pheasant can’t sit still any longer, and the shooting starts. Everybody run!
The hunter’s not a great shot. He’s just shooting and hoping that he hits something.
Oh, now there’s a pack of dogs. But Faline’s smart enough to climb a cliff. Bambi fights them off then buries them under a rockslide. Y’all, I don’t think those dogs are okay.
The hunter shoots Bambi as he jumps over a gorge and then his campfire catches the woods on fire. Honestly, people are the worst.
The animals run and hide. Bambi is still alive, but he’s hurt. His dad does the staunch but caring 1940s dad impression. “You must get up! Now come with me.” All that was missing was “Rub some dirt in it.”
The reason Bambi’s dad is king of the forest is because he’s smart enough to run in the river when the forest is on fire
But gosh, that fire is so pretty. If only it wasn’t destroying thousands of trees and habitats. The animals gather on the other side of the lake. Bambi rises from it as a mythical stag. He and Faline see each other and comfort each other.
Another big passage of time. This seems to be at least another later. Deer gestate for about 200 days, and you can see the remnants of the burnt forest covered in flowers. I think this is the subtle nod from Disney that Nature can repair herself if we just stop destroying her.
They had twins. And Bambi was as absent as his father was. Really, just like the rest of early Disney lacks denouement
When I started this project, I thought that Cinderella was immediately after Bambi, but I've discovered there are actually quite a few movies standing between Bambi and the next princess. Next time, The Three Caballeros!
In the meantime, I’d love to hear your memories and current opinions of Bambi. Do you have fond memories in your heart, or did it teach you that we are all mortal and not one of us will live? Come tell me on social media. You can find me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter by searching the show’s name or the handle oofmychildhood.
This episode’s cover art was created by Iqura Qudoos. I link to her Instagram in the show notes, my website, and on social media. As of today, you can now view a gallery of the cover art that has been provided on my website.
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Our theme music was composed and played by Shawn Rudoph of Let Music Be. For more information on that studio, you can visit their website at Let Music dot be or visit my website for a easy link
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So, until next time, keep the magic alive.