With BAMBI playing at this year's Animation First as part of the Wes Anderson selected sidebar. Knowing I couldn't do it justice I turned to Disney expert Lisa Sanford.
Thank you Lisa
You think you remember the movie Bambi. If you recall anything, it might be Thumper the rabbit, or maybe Flower the skunk, and definitely the hunter and all that unpleasantness with Bambi's mother. You can't quite remember what happens after Bambi's mother dies - do Bambi and his buddies get lost in the forest and have adventures finding their way home? Move to the big city and issue parking tickets? Start a detective agency and solve crimes? There aren't any instantly memorable songs in Bambi that are Disney standards like "Heigh-Ho" or "When You Wish Upon a Star." Maybe what you retain is refreshed by the gifs and the memes because you were so very young when you watched it. Or maybe you never did. You start to wonder if you've ever seen Bambi at all.
For a story that's light on plot, Bambi is a lot of things: a coming-of-age fable, an ode to nature, a tale of animal camaraderie, a love story. Colorful classic characters such as the adorably candid Thumper the rabbit, the sweetly shy Flower the skunk and the graceful fawn love interest Faline round out our principle animal cast. Additionally, a central and often unnoticed character in Bambi is the forest itself - its rhythms, its textures and sounds, its seasonal costume changes. With its mostly agreeable inhabitants, the forest is lively and yet calm all at once; the more things change, the more they stay the same.
From a technical standpoint, Bambi is a master class in different types and techniques of animation. Bambi's naturalistic style reminds me of an early, animated version of Walt Disney's "True Life Adventures" nature documentaries he made from 1948-1960. There's an elegance in the details of the animation: the awkwardness of Bambi's limbs as he learns to navigate the terrain of his world, the layers of the forest as seen through the multiplane camera, the synchronicity of raindrops, lightning and the musical score in a storm, the curls and swirls of the forest fire; the changing color palette of the seasons. There are shots so lovely I wanted to cut them out and frame them on my wall.
The heartbreaking climax we all remember actually comes quite late - at 42 minutes, more than halfway through the film. It's somber and dignified, and personally I found it far less traumatizing than the "Baby Mine" sequence in Dumbo.
Bambi reminds us that while nature can be brutal, mankind can be far worse; it is the only Walt Disney Studios animated film where humans are the enemy. But it's also reassuring and life-affirming in that way that nature can be sometimes; to everything there is a season. "Bambi" and "Thumper" are widely understood nicknames for deer and rabbit, respectively - just one example of how the film's legacy reverberates today.
For a film best remembered for its emotional gut punch, Bambi has so much more to offer.