Bambi closes what most consider Disney’s golden era, and man, does it finish with gorgeous animation. The birth of prince Bambi isn’t as epic as the birth of Simba, but it’s serene, it’s peaceful, and it’s just plain marvelous to look at it. Of course, one might worry that by comparing Bambi to Simba means the animation goes to waste in this one, but I’m delighted to say it doesn’t. This movie is not only my favorite from the golden age; it is also Disney’s first and of only three masterpieces.
Bambi is our first handicapped, disabled, or retarded Disney prince. He has to grow out of a speech impediment, and it takes a while for Bambi to learn how to stand on his feet properly. Nonetheless, Bambi as a child is very relatable. Of course, he makes his first friends, which includes a rabbit who thumps his foot, a skunk who could be mistaken for a girl, a grumpy owl who freely spins his head around, and another female deer who is everything Bambi is not. While Bambi is shy and oftentimes afraid, Faline is fun and overly energetic. Needless to say, this cast of distinct and likeable characters makes Bambi’s first adventures charming.
Bambi’s relationship with his parents is also perfect. His mother lets him wander off to have his own experiences, but is always there to take care of him and warn him about the dangers of mankind. Then there’s Bambi’s father, The Great Prince of the Forest, who strikes admiration in Bambi at every scene, although short-lived and few. His disconnect from the family works well to raise his status as this sort of distant protector and role-model of Bambi. As a result, every piece of dialogue from him resonates as deeply with us as it does Bambi.
What I love about this film is that it conveys life’s most elementary experiences, such as a lighting storm or the first snow of winter, with the imagery and sounds that re-evoke those emotions we may have felt in our childhood. The way the rain sounds dripping on leaves and flowing into streams, or how the thunder rattles our bodies and lights up the sky. The excitement of stepping on snow or ice for the first time, only to realize the bitter cold and harsh winds that associate it. This is all done delicately to show fear, to show joy, to show hunger, in a way that is never overbearing or abrupt. It describes life in the lens of a child: an emotional roller coaster that pays more attention to the little things, rather than, say, getting into college or a salary raise.
Now it is the film’s time to show sadness through death, and once again, it delivers in a style that does not demand your tears. It simply is a heart-breaking moment when Bambi’s mother dies. The way Bambi slowly comes to realize what has happened, and starts to feel the immediate repercussions of loneliness. One may be able to relate these feelings to when they first got lost or separated from their parents. I know that is what this reminded me of.
Then the film forwards in time quite a bit, and it’s interesting how they do it. Last time we saw Bambi, he was taken in by his father, and we don’t really know if he returns to the forest as this new, trained deer, or if this is simply another day in the forest for Bambi. In any case, Bambi is a more confident deer now; one who has definitely benefited from someone worthy of the name, The Great Prince of the Forest.
It is spring now, and it’s mating season. The way each one of the three friends: first the skunk, then the rabbit, then Bambi falls in love is just hilarious. Of course, Bambi rekindles with his childhood past in Faline, but then the film takes a pleasant turn: it turns adult. I don’t mean that it’s not for kids anymore, but the lens of our narrator, Bambi, has changed. Whereas danger and violence always made Bambi hide behind his mother, he now has the courage to challenge another deer for Faline’s heart, just as a real deer would have to do in the real world. The imagery is incredible in this scene. The way both deer are turned into silhouettes, and yet, still distinguishable borders genius. And it’s not like this one scene here or there that impresses; there are so many instances where the animation turns Fantasia. Once you think you’ve seen the best animation this movie has to offer, it throws another scene that makes you reconsider. And another. And another. It’s like Bambi has an endless stock of animators to make this wonderful-looking film.
Bambi wins the duel, and thus, Faline. Then, mankind arrives to cause havoc in the animal community. What I love about the villain in this movie, us, is that we never see them. This only emphasizes what I realized this film is about at the end.
The film is about life. It isn’t about developing a protagonist, having him or her overcome obstacles, learn something new along the way, and teach the audience a moral lesson. It’s about life. It depicts it in its actuality, except in a completely different world where the animals are much cuter to keep its younger audiences entertained. Sometimes, an adventure doesn’t need someone to have a dream, or have a villain who tries to stop that dream from happening, because life is an adventure in itself. Maybe Bambi as a character isn’t too interesting; maybe the largely plot-less story bores. But the way in which Bambi’s life makes you recall moments in your own life is genius. And what is more intimate than one’s own personal experiences and journey?
The story decides to wrap the journey up by having a fire wipe out the forest. Then the film, once again, forwards in time to when the trees and flowers have mostly regrown. All the animals are excited, as they were at the beginning of the film, for a new prince—Faline has given birth to new deer, completing the circle of life. Bambi is everything The Lion King hoped it could be, and then some more. Bambi isn’t a pretentious prince, Bambi learns lessons from characters that deserve to be called teachers, and as a result, when the film ends with Bambi standing next to his father, it feels like an ending. This movie doesn’t teach children morals or provide adults with complicated characters, or even bring back typical Disney elements. However, there is something beautiful in the minimalistic style Bambi chooses to tell its audience that our life is adventure enough.