One of the most timeless and universal coming-of-age films ever, Bambi ranks with the very greatest of Disney’s classic masterpieces, along with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, and Fantasia.
Loosely based on the unsentimental novel by Austrian Jewish writer Felix Salten, Bambi regrettably reflects none of the source material’s religious themes, but it resonates with the same sense of reverence and wonder at the splendor and cruelty of nature and life itself, and likewise reflects darkly on the sometimes destructive relationship between man and nature.
The process of growing and learning is often glossed over in plot-driven coming-of-age films like The Lion King. By contrast, Bambi is about nothing else. With the patient single-mindedness of a child learning to walk or talk, the film focuses on the young deer prince’s repeated attempts to prop himself up on his stilt-like legs, to hop over a log, to say a word, to distinguish one boldly colored or flying thing from another. We see Bambi makes friends, cower at a thunderstorm, discover girls, and, in a defining, indelible scene recalled by subsequent films from The Lion King to Finding Nemo, face crushing tragedy. We watch him go from perplexed distaste at the mysteries of the opposite sex to falling head over heels, and we see him confronted with the implacable necessity of fighting for love.
Dialogue is at a minimum; Bambi is above all a triumph of visual storytelling. Here and in Pinocchio (and in certain sequences of Fantasia) the Disney animators’ art reaches the height of its richness; later works were visually simpler and cleaner, but not as lush. The stylized but naturalistic anatomy and movement of the deer, grounded in studies of real deer, is an achievement of special note (though none of the other animals have a comparable level of realism).
The score, too, is probably the most soaring and majestic of any Disney film (with, again, the obvious exception of Fantasia’s all-classical score), despite the absence of any breakout song. Visually and aurally, Disney never made a more gorgeous film.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.