Saturday, August 20, 2011

It’s “Bambi” Versus Time. And “Bambi” Wins!

Disney's Fifth Animated Feature - 1942
Short and sweet, Walt Disney’s 1942 animated feature Bambi is a magnificent film, well worth your time, energy, and dollar.

But nothing this good is simple. Even if you’re never seen Bambi you probably know what happens to Bambi’s mother. That’s how potent and memorable this film is. Bambi is hands down one of the best if not THE best Disney animated feature. But is your child old enough for Bambi? Answer me this: does your child know that all living things die—including animals and humans? If so, they’re old enough for Bambi. You don’t need me to tell you that your child should not find out that living things die in a movie, any movie.

Having said that, Bambi does touch upon important life lessons that relate to growing up, as the film follows the character of the fawn Bambi from birth through adolescence to first love and completes the cycle with the birth of his own offspring. What’s interesting here is that aside from the expected animated conventions that place this story in the world of talking animals—a peaceable kingdom where an owl is a friend to a rodent, not a predator—the story makes an effort to obey the rules of nature in the life of deer. Young Bambi is raised by his mother with his father a distant presence in the forest and in his life. I like the way Bambi’s father is called “great prince” because he earned the right by wisely managing to live longer than any other deer in the forest. He isn’t born into royalty; he’s earned his title. And I like the way Bambi’s mother raises him alone, a lovely depiction of an unconventional family (though not unconventional for deer).

This peaceable kingdom is not without its dangers, and the greatest threat to the deer of the forest is—you guessed it—man. Bambi’s mother makes the threat plain to her young son, and it easily translates for any child to their own lives and the dangers of crossing a street or speaking to strangers. The message is clear: listen to your parents; they can help keep you out of harm’s way. The threat here is not mystical or magical; they’re not going to be kidnapped and turned into donkeys, as in Pinocchio. The threat here is a real, live hunter/predator who demands attention. As I mentioned earlier in this piece, Bambi’s mother is shot and killed by a hunter. We only hear a gun shot. And we never see any humans in this film, but we see evidence of their destruction, not only in hunted animals but in a carelessly abandoned campfire that leads to a forest fire.

Speaking of the forest fire, Bambi contains sequences such as the fire, an April shower, and Bambi’s first visit to a meadow that are Fantasia-worthy stunners. The film is slower-paced than today’s cinema and the music sounds corny and a bit dated, but the slower pace allows viewers to really savor all the clever and beautiful details the animation team created by hand. Respect.

Bambi’s pals, Thumper the rabbit and Flower the skunk are a jolly and supportive pair of pals, charmingly voiced by real children. We see Thumper and Flower grow up, too. As teens, the “lads” vow that they’ll never be interested in girls about two seconds before they’re all smitten. When Bambi reconnects with Faline, a gal he first met as a young fawn, it’s love at first sight. But as with real deer, Bambi must fight another young buck for the right to be with her.

No small thing, this is the first Disney feature that is absent of any ethnic stereotypes or overt racism, which makes it unique for 1942. You don’t have to make apologies for this film. This film is about life in all its shades of glory and sorrow. Like the four seasons—prominently featured in this film—there is a time for everything. And it may be time for you and your kids to enjoy Bambi.

Disney Goes To War
Also made in 1942, the Disney animated short, Der Fuhrer’s Face answered the call for anti-Nazi propaganda, and did it with humor and snap. It won the 1942 Oscar for Best Animated Short Film and rightly so. The film, which takes place in Donald Duck’s nightmare, was held back from general release for decades due to the Disney Corporation’s squeemishness at the sight of Donald Duck in a Nazi uniform. It’s now available on dvd, but can also be seen in its entirety on YouTube. Also on YouTube, Spike Jones and his City Slickers, famous for their parody songs, recorded the title song and can be seen here at a WWII bond drive, giving their own version of the Nazi salute.

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