On August 13th, 1942, RKO Radio Pictures released Walt Disney’s fifth animated classic Bambi, based on the 1923 novel Bambi, a Life in the Woods, by Felix Salten.
Disney actually acquired the rights to Bambi in 1937, after MGM’s attempts to turn the book into a live-action film proved to be unfeasible. Originally meant to be Disney’s second animated feature, the project became delayed (among other things, the animators discovered that animating deer realistically was no easy task) and work didn’t really get going until 1939. The score for this film proved to be the final work of composer Frank Churchill (1901-1942), who died after committing suicide following a severe bout of depression.
The film went through many stages, but the following main characters emerged:
Bambi (the titular character, voiced by multiple actors): is the son of the Great Prince of the Forest (Fred Shields) and spends the first half of the story living with his unnamed mother (Paula Winslowe).
An unlikely trio of friends: Thumper, Bambi and Flower (aren’t they cute??)
Bambi’s closest friends are Thumper, a gray rabbit, and Flower, a male skunk (the name is based on a joke where Bambi, learning to speak, mistakenly thinks that Flower is, well, a flower, much to Thumper’s amusement).
The film’s opening song (referenced again as the film closes) is “Love is a Song,” performed as the opening credits roll. The song speaks to an enduring theme in the story that love takes many forms and despite changes in life, it never really goes away.
This is the opening of the song
The movie opens, as several Disney films do, with a birth, Bambi’s birth that is. All the animals of the forest are gathering to greet the young Prince (in the original novel, deer are regarded as “Princes” of the forest, Elk are “kings” and so on.)
The movie flashes forward to Bambi strolling around the forest with his mother, but still mute. This is quickly changed when Bambi meets Thumper, who proceeds to teach him how to talk (there is a humorous exchange where Bambi learns to say “Bird.”) Shortly afterward, Bambi and Thumper meet a little skunk who is quickly dubbed “Flower” by the young deer. Afterward, before Thumper and Bambi can play any more, thunder rings out in the distance and the two go their separate ways and head home. This leads to the introduction of “Little April Shower,” a song about a rainstorm. Interestingly, this song was originally going to be called “I like Falling” (referring to the raindrops). If you watch the opening the song in the video link below, you’ll hear four separate notes in the introduction as the raindrops begin falling. In a previous version, those notes were supposed to be words (something like this): “I, I, I, I, like, fall, -ing, I, Iike, fall, -ing, I like falling, I like falling, etc.) Ultimately, the animators decided that this was detracting from the quality of the song and the song was modified into its current version.
After the thunderstorm, the story fast forwards again, now Bambi is able to talk quite well and boy is he full of questions for his mother! On this day, Bambi’s mother is going to introduce her son to the meadow, a very wonderful (but occasionally dangerous) place. This is the first time the element of danger is introduced, as, when Bambi begins to rush headlong to the field, Bambi’s mother quickly cuts him off, explaining that one never, EVER, rushes out into the meadow. Of course (for now) the meadow is determined to be safe and Bambi is allowed to run off and play.
It’s here that Bambi meets Faline for the first time. Faline is a girl (and Bambi’s future love interest), and right now he finds her rather annoying.
While playing, the two come across a herd of male stags running across the meadow (the movie incorrectly depicts the rutting season as taking place in the spring, it actually comes in the autumn). Musically, this cue is called “Gallop of the Stags” and it is personally one of my favorite pieces of Disney film music.
I apologize for this being an Old Finnish dub, but it’s the best audio quality I’ve ever found for the music.
After narrowly avoiding the stags, Bambi (unwittingly) comes face to face with his father, the Great Prince of the Forest
The Great Prince leaves, but quickly returns after sensing something bad approaching. The only musical hint we have is a pervasive three note motif that repeats relentlessly as all the animals flee the meadow in a panic. In the confusion, Bambi is separated from his mother and runs in circles in the now abandoned field. Just as the whatever-it-is approaches, Bambi’s father appears and guides his son off the field and the entire family escapes just in the nick of time…as a gunshot rings out in the distance.
A terrified Bambi is informed that “Man…was in the forest.”
Throughout the entire film, “Man” is never seen or heard directly (except for gunshots). This was not always going to be the case. Originally, the filmmakers had opted to create a “Hunter” character that would be seen and represent the “Man” threat. As the story evolved however, Disney decided that presenting a visible hunter as the villain would create the wrong impression on young audiences (He didn’t want kids to become scared of hunters), so the character was scrapped and never developed beyond the storyboard phase.
That’s all for Part One. In part two, Bambi will experience Winter for the first time and go through some pretty significant life changes. I hope you enjoyed this first look at Disney’s Bambi, have a great day!!
*all images are the property of Walt Disney Studios
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