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If you ask most of the young adults in my generation when and how they first learned about death in film; the answer is more than likely to be Mufasa’s death in The Lion King (1994). But 52 years before that tragic event, Disney set the bar for the disturbing and upsetting when it came to the death of Bambi’s mother in Bambi (1942). In fact, my grandmother, who saw Bambi in the theater at a very young age, recounted to me once that this scene had all the young children in the theater in tears (and I don’t blame them at all). Because it is so upsetting and so blunt in how it presents death, I have made this scene part of the list of Disturbing Disney moments.
Prior to this scene, Bambi has been experiencing his very first winter and it hasn’t been going well. There’s hardly any food to eat; and after the initial fun of playing in the snow, Bambi finds himself longing for the warmth and greenery to return. Bambi’s mother promises that spring will come soon and sure enough, one day they arrive at the meadow to find the first shoots of spring grass peeking up through the snow.
So far so good right? Well no sooner do they start eating then the ominous “Man is coming” music starts. This theme is the only musical hint we ever have that Man is coming (he is never seen onscreen). Bambi doesn’t notice the danger, but his mother does and she quickly tells her son to run for safety!
This is where the scene begins to enter the disturbing. As Bambi runs for it, he turns to look back at his mother and hears these last words “Faster, faster Bambi! Don’t look back! Keep running, KEEP RUNNING!” Right before these words, the pair has already dodged one gunshot, and just after Bambi’s mother disappears offscreen, you hear it: a solid gunshot indicating a hit. But Bambi keeps running, not realizing anything has happened until he reaches the thicket, turns around and realizes…his mother isn’t there. The pain in the moment when Bambi goes from happiness (“We made it mother!”) to questioning (“Mother?!”) is heartwrenching. When I was younger, I had a very hard time watching this part of the movie. In fact, I can dimly recall being young enough to not quite understand what had happened to Bambi’s mother (and when I asked my mother all she would tell me was “keep watching”).
Disney does provide one moment of hope at the end of this scene: after a long search through the forest, Bambi encounters his father, the Great Prince of the Forest, who solemnly tells him “your mother can’t be with you anymore” and formally takes his son under his wing. This is the last time we see Bambi as a young fawn; he’ll next appear as a young buck (antlers and all).
As sad and messed up as this scene is (keep in mind, Bambi right now is the equivalent of a 5- year-old human child), it was originally going to be ten times worse. In an earlier version of the script, Bambi was supposed to notice the shot, double back and find his mother lying in a pool of her own blood (whether she was already dead or dying is not specified). Walt Disney vetoed the idea on the grounds that would be going too far and the moment was cut (which is good, because otherwise, this scene would’ve been #1 in the series).
I suppose it could be argued that this scene is more sad than disturbing, but I felt it needed to be added to this series. What do you think of the death of Bambi’s mother? Did it greatly upset you, were you old enough to understand what had happened? Let me know in the comments below! I’m glad everyone is enjoying this series 🙂 The next installment will also be from Bambi and covers a small moment that always had me on the edge of my seat. Until then, have a good rest of the day!
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