Walt Disney had intended Bambi to be his second film. This proved difficult as Disney found it hard to adapt a full length novel into a movie and also animate life like deer. The movie was shelved for a few years. Serious work on Bambi began in 1938 but continued running into trouble because of the flow of personnel and methodology of handling animation at the time. By the time the writing was finished, the movie's budget swelled to $858,000. Disney really wanted the animals to appear lifelike in the movie. So much so that he had two deer and several other animals featured in the film brought to the studio. They set up a small zoo and had the animators watch how the animals moved around. The background of the film was inspired by the eastern woodlands of America. One of Disney's best artists, Maurice Day, went out to the woods of Maine and Vermont and drew pictures to draw inspiration for the film. The use of the multi-plane camera also added to the realism of the background.
Bambi is based on the Austrian book, Bambi, A Life in the Woods by Felix Salten. The book follows the birth and life of Bambi, a roe deer. This had to be changed in the Disney version to a white-tailed deer since roe deer are not found in America. The story is not too different from the Disney version. Massive changes involve the tone and the amount of time Bambi spends with his father. The book wasn't meant for children, as it's themes focused on loss, love, and the many dangers of life. In the book there is no Thumper or Flower. Instead there are many other secondary characters including Bambi's aunt and cousins, and many other deer. Oh, and by the way, one of his cousins is Faline. As in the deer that he falls in love with. I guess animals can do whatever they want! Bambi and his cousins see the princes, or male deer, for the first time. They find out that those princes were their fathers and Faline remarks that they don't stay around for long. Lesson one: Male deer mate a lot and don't have time for their ladies after they have kids! Bambi is kind of a momma's boy. He likes being around his mom a lot, but notices that she is trying to get him to be by himself more often. On one of these times of loneliness, Bambi sees "Him" for the first time. "Him" being the term used for man by the animals. The man raises his gun at Bambi and Bambi gets the lead out and starts crying for his momma. His mom accompanies him on his scared run through the forest and they find somewhere safe. A stag comes by and scolds Bambi for being a momma's boy. Bambi attempts to further remove himself from his mother's care. He later learns that the stag that scolded him was the old Prince, the oldest stag in the forest, known for being cunning and aloof.
Winter comes and the hunters come in droves. It is during this time that Bambi's mother is shot by a hunter. Gobo, Bambi's cousin goes missing and is presumed dead. Yes....they named one of their kids Gobo. Sounds like a Marx brothers name. Good ol' Gobo Marx. After this point, the novel skips a few years to when Bambi is older. Bambi spends a lot of time with Faline and starting to fall in love. The old Prince starts to take an interest in Bambi, as Bambi is tricked by everything. The old Prince saves him from hunters imitating a doe call, and Bambi learns never to trust noises....ever. Gobo returns, having been raised by a man who found him hurt in the forest. Gobo decides that he is now invincible to humans and becomes severely diluted. He is shot a week later after a hunter sees him. Gobo believed that by wearing the halter (head collar) he was given, he would be safe from hunters. Poor Gobo Marx.
Bambi begins to avoid everyone including Faline, though he still loves her, and tries to live a solitary life. Several times he runs into the old Prince who teaches him about snares and other dangers. But of course, Bambi basically attracts hunters and is shot. The old Prince comes and shows him how to avoid the hunters and dogs by running around in circles until the bleeding stops. The old Prince takes care of Bambi until he is healthy again.
When Bambi is old, the old Prince shows him that man is not all powerful by showing him the body of a dead man who had been shot by another man. Geez! The old Prince has been old for a really long time! He has to be decrepit by now! Bambi then realizes that there is "Another" that rules over all the animals, including man. At that point, the old Prince tells Bambi that he's always loved him and calls him "my son" before leaving to die. Oh dear. This is about as sad as Bambi's mother getting shot. Oh and Bambi and Faline don't get together in the end. Yay! Happy Ending!
Disney decided that the book was far too "adult" to leave it like it was. So, Disney decided to add Thumper and Flower, make the dad even more aloof, have Bambi and Faline stay together, and took out all the other deer. So, almost the same storyline except add in some characters and subtract some. In the Disney version, Bambi is born, meets Thumper and Flower, learns about girls, learns about man, loses his mother, taken in by his father, fights a male deer for Faline, saves Faline from fire and dogs, becomes King of the Forest! There can be only one! That's the short version of the story. There's memorable moments such as the ice-skating scene and the scene where Flower and Thumper fall in love at first sight. Not with each other, with other animals. Can you imagine a skunk and a rabbit hybrid? A Skrabbit named Flumper. Oh, and the scene where Bambi's mother is shot and Bambi is left alone in the snow desperately calling her name....*sob*.
Bambi's father shows up and tells him that his mother can't be with him anymore. More crying. Seriously. This movie is majorly depressing. The father takes care of Bambi and teaches him how to be a man, though we don't see this, it's assumed. Bambi comes back all grown up and meets up with his old friends and they all swear off girls. Easier said than done. They all happen to run into their soul mates in the matter of a few minutes. Bambi meets up with Faline again and they jump around like idiots until another deer shows up. Bambi fights the deer for Faline and totally goes all alpha male on him. After that, a hunter and dogs chase after the two as a fire rages from the campfire the hunter left unattended. Smokey Bear would be ashamed. Bambi's father helps the two escape the flames and they all live happily ever after. Bambi and his father do the whole Pride Rock pose and the movie ends. Bambi is so king of the forest.
Bambi was released in theaters in 1942. Unfortunately, the movie lost money the first time around thanks again to WWII. People were too busy to see a movie about a deer, and many theaters weren't open in Europe to screen the film. Bambi made up for it in it's subsequent re-releases starting in 1947. A small bit of controversy was stirred up when hunters spoke out against the film, saying that it was an insult to sportsmen. This didn't last very long however, mostly because people realized that calling the movie an insult to anything was stupid.
The movie has had far reaching influence in the years after it's release. Paul McCartney has credited seeing the scene where Bambi's mother is shot to sparking his interest in animal rights. This is known as the "Bambi effect." Bambi was the mascot for the government's fire prevention public service campaigns, but Disney only loaned the image out for a year. Thus, Smokey the Bear was created. In recent years, footage from Bambi and Bambi II has been used in commercials to spread awareness of the dangers of fire. The "Man" in the movie tops many "Top Movie Villain" lists, proving how powerful a character can be, even if you never see it.
Bambi today is considered by many to be one of the best Disney features of all time, for it's story, beautiful backgrounds and visuals. Many also praise Disney's life-like animals of the film. This is one of the more simpler films that some in our generation might not flock to due to it's less than action packed nature, but I urge you to watch the movie when you get a chance.