Everyone’s favorite twink fawn Bambi (backed by his posse—the eager jackrabbit Thumper and the ridiculously femmy skunk Flower) was the star of the last film in Walt Disney’s first cycle of fully animated features. A mid-war hiatus (during which hundreds of short subjects were cranked out like so many good, clean, vapid artillery shells) lasted until Cinderella in 1950, but even without the line of demarcation between the Depression years and the McCarthy era, Bambi would still serve countless term papers well by functioning as a pivotal point in Disney’s idealistic suburban expansion upon the razed territory of Fairy-Tale Land. Unlike almost every one of the Disney films that preceded it (true “classics” all), Bambi is a parable without any real moral at its center. (When the AFI casually listed “Man” as one of their favorite movie villains a few years back, the absurd deadpan of the label brought the film’s simple take on nature’s lifecycle into uncomplimentary focus.) Dumbo may be even more incidental and low-stakes at a plot level, but damned if Ben Sharpsteen doesn’t stage the poor baby elephant’s visit to his shackled and jailed mother as though it were the cartoon approximation of A Tale of Two Cities’ Lucie sobbing “weep for it, weep for it.” Even worse, aside from the admittedly impressive work by Disney’s team of animators to accurately simulate the maladroit gait and ludicrously reversed joints of deer, is Bambi‘s lack of ambition. Fantasia is clearly guilty of literalizing classical music through corny evolution panoramas and swampy art deco pastorals, but you’ve got to admire the ridiculous hubris behind the attempt. It’s a paint-box Intolerance: The Portmanteau Musical Remix to the mere A Corner in Wheat Meadow in question here. The tale is in a forest without a trace of dirt, and that means neither soil nor buckwildery. Indeed, it sometimes appears as though Thumper is raising his oar-like hind foot to reveal its snow-white antisepticism (“Look, Ma! No fungus and no moss-syphilis!”). The Whitmanesque sampling of sugar-glazed skies, butter-crème flower-petals, and jawbreaker-eyed woodland eunuchs all serve a common purpose: to defer to Disney’s idealized primer on instinctual reproduction without sexuality, or, as the “wise” owl calls it, “twitterpat”: another chalk mark in the column of infantilism. In other words, Bambi the neuter (a male character who has unsurprisingly inspired precisely no proud parents to name their male children after him) is merely the most prominent example of Walt Disney explaining to kids “you and me baby ain’t nothing but mammals, so do it like they don’t on the Disney Channel.” Ask anyone past 20 years of age what they remember about Bambi, and they’ll probably only be able to pull up the moment that his mother is shot by Man. It’s no surprise that the film’s only enduring legacy hinges on the psychological destruction of, as Madonna put it, “where life begins.”
- David Hand
- Larry Morey, Perce Pearce
- Hardie Albright, Stan Alexander, Peter Behn, Tim Davis, Donnie Dunagan, Ann Gillis, Sterling Holloway, Cammie King, Fred Shields, John Sutherland, Paula Winslowe, Will Wright
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