08/16/02
Bambi
    by John Cech

That's Thumper the Rabbit talking to Bambi's mother, in the beautiful opening sequence of Walt Disney's 1942 film, when all the gentle animals of the forest come to see the new-born deer. In the original 1926 novel by the Austrian writer, Felix Salten, that Disney based his movie on, Salten named the deer Bambi because it held echoes for him of the Italian word for baby, "Bambino." Salten had meant his story to be a kind of allegory that spoke, on one level, to the plight of European Jews between the world wars, and later Bambi was, in fact, outlawed by the Nazis, and Salten was forced to flee for his life to Switzerland.
According to Disney scholars like Jill May, the Disney studio began working on the film in the mid-1930s, and from the beginning, it seems, that Walt Disney intended the film to be, in part, an ecological statement. Disney's characterization of the hunters, who kill Bambi's mother in the first half of the movie and who nearly destroy the forest and all the creatures in it in the second half, brought a widely-reported demand from the American Rifleman's Association at the time of the film's release that Disney add a favorable note about hunting to the opening credits. Disney refused.

In many ways, Bambi, which had its premier fifty-nine years ago this month, was the film Disney was most proud of, technically and aesthetically. It required over a million drawings, and a complex photographic process -- involving fixed planes of forest scenery painted on pains of glass -- to give the animals' habitat its remarkable depth. Disney even built a small zoo on the studio grounds so that his artists could directly observe the movements of young and older deer. The movie is available at video stores, and when you watch it again, or for the first time with the children in your family, you'll see for yourself why it is so special -- beause, despite its dark and painful moments, it's brimming over with life and love and some of the most sublime art ever put on film.

Copyright 2002, John Cech

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