Posted November 23, 2010 by editor in Retrospectives
 
 

Disney: Bambi


Bambi: a story of love, loss and courage that has been bringing a lump to throat of many since 1942. It was originally supposed to be Disney’s second full-length animation and the follow up to Snow White and The Seven Dwarves; however the pursuit of realism and Walt Disney’s never ending perfectionism delayed the project meaning four more films were released first. However, it was definitely worth the wait.

 

In the depths of the forest, dawn was breaking. The first rays of sunshine could barely break through the thick trees and the faint sound of a distant waterfall was the only noise to be heard. The young rabbit Thumper, who was always the first of his family to arise, was waking up slowly, yawning and scratching as he did every morning. But this wasn’t to be just another morning. This was the morning the forest had been waiting for. This was the morning the new prince had been born. The prince was a tiny fawn, only two hours old. All the forest animals rushed to greet him and found him curled up, sound asleep, next to his mother’s warm side. He didn’t even stir as the creatures of the forest gathered into a circle around him. Slowly the tiny fawn’s head lifted. He stared timidly at the creatures standing in front of him. Thumper lingered in the thicket after everyone had left and asked the fawn’s mother, “Whatcha gonna call him?” She smiled at him. “Well, I think I’ll call him Bambi,” she answered. Thumper hopped off to find his family and Bambi’s mother glanced down at her baby, who was sound asleep again. “Bambi,” she murmured tenderly, “My little Bambi.”

 

One day Bambi and his mother venture to the meadow. It’s the most delightful place Bambi has ever seen and the setting for his first meeting with the love of his life, Faline.  Bambi had chased a frog to the pond’s edge when he noticed something strange. He had two reflections in the water. He bent closer to the pond’s surface to investigate yet to his surprise, only one of the reflections moved. The other stayed still, staring mischievously at him. Slowly Bambi lifted his head. There, standing next to him, was another fawn. A long-lashed, delicate-looking fawn who giggled when their eyes met. Bambi dashed back to his mother, scared of this new fawn. They were introduced and grudgingly Bambi croaked “hello”. That was all it took. The silly young Faline giggled and danced around Bambi, who was so shy and confused by her that he fell into a small pond. Faline darted in and out of the pond’s cattails, giving Bambi little kisses on his cheeks. Finally, forgetting his shyness, Bambi gave a surprising whoop and charged after her. Bambi and Faline were inseparable after that.  The fawns were happily playing when they heard a low, thudding sound. They paused and turned to see dozens of huge deer, bigger than Bambi could have dreamed streaming out of the forest. The thudding sound was the noise of their hoofs. Then, as he watched, the bucks grew still. As one, they turned to face the woods. They had all sensed someone coming. It was a mighty stag, far bigger than the rest, with massive antlers fully a yard across. And something about the grave, unhurried way the stag moved toward the meadow told Bambi without any words that he was in the presence of majesty.

“Everyone respects him,” his mother explained softly. “For of all the deer in the forest, not one has lived half so long. He’s very brave and very wise. That’s why he’s known as the Great Prince of the Forest.”

All of a sudden the meadow was in chaos; a flock of crows was screaming crazily in the sky, the other deer were crashing past, running toward the forest, and a panic-stricken pheasant whirred up into the air. All about Bambi were the thundering of deer hoofs and the screams of terrified birds. The little fawn stood stock-still in the grass watching terrified, he could hear his mother calling him but could not see her. Then, without any warning, the great Prince was at his side. Together they raced toward the edge of the forest, where Bambi’s mother caught up to them. The three deer dashed to safety just as a shattering explosion rang through the air. Then the only sounds on the meadow were the echo of the shot and the crows’ screams… It was sunset before Bambi’s mother felt it was safe to come out of hiding but Bambi didn’t budge from his spot deep inside the thicket. When, after some coaxing from his mother, Bambi finally poked his head out cautiously he saw that all was still, he pulled himself out of the thicket little by little and walked, trembling, up to his mother.  This was his first brush with the biggest enemy of the forest, man.

As the days grew shorter and the snow grew deeper, winter stopped being fun and became tedious. Now it seemed to Bambi as though he were always limping along through the snowdrifts, always trying to catch up to the rest of the deer, always fighting the icy wind, always hungry and cold.

So the weeks passed by, lean and bitter, until one morning they wandered to the meadow and found the most wondrous sight, a small patch of green, spring grass. Bambi ate hungrily but his mother had barely started to eat when abruptly she stopped and lifted her head to sniff the air. She glanced from side to side as if she were trying to hear something. “Bambi,” she whispered. But he was so busy eating that he didn’t hear her. “Bambi!” she said in terror. Startled, Bambi looked up at her and the two of them sprang toward the forest. Bambi had never run so fast. He could hear his mother pounding along just behind him, her breath coming hard. A shot rang out. Horrified, Bambi glanced back over his shoulder at his mother. “Keep running! Keep running!” she cried. “Don’t look back!” Another shot echoed in the air just as he reached the edge of the woods. He leaped forward, darting through the trees, and with a final burst of energy, tore through the underbrush, down the last steps of the old, familiar path, and into the thicket. There he stopped, gasping for breath. “We … we made it, Mother!” he panted. There was no answer. (Here come the tears!!)  Bambi walked to the entrance of the thicket and peeked out into the woods. There was no sign of his mother. The forest had become dark and ominous. The trees seemed bigger and taller and less friendly. The snow was coming down harder now. Bambi tried to retrace his steps, but his tracks were already completely covered. In the muffled silence of the new snow, there was no sound other than his bewildered cries. Desperately Bambi searched for her, stumbling through the snowfall that was now so dense he could scarcely see where he was going. His heart was beating so hard that he could not think. He had never known fear like this before, or such loneliness.”Mother,” he wept, and his head bent low. His last cry froze in his throat and became a startled gasp. A huge, dark shape loomed above him. It was the old stag Bambi had once seen on the meadow. The Great Prince of the Forest. He was staring down at the little fawn, his face hidden in shadow. Bambi gave one wild, beseeching glance up at the stag. Then, stricken, he bowed his head. A single tear rolled down his cheek and vanished into the snow. Then, slowly, he began to follow the Great Prince and soon both disappeared in the upcoming blizzard…

Spring turned to autumn and Bambi started growning up, trading his spots for antlers and learning to fight with other bucks all the time gaining affection from the delightful Faline. One chilly gray autumn dawn, Bambi woke up with a start. Faline was still sleeping peacefully beside him in the thicket and except for a few falling leaves, the woods seemed still. Yet Bambi was sure there was something wrong. He stood up quietly, so as not to wake Faline, and stepped cautiously out of the thicket.

Bambi knew what had awakened him, the smell of smoke. Moving quickly, he trotted up to the cliff so he could get a clear view of the valley. There below, a thin, curling line of smoke was rising from a campfire – man. The Great Prince of the Forest was standing beside him and they knew they had to get away from there and deeper into the forest.  The crows’ screams of danger could mean only one thing. The meadow was hushed and fearful. A pheasant flew into the air to get away and instantly the shooting began in force. The animals were terrified; they streaked across the meadow toward the forest. Birds flew shrieking into the sky – and dropped motionless out of it. The sound of gunshots came ever closer, and with it the crazed barking of the hunting dogs.

Searching desperately for Bambi, Faline dashed up a rocky path. Suddenly, she turned and ran back in the other direction, chased by a large pack of snarling, barking dogs – Man’s dogs.Faline ran and ran, the dogs biting at her heels. They seemed to be everywhere, and Faline’s only hope was to clamber up onto a high rocky ledge just out of their reach. The dogs yapped and growled, all the while leaping up at her. In the distance, Bambi heard the ominous howling and barking of the dogs and above the noise, Faline’s terrified voice. He followed his senses to the spot where the vicious dogs had Faline cornered and without a moment’s hesitation, he plunged into battle. With lowered head and strong thrusts, Bambi flipped one of the dogs over his antlers, but the rest of the snarling mass instantly turned on him. Bambi retreated a few paces, but only to charge again. This time he used his hoofs too, kicking wildly as he stabbed with his antlers. Faline escaped. He reared up violently, shaking the dogs off, and then whirled around to attack again. Bambi continued to fight valiantly, until finally he saw his opportunity to break away. He dashed up the steep bank behind the rocky ledge. The dogs were so close behind him that Bambi could feel their breath on his heels. He pulled himself up the bank with every bit of strength he had. The pack of dogs would certainly have reached him and torn him apart, if the frantic pawing of his hoofs hadn’t started a rockslide as he neared the top of the bank. He knew he’d be safer on the other side of the gorge. He gathered his strength and sailed out over the chasm. A shot rang out and Bambi’s body arched in agony. Then he hit the ground on the other side and sprawled there, unconscious…

Down in the valley, a passing breeze blew a handful of dry leaves onto the dying campfire. Soon a tiny flame sprang up and began licking at the grass. One second, it seemed, there was a forest. The next second, there was nothing but fire. The flames devoured everything they touched and, ravenous for more, rushed forward into the woods. Trees that had stood for hundreds of years groaned as the fire consumed them. Blazing embers fell into the stream and set it boiling. And hundreds upon hundreds of desperate animals raced only inches ahead of the flickering demon that was so eager to catch them. Bambi knew nothing of this. He was lying in a haze of pain at the edge of the gorge. Dimly he was aware of the heat and smoke, the crackling of the flames and the animals’ screams, but none of it mattered to him. Then he heard a deep voice above him, the Great Prince was there and telling Bambi to get up. He was in agonising pain but a sheet of fire raised itself up in front of the two deer. The scorching blast of heat cleared the pain from Bambi’s head. Now he understood the danger they were in, he skidded along the gorge behind the stag, all thoughts of his injury forgotten. Everywhere the two deer turned, the mocking flames rose up in front of them. The Great prince wheeled around in the thick smoke and led Bambi to the stream. Huge tree trunks, glowing red, were toppling into the water all around them. Sizzling embers flew through the air like burning brands. There only choice was to head to the waterfall. Bambi and the stag rushed ahead over the slippery rocks. Now they came to the very edge of the waterfall. Thirty feet below them, water churned and boiled furiously above the treacherous rocks. The two deer hesitated, but only for a second. Then they threw themselves over the edge and fell into the maelstrom below.

A mile or so downstream, the water became wide and calm, though tinged with the reflections of flames leaping high into the air. I the middle of the river there was a tiny island where the creatures of the forest were taking refuge. Faline was standing at one end of the island, watching the water anxiously. Since she had fled from the dogs, she had seen no sign of Bambi. Surely no animals could still be alive in the forest, and it seemed like hours since she had crossed the water herself . . . then she gave a gasp of relief. Coming slowly across the river were the Great Prince and Bambi. Bambi had no idea whether Faline had made it to safety. His wound was beginning to ache again and he was conscious of how very tired he was. Just a little farther, he told himself as he struggled along searching the shoreline hopefully. Just a … little farther . . .  Bambi looked up and met Faline’s eyes. A burst of joy surged through him. She was safe! His pain and exhaustion vanished, and he swam the last few yards easily. Then he was on shore, standing once again next to Faline. Bambi gazed silently into her eyes. There were no words for what he was feeling. He and Faline leaned wearily against each other and turned together to watch the forest. Above the remains of the trees, the sky was burning brighter than any sunset.

Even the blackened ruins of the forest held no power against spring. Another winter had ended, and now May’s beautifying hand was passing lovingly across the charred landscape. Flowers were blooming everywhere. New leaves had sprouted from wounded branches, and a velvety coating of new spring grass was covering the scarred forest floor. Excitement was buzzing through the forest, a feeling some of the animals had experienced before. All the creatures were scurrying to get to the thicket where Faline was lying. Curled up next to her, staring wonderingly at the animals pressed around the thicket, was a tiny, perfect fawn. Suddenly, a second fawn’s head had popped up from behind her brother. She gazed at the owl in amazement and gave him a shy smile.

 

Prince Bambi was standing guard on a cliff high above the thicket, where he could take in everything at a single glance – the thicket with his new family inside, the adoring circle of animals who were his friends, the forest springing into new life, and beyond, the wide green meadow- As he gazed down over the scene, the Great Prince stood at his side. For a few minutes they watched the thicket together in silence. Slowly the old stag turned his serene gaze to Bambi, as if in farewell. Then without looking back, the Great Prince turned and walked away, leaving Bambi alone on the cliff.

Bambi’s heart was full. Sadness at the old stag’s passing mingled with joy at the birth of his children and his love for Faline. He straightened his shoulders and lifted his head proudly. In the golden sunrise, he was a majestic figure indeed, the new Prince of the Forest.

Bambi has everything, what more could you want from an animated film? I’ve appreciated this more and more as I’ve got older and it never gets tired. Definitely one of the best Disney has to offer.

Laura Johnson


editor