Bambi Part Two
There were many interpretations of the story. As Mel Shaw claimed
The story of Bambi had a so many possibilities, you could go off on a million tangents. I remember one situation when Walt became involved with himself. He said ‘Suppose we have Bambi step on an ant hill and we cut inside and see all the damage he’s done to the ant civilization’. We spent weeks and weeks developing the ants, and then all of a sudden we decided, you know, we’re way off the story, this has got nothing to do with the story of Bambi. We also had a family of grasshoppers, and they get into a family squabble of this or that, and Bambi is watching all of this, and here’s the big head of Bambi in the grasshoppers. And what’s that got to do with the story, and this would go on many times.
Originally the film was intended to have six individual bunny characters, similar to the dwarfs in Snow White. However Perce Pearce suggested that they could instead have five generic rabbits and one rabbit with a different color than the rest, with one tooth, would have a very distinct personality. This character later became known as Thumper.
There originally was a brief shot in the scene where Bambi’s mother dies of her jumping over a log and getting shot by man. Larry Morey, however, felt the scene was too dramatic, and that it was emotional enough to justify having her death occurring off screen. Walt Disney was also eager to show man burned to death by his fire that he inadvertently started, but this was discarded when it was decided not to show man at all. There was also a scene involving two autumn leaves conversing like an old married couple before parting ways and falling to the ground, but Disney found that talking flora did not work in the context of the film, and instead a visual metaphor of two realistic leaves falling to the ground was used instead. Disney and his story team also developed the characters consisting of a squirrel and a chipmunk that were to be a comic duo reminiscent of Laurel and Hardy. However, after years of experimentation, Walt felt that the story should focus on the three principal characters: Bambi, Thumper and Flower. The squirrel and chipmunk make only brief appearances in the final film.
The writing was completed in July 1940, by which time the film’s budget had increased to $858,000.
Although the animators had animated deer in Snow White, they were animated, in the words of Eric Larson, “like big flour sacks”. Disney wanted the animals in Bambi to be more realistic and expressive than those in Snow White. He had Rico LeBrun, a painter of animals, come and lecture to the animators on the structure and movement of animals. The animators visited the Los Angeles Zoo and Disney set up a small zoo at the studio with animals such as rabbits, ducks, owls, and skunks, and a pair of fawns named Bambi and Faline so that the artists could see first-hand the movement of these animals. Rico LeBurn’s sketches depicted realistic animals, but as characters they lacked personality. Marc Davis created the final design of Bambi by incorporating LeBurn’s realistic study of deer anatomy but exaggerating the character’s face by making his proportions baby-like (short snout, big eyes, etc.). Although there were no humans in Bambi, live-action footage of humans was used for one scene: actress Jane Randolph and Ice Capades star Donna Atwood acted as live-action references for the scene where Bambi and Thumper are on the icy pond. The animators learned a lot about animals during the film’s production, giving them a broader spectrum of animation styles to use in future projects.
The backgrounds for the film were inspired by the Eastern American woodlands. One of the earliest and best-known artists for the Disney studio, Maurice “Jake” Day, spent several weeks in the Vermont and Maine forests, sketching and photographing deer, fawns, and the surrounding wilderness areas. However his first sketches were too “busy” as the eye did not know where to focus. Tyrus Wong, a Chinese animator, showed Day some of his impressionistic paintings of a forest. Day liked the paintings and appointed him art director of the film. Wong’s backgrounds were revolutionary since they had more detail around the center and less around the edges, thus leading a viewer’s eye to the characters.
Due to World War II, which began in Europe in 1939, Pinocchio and Fantasia failed at the box office. Facing financial difficulty, Disney was forced to cut 12 minutes from the film before final animation to save production costs.
Bambi was released in theaters in 1942, during World War II, and was Disney’s 5th full-length animated film. The film was re-released to theatres in 1947, 1957, 1966, 1975, 1982, and 1988. It was then made available in North America on home video in 1989 and in the UK in 1994. Even in home video, it has seen multiple releases, including two VHS releases — in 1989 (Classics Version) and 1997 (Masterpiece Collection Version) — and most recently a digitally-remastered and restored Platinum Edition DVD. The Platinum Edition DVD went on moratorium on January 31, 2007.
Bambi was released as a Diamond Edition on March 1, 2011, consisting of a Blu-ray and DVD combo pack. This release included multiple bonus features not previously included in Bambi home releases: a documentary entitled Inside Walt’s Story Meetings – Enhanced Edition, two deleted scenes, a deleted song, an image gallery, and a game entitled Disney’s Big Book of Knowledge: Bambi Edition. This release also marked the first use of “Disney Second Screen”, a feature which is accessed via a computer or iPad app download that syncs with the Blu-ray disc, allowing the viewer to follow along by interacting with animated flip-books, galleries and trivia while watching the movie. A UK version of Diamond Edition was released on February 7, 2011.
In honor of the film’s 75th anniversary, Bambi was released as part of the Walt Disney Signature Collection on May 23, 2017 (digital) and June 6, 2017 (Blu-ray/DVD/digital combo pack).
Bambi lost money at the box office for its first release; out of its $1.7 million budget, it only grossed back $1.64 million.
The film was released during World War II and lacked access to much of the European market. Roy Disney sent a telegram to his brother Walt after the New York opening of the film that read: “Fell short of our holdover figure by $4,000. Just came from Music Hall. Unable to make any deal to stay third week … Night business is our problem.”
At the time of the film’s release, Bambi received mixed reviews from the critics, mainly because of the lack of fantasy elements in the film and objection towards a dramatic story of animals and their struggle to survive in the woods and avoid the threat of humans. Hunters spoke out against the movie, and in a 1942 edition of the magazine Outdoor Life, editor Raymond Brown wrote that the film was “… the worst insult ever offered in any form to American sportsmen.” The New York Times claimed, “In the search for perfection, Mr. Disney has come perilously close to tossing away his whole world of cartoon fantasy.” Film critic Manny Farber called it “… entirely unpleasant …” and agreed with The New York Times statement saying, “In an effort to trump the realism of flesh and blood movies, he [Disney] has given up fantasy, which was pretty much the magic element”. Even Disney’s daughter Diane complained, saying that Bambi’s mother did not need to die. When Walt claimed that he was only following the book, Diane protested, saying that he had taken other liberties before and that Walt Disney could do whatever he wanted.
Today, however, Bambi is viewed as a classic and recouped a considerable amount during the 1947 re-release and subsequent re-issues. The film holds a 89% “Fresh” rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics Mick Martin and Marsha Porter call the film “the crowning achievement of Walt Disney’s animation studio”.
English film historian Leslie Halliwell wrote that Bambi was “one of Disney’s most memorable and brilliant achievements with a great comic character in Thumper and a climactic forest fire sequence that is genuinely thrilling”. He concluded that it was “a triumph of the animator’s arts.”
In June 2008, the American Film Institute revealed its “10 Top 10” – the best ten films in ten classic American film genres – after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. Bambi was acknowledged as the third best film in the animation genre. It is also listed in the Top 25 Horror Movies of all Time by Time magazine. Bambi, Time states, “has a primal shock that still haunts oldsters who saw it 40, 50, 65 years ago.”