Review: Walt Disney’s “Bambi”

A scene from
A scene from "Bambi"

Bambi, the fifth feature-length production from Walt Disney’s animation studio, continued their mission to create animated films that would showcase the medium as not just children’s entertainment but as a true art form. Based loosely on Felix Salten’s book, Disney’s adaptation sticks to a simple coming-of-age narrative for the titular fawn as he matures in the forest, learning about life, and more notably, death. Most remember Bambi best for the moment midway through the film when the fawn’s mother is killed by hunters: many cite it as a key traumatic moment of the early Disney canon, though even more frightening are the climactic sequences in which the hunters return with dogs and fire.

Disney strived for realism with Bambi, pushing against the notion of fantasy associated with his studio based on past productions. “It showed us a new dimension that was possible for animation,” said animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. “Real drama with the communication of an idea that would move the audience. It was a sobering thought and a provocative challenge.”1 That approach is essential to what makes Bambi work and feel distinct from the other Disney films; yet with little plot and a seventy minute runtime, it can’t help but feel somewhat slight. Moments of comic relief rarely work—the young version of Thumper the rabbit is a particular nuisance—but the darkness counteracts them effectively enough. “Life is composed of lights and shadows and we would be untruthful, insincere, and saccharine if we tried to pretend there were no shadows,” Disney would say.2 Bambi is at its best when the filmmakers embrace that darkness and how it conflicts with the traditional Disney aesthetic, ultimately crafting a lovely little film about the circle of life.

Where to Watch

Buy it on Blu-ray / DVD

Buy it digitally on iTunes / Amazon / Google Play

For More on Bambi

Watch our video essay on the film by John Allegretti

Read the review in The New York Times

Read the review in Variety

Read the feature about the making of Bambi on Oh My Disney

Watch the Trailer

References   [ + ]

1, 2. Drew Taylor, “Animating Nature: The Making of Bambi,” Oh My Disney, August 2016.