Favorite screenplays: Bambi part 3

Summer turns to fall, and fall, for no stated reason, gets glossed over in a rush of colored leaves and turns to winter.  Bambi is still tiny, still a child in this world where the rules constantly shift.  Every time Bambi thinks he’s got the world figured out, no matter how cautious is his step forward, the world immediately slaps him down, changes the rules, makes him a baby again.

And now, here it is, winter, and again something new: snow.  He ventures out into this new, white world, again a baby, again at a loss.  His friend Thumper is there, and again, for some reason is wiser than Bambi.  How he’s become more familiar with winter than Bambi, I don’t know, but everyone always seems to know more about everything than Bambi.  Thumper shows Bambi how to have fun on the ice, or rather he has fun with Bambi on the ice while making Bambi feel awkward and miserable.  They go to see Flower, who’s hibernating for winter — "All us flowers sleep in the winter," he says.  Again, Flower is something of an oddball in Bambi’s life — content to be a skunk, content to be a poet, an artist, an appreciator or flowers.  Others can "do stuff" during the winter, he’s happier snoozing.

And then, all of a sudden, that’s it, winter fun is over, and hardship sets in.  No sooner does Nature offer a winter wonderland than she turns it into a winter hellscape.  "Snow" turns to snowstorms, covering all the plants, leaving the deer to eat bark.  Bambi is starving, but luckily he still has his mother, kind and wise, generous and tender, to comfort him in these cold, terrifying months of hunger.

Then, just as suddenly, there are signs of spring — new grass peeks up through the snow in the meadow.  Nature, it seems, doesn’t want Bambi to die after all.  Joy!  Bambi pounces on the grass while his mother discreetly nibbles at the edges.

Then, as it is in Bambi’s world, joy immediately turns to terror as the rules change once again.  His mother suddenly says "Quick!  The thicket!" and the two of them take off running through the meadow.  "Don’t look back!" shouts the mother, and Bambi obeys.  He makes it back home, safe and sound.  "We made it!" he shouts triumphantly.  Yes!  He’s finally gained some wisdom!  There was a problem, but he followed his mother’s orders and made it home safe and sound.

Except, of course, his mother did not make it.  She was shot, by an unseen hunter.  Bambi doesn’t know that, and will never know that.  It’s beyond his scope of understanding, as death is, ultimately, beyond the scope of understanding of anyone.  He doesn’t even retrace his steps to where his mother might be — instead, he wanders the forest, plaintively calling to her as a new snow falls.  Tiny, cold and lost in this wintry wood, Bambi is, again, made a baby, except this time he doesn’t even have his mother to comfort him in his confusion and fear.

But he finally runs into his father, little more than a dark shape in the snow, who offers no more comfort or wisdom than "Your mother can’t be with you any more."  Well, gee, thanks dad, I feel a lot better now.

Why is Bambi’s father so cold, so distant, so remote?  It’s bad enough that he wasn’t there to protect his son and mate, he can’t even offer any words of wisdom or comfort to a child who’s just lost his mother.  But then, it occurs to me that Bambi’s mother needn’t be taken literally.  Not every child’s mother dies while the child is young, but every child must eventually reach the point where "your mother can’t be with you any more."  Bambi’s trauma isn’t necessarily that his mother is dead, but rather that he must leave his mother, he must cut the apron strings, he must prepare for a life outside his mother’s influence.

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6 Responses to “Favorite screenplays: Bambi part 3”
  1. squidattack says:

    I think it’s interesting to compare this scene with the dad’s death in The Lion King (which borrows a bit from Bambi). This death is so understated, with but one line referring to it throughout the whole movie (which is pretty much a euphemism), and Bambi’s response just a single tear. 50 years later in The Lion King, we see a panicky child shouting and denying, and it’s referred to, in direct terms, throughout the whole movie.

  2. I think one of this movie’s strengths is how often it forgoes dialogue and just lets the animation speak for the characters. During much of the “winter wonderland” sequence, I can almost forget that Bambi can talk.

    There’s more composition enforcing the idea of vulnerability in the scene leading up to the death of Bambi’s mother. We go from a closeup of the two deer happily munch on the first grass they’ve seen in months to a wide shot revealing how conspicuous they are in the empty, snowy landscape. I’m thinking back to Bambi’s mother’s warning about how the meadow is dangerous because it offers them no cover or safe hiding places. I’m guessing that hunger – mostly Bambi’s hunger – caused her to ignore her own wisdom in this case.

    Could Bambi even retrace his footsteps? The falling snow probably isn’t helping, and who knows if he remembers the route he took while fleeing to the thicket in a near panic?

    The commentary on the DVD suggests that the animators saw Bambi’s father as someone who believes that you have to deal with whatever life throws at you, which makes sense in the context of the harsh world Bambi grows up in. If he gives up, dwells on his loss, worries over how he can possibly go on without his mother, he’s dead. There was a version of this line in an earlier draft of the film that was longer and a little more comforting, but for whatever reason, Disney went with the single, direct statement. In the original book, which I read years and years ago, the line comes earlier, while Bambi’s mother is still alive and is just off doing something that requires her to be away from her son. It’s also harsher as I remember, something like “Your mother doesn’t have time for you any more.”

    You didn’t mention that this is the first time that the Great Prince tells Bambi that he is Bambi’s father. That particular revelation comes much later in the book. It may be intended as a small measure of comfort, that Bambi is not totally alone in the world and still does “belong” to someone, even if his childhood is effectively over.

    Of course, if you want to see Bambi and his father having more of a relationship, you can watch Bambi 2. It is – and I know someone somewhere will probably hate me for saying this – not that bad. It’s still a sequel to a movie that doesn’t needs one and it has the look and tone of a modern film rather than the original. But the animation is much better than in many of the direct-to-DVD sequels and it is at least making an effort not to be horrid and to have some prupose beyond cashing in on the brand.

    On a slight tangent, the DVD commentaty for this movie is one of the most interesting and engaging approaches to creating an audio commentary for a film where most of the original filmmakers have died that I’ve ever seen (heard?). Voice actors were given the transcripts of the story meetings for Bambi and each actor reads the part of one person present at the meetings. The name of the person whose words are being read is displayed on screen so viewers don’t get confused about who’s supposed to be who. It’s really fascinating and worth a listen.

    • Todd says:

      I listened to the commentary when the DVD first came out, and yes, it was an invaluable insight into Disney’s creative process.


    I go offline to eat DINNER and I’m an asshole for not responding tout de suite? In all cordiality, sir, fuck that.

    Now that that’s out of the way, awesome *brand new news* on the car, that’s really super cool. I’m happy to hear it. Seriously, it sounds like a great sitch.

    But jesus aitch fuck, don’t put me on a clock here, I got enough pressures.