Favorite screenplays: Bambi part 2

Spring turns to summer, and Bambi’s mother takes him to The Meadow.  On the way, the still-tiny Bambi informs his mother that they "are not the only deer in the forest."  So the first section of Bambi is about Bambi meeting other animals, but the second section is about Bambi meeting his peers — other deer.  It’s about how Bambi begins to learn his place in society.

The Meadow is a beautiful — yet dangerous — place.  The woods is Bambi’s "home," the meadow is "the world."  As, eventually, all mothers must, Bambi’s mother, on this fine summer day, introduces Bambi to the big, beautiful, scary, dangerous world.  Which is, of course, the dilemma forced upon any parent — you must protect your child, but you must also prepare it for the dealing with the world.  Because somewhere in the back of your mind, you know that you’re not always going to be there for your offspring.  The child only knows what the parent tells it, so Bambi takes all his cues from his mother.  If she says "stay in the thicket," he stays, and if she says "It’s all right to come out," out he comes, rushing pell-mell, eager to see what delights the world offers.

And look!  Here’s Bambi’s old friend Thumper, hanging out with his family, being chastised by his attentive mother, who quotes his (absent) father on the subject of proper diet.  So the meadow isn’t a completely alien landscape for Bambi.

But then Bambi comes to a frog, who croaks "Watch out!"  Watch out?  For what?  Bambi’s mother’s fear, plus the frog’s comic croaking, indicates the danger inherent in the meadow.  It’s good to have fun, says the frog, but there is serious danger afoot. Or perhaps the frog’s concerns are more immediate.  Is the frog saying "Watch out, don’t step on me?" or "Watch out, there are girls around?"  Because a girl is, of course, the very next thing Bambi smacks into.  Faline, the same age, but more mature than Bambi, more sure of herself.  This is Bambi’s fate, to forever be at a loss — the world keeps throwing him curveballs.  Faline drives him crazy — jumps around, plays hide and seek, kisses him and runs away.  Faline is playing a game that Bambi cannot begin to understand the rules of.

Then, here come the stags!  And everyone stands aside.  The stags!  They run and pounce in a pack, they swoop and glide.  And Bambi tries to imitate them, their aggression and their spirit.  How else does a boy learn to be a man?  A boy begins by imitation, by flexing his masculine muscles until it starts to feel natural.  Bambi is taking his first steps toward cutting the apron strings.  Bambi doesn’t even really understand what the stags are, but he knows they’re cool and, for the moment, he wants to be one, to be free and majestic as they are.  To be free of what, though?  The stags, as far as the narrative is concerned, have no familial duties.  Whatever they do, they do it somewhere else in the world.  The sphere of men is oblique and mysterious in Bambi.  When men interact with the women and children, it’s in the role of protector and watcher, but never as confidante, companion or friend.  And as we will learn, the journey from boy to man is made without map or guide — it will remain mysterious, even to the one undertaking it successfully.

Bambi’s father walks by Bambi, and pauses, and looks at him, and moves on.  Which makes Bambi fearful and still.  His father has no words for him, no affection.  He simply acknowledges him, and moves on.  Whatever goes on in his mind, he keeps it to himself.

Why is Bambi’s father so respected?  The reason is simple: he’s alive.  Because there is real danger in the meadow, and Bambi’s father has managed to avoid it longer than anyone.  So when Bambi’s father gets cautious, everyone gets cautious.  And when he runs, everyone runs.  A panic!  Bambi gets separated from his mother, and his father guides him to the thicket.  So we see that Bambi’s father is not indifferent to his son’s life — it’s just that raising him is not something he spends much effort on.  That’s someone else’s job.

What caused the panic on the meadow?  His mother explains it simply and clearly: "Man was in the forest."  Man, in the cosmos of Bambi, stands in opposition to Nature, or at least in opposition to Bambi.  The realities of what "man" is doing in the forest are kept abstract and strange, because "man" isn’t really the problem.  What Bambi’s mother calls "man" is more properly called "death."  Which is, of course, what lies at the end of everyone’s story, deer and rabbit, skunk or butterfly.  There is no escape from death, death claims everyone in the end.  Or rather, there is an escape from death, and Bambi, by the end of the story, will eventually figure out what that is.

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3 Responses to “Favorite screenplays: Bambi part 2”
  1. Bambi wants to go out into the meadow. He’s not initially frightened of how big and wide and open it is. He’s perfectly happy to run headlong into this new place that his mother as told him is wonderful. So it’s up to his mother to leap in front of him and instill a healthy level of fear in him. Bambi is not a creature of instinct; he doesn’t know what he should fear.

    I’m looking at the screenshot of Bambi’s mother cautiously venturing out onto the meadow from your first post. And even when you can’t see her slow, wary steps punctuated by he head quickly rising up to look for danger or hear the eerie soundtrack highlighting her movements, you can sense the tension. You have a doe, tiny on the screen, completely alone, grounded by only a thin strip of grass against a vast expanse of fog. She is completely vulnerable; there is nowhere to run or hide. A high angle shot might have given the impression that she could flee off into the meadow if danger should arise. But the shot has no depth and there could be anything hidden in that fog.

    Her warning is so effectively scary that it takes Bambi a minute to regain his previous excitement. He hesitates before joining her, even as she says it’s safe.

    Bambi’s father has gained prestige by surviving, and if Bambi wants anything, it’s probably that: to survive. But he doesn’t know that yet. He doesn’t even know what will and won’t ensure his survival. He picks up on the fact that the other deer are panicking, but he doesn’t understand why.

  2. Thank you for doing these. I just re-watched Bambi for the first time in what, thirty four years, on the strength of your first post.

  3. curt_holman says:

    I hate the part when Bambi meets Faline at the reindeer games and his false nose falls off and they see that his real nose shines so bright. Or am I getting mixed up?