Last time I may have said that Dumbo may be the darkest that Disney ever go. Saying this before Bambi was a bit of a bold claim to make. Not only is this the film where Disney killed Bambi’s mother. Oh no this is the film where:
- Bambi has to battle another male deer to stop his girlfriend being raped
- we witness a quail get into such a state of fear that she flies away screaming only to be shot to death
- someone is almost mauled to death by hunter’s dogs
- and (oh yeah) everyone loses their home in a human-made forest fire.
The kicker for me in all this is that the marketing department saw Bambi and it’s damning indictment of hunting and thought: let’s advertise this as one of the greatest love stories ever told. I mean, I thought marketing Slumdog Millionaire as a feel-good film was a reach, but this really takes the cake.
I swear that, as a child, I didn’t take in any of this horribleness in other than Bambi’s mother dying. Guess that speaks to how little a child really can get when watching a cartoon other than the happy feeling of sitting down and watching a cartoon.
The grim realities aside, Bambi really was a steep left turn from the Disney films that came before. This is their first film where there is nothing remotely fantastical involved and, instead, everything is deeply rooted in reality (talking animals aside). We are also back to the more naturalistic animation with beautiful lush backgrounds after the cartoony and slightly rushed animation in Dumbo. It’s not quite as high as the standards we saw in Pinocchio – but this was made on nearly a third of the budget and had to lose 12 minutes in order to keep costs down.
If I sound like I am being unnecessarily harsh on Bambi that’s because the standard of the first five Disney films is so ridiculously high that I’m feeling the need to nitpick. This is an animated classic with scenes that pretty much anyone growing in the West will have as part of their pop culture canon. In making this film Disney enraged the hunters of America (because the mirror can be unwelcome) and introduced generations of children to the idea of hunted animals having proper feelings as well as being a PSA about the deadly nature of forest fires. It’s one of those essential films to see before you are 12… and then when you are an adult so you can appreciate the darkness.
Right, so this bring me to the end of the initial run of narrative Disney films before the break for six package films that were released over the course of the next decade. I’ve seen half of these already and whilst they didn’t initially wow me I’m going to keep an open mind and whiteknuckle it on my way to Cinderella.