I don’t know. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the Disney Renaissance with their cohesive plotlines and clear narrative threads. I don’t know, but these really early Disney movies aren’t my favorites. After Snow White, we’ve just gotten less and less plotty, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not my kind of thing.
I love Disney, I really, really do. So it’s weirding me out how much some of these early movies aren’t doing anything for me. It’s just…there’s no plot. Yeah, it’s about Bambi and following his growth, and his mom’s death is the most traumatizing thing ever (…though not as heart-wrenchingly sad for me as “Baby Mine”), but…there’s NO PLOT. There’s nothing driving the story. I read on IMDB that they originally were going to have the hunter who shoots Bambi’s mom be a bigger character, but they realized they would have to make him a really bad guy, and they didn’t want to demonize hunters (uh…that didn’t quite work, guys). Honestly, though, I wish they had done it. I wish they had just gone for it and made the hunter the main villain, because that would give us some structure or something. Seeing Bambi be cute and clumsy is fun for a while, but then I got bored.
On the plus side, it’s a gorgeous movie. The forest looks beautiful, and the opening scenes of the movie kind of made my jaw drop. Bambi is adorable, as are his woodland companions, and there’s a good balance, I think, of drama and humor. It’s funny, but there’s some very real danger, something I haven’t felt this strongly since Snow White. (Yeah, Pinocchio, but Pinocchio‘s still lighter in tone than Bambi or Snow White, I think.) And again, it’s nice to see a loving mother/child relationship, even if it ends tragically. (If you ever give me a strong mother/daughter relationship, Disney, I will sing you songs of praise and joy.)
But here’s the thing. The Lion King does something similar–following an animal from birth to adulthood and fatherhood, with a big sad parental death in the middle–but The Lion King feels less meandering, less episodic and random. There’s a very present antagonist and a lot of emotional baggage. The protagonist grows, he changes, and he has a clear trajectory. Bambi just kind of grows up. He matures, and he gets a girlfriend, and he takes his father’s place, but…there really isn’t any emotional growth going on.
The perfect illustration of this is the scene after his mother dies. First we get the really sad moment where his father tells Bambi that his mother can’t be with him anymore. The music is sad, there’s snow, and a single tear rolls down Bambi’s cheek…the two walk away into the snow and the screen fades to black. Next scene: HAPPY SPRINGTIME JOY. The birds are tweeting! Springtime is here! Everyone is happy! And Bambi has grown up into a well-adjusted adult deer. WHAT? It’s the most jarring transition ever! The only time we see Bambi deal with his mother’s death is that one tear. And then he’s over it? Or maybe it took him some time, but we don’t get to see him deal with that. And that makes sense because he’s a DEER, not a human, but without that emotional, human element, the story is less compelling.
Individually, the scenes in Bambi are beautifully animated and are suitably dramatic or comedic, but as a whole, there isn’t a lot holding them together. Some scenes feel absolutely random (dancing in the clouds, anyone?), and…well, Man is still hanging around in the forest, so nothing really gets resolved, either. I love you, Disney, but I also love plot, so I’m going to have wait a bit longer before I start gushing wildly over your genius. Just hang on until Cinderella or Lady and the Tramp, okay?
Favorite scene: Bambi meets Flower
Because I freaking love Flower. I used to think he was a girl (I must have missed the part where he gets a girlfriend?), because he was so coy and flirty with Bambi. He’s just adorable, and…well, I kind of think he has a crush on Bambi. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Most traumatic scene from anything ever: THE BIRD. OH GOD THE BIRD.
Next time: Saludos Amigos!