Sunday, November 20, 2005

Bambi (Hand, 1942)

Based on a novel by Austrian writer, Felix Salten, Disney’s Bambi presented its war-era audiences with a film asserting the power of nature to withstand human intrusion and maliciousness. Bambi forsakes conventional plot in order to demonstrate the life cycle as seen from the point of view of a deer and his forest friends. In the beginning of the film, Bambi is born and greeted with much attention and affection. He is awkward, struggling to operate his long legs. He is also naïve, mistaking a butterfly for a bird, a flower for a butterfly and a skunk for a flower. Soon, however, Bambi learns both to walk and to speak. He learns the joys of play and flirtation, as well as to fear the menace of Man. Whenever the woodland creatures speak of Man, it is not with a sense of anger, but rather a sense of resignation. If humans must inevitably face Death and Taxes, then the animals of this picture must inevitably face Death and Man. Not surprisingly, the two often go hand in hand. The cute, cuddly iconic Bambi eventually grows into adulthood, despite experiencing profound loss along the way. Once the deer himself becomes a parent, the cycle is complete.

Though many will probably remember Bambi as a profoundly moving experience from their childhood, it may strike the 21st century viewer as a fairly shallow work. Its singular message is put forth in a rather blunt fashion, while parents are left to piece together an interpretation for their children. I do not feel that children need to be sheltered from all things unpleasant in their entertainment. On the contrary, I watched the film with my own little boy, looking for an opportunity to discuss the concept of death and the way that guns can cause harm. Though it contains one of the most famous deaths in all of children’s film, I was surprised to find that Bambi actually handles the subject matter in an awkward fashion, offering one solemn sentence of explanation before shuffling off to the next scene containing young animals in love. So what am I asking for? I’m not exactly sure. Those who have not seen Bambi in a while may need to be reminded that there are actually two deaths which occur, both of which are depicted in a rather cold fashion with little time to process what has just occurred. I don’t necessarily feel like the filmmakers needed to wallow in the sadness of the moment; however, at the same time, a little insight might be nice. The feeling I got was, “Hey kid … buck up, death happens, deal with it. Want a cookie?”

And what about Thumper’s famous advice, received from his father? If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all. Setting aside the double negative, there’s also a conformist sentiment in that phrase that strikes me a little oddly. Perhaps I’m being too sensitive and reading too much into a simple call for proper manners, but what if there’s some great bunny injustice somewhere down the line? Who’s going to be there to stand up for what’s right and deliver the cold, hard truth? Not Thumper, man. He’ll be at home watching reality TV with his five kids telling them not to rock the boat and to get a damn haircut.

Anyway, beyond that, your appreciation of Bambi will probably depend on your patience for cutesy animal antics. From time to time, the animation is indeed a true pleasure to behold; still, I found myself lapsing into boredom despite the film’s brief running time. Though it attempts to tackle weighty subject matter, Bambi offers little in the way of substantial philosophy or thoughtfulness. It remains a well-executed animated film, but somewhat air-headed, even when placed next to comparable Disney fare of the era.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice blog you have there! being a movie buff myself, I can't help but reading your favorite movies. And I couldn't agree more that with your selections. But do check out Edward Yang's A Brighter Summer Day, my top favorite movie of the 1990s; Wim Wender's Paris, Texas - my top favorite movie of the 1980s; there are so many great movies in 1970s and 1960s!

12:01 AM  
Blogger Joel said...

Paris, Texas I have seen and was not terribly thrilled by. I much prefer Wings of Desire. I'll look into the other film, which I admit I have not heard of. Yes, you're right about the 60's and 70's. Such an artistic explosion. Thanks for the kind comments.

11:38 PM  

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