The Disney Year: “Bambi” perfects the Disney formula


Bambi assumes his destined role as Great Prince of the Forest in the final frame of the eponymous film (Disney).

Nathan Tucker, A&E Editor

The output of Walt Disney Animation Studios–currently totaling 54 full-length films–has been cherished by audiences young and old for almost 80 years. In this weekly online feature, arts and entertainment editor Nathan Tucker will review and rank each of them.

The previous films in the Disney Canon all feel like test runs for some aspect of Bambi. Dumbo plays with the cute baby animal antics, Fantasia experiments at length with orchestral syncopation, the bildungsroman narrative is shared with Pinocchio, and the gorgeous forest backdrops can trace their ancestry to Snow White.

But only Bambi ties all these disparate parts into a single, watchable feature. In hindsight, it is an elegant summation of the studio’s first era. Financial pressures would mean that Disney’s following six films would be compilations of cheap cartoon shorts, so Bambi was, in many ways, a last hurrah from a studio uncertain of the future. It has an air of finality.

Bambi plays more like an concerto than a film, with a structure built from thematic motifs instead of traditional narrative. The characters exist to exhibit traits like protection (Bambi’s mother), exuberance (Thumper), romance (Faline), destiny (the Great Prince of the Forest) and danger (the offscreen threat of Man). Bambi himself acts as the figure of innocence and naivete, with the film delightfully

setting him off against characters and environments  that either harmonize with the innocent foal or create a dizzying dissonance. In doing so, it broadly traces the path of every child from oblivious baby to painfully aware adult.

The delicate artistry of the plot is matched by the visuals. After a temporary retreat for the cost-cutting Dumbo, the studio’s painterly touch is present again. Guided by the watercolors of Chinese immigrant Tyrus Wong, the film bristles with impressionistic details that suit its abstract themes and moods.

Bambi is absolutely confident in the story it tells and the way it is told. Easily the best film of Disney’s first decade, Bambi shows, not just a fawn coming of age, but a studio as well

The List:

  1. Bambi
  2. Fantasia
  3. Pinocchio
  4. Dumbo
  5. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs