ORLANDO – It was on Aug. 21, 1942, a year when the United States was still fighting a World War, when it first hit movie screens: the saga of a young deer hailed as the “Prince of the Forest” at his birth.
Today, “Bambi” is considered a classic of animated cinema, one of the great milestones of the genre, and for many, one of Walt Disney’s most beloved movies.
It was also groundbreaking in the field of animation, said Disney historian Jim Korkis, because it was one of the first cinematic efforts to make animals look realistic rather than larger than life.
“It’s the first film that animates animals the way they were,” said Korkis, the author of “The Vault of Walt.”
“They brought in actual wildlife and wildlife artists so the bones and all on Bambi’s legs and all of that would bend the way real animals would, as opposed to the cartoon animals in ‘Snow White,’ ” Korkis said. “If you compare the deer in ‘Snow White’ to the deer in ‘Bambi,’ the legs are like sacks of flowers. The animals in ‘Bambi’ move like actual animals.”
“Bambi” got re-released on Blu-ray and DVD from the Disney Vault this month, in a new Diamond Edition loaded with special features, including deleted scenes, a “making of” documentary, and a “Big Book of Knowledge” that helps children learn about nature and the seasons.
It was that love of nature, Korkis said, that convinced Walt Disney to adapt the novel by author Felix Salton as his first feature length animated film since “Fantasia” in 1940 and “Dumbo” in 1941.
“Walt had a great affection for the great outdoors and nature,” Korkis said. “That’s why he did the film.”
It was a movie that ended up becoming quite influential as well, since the story’s climatic forest fire – caused by man – was used for years as part of a public service campaign to convince people about the dangers of setting wildfires.
“The film had such a great impact that Bambi was the poster child for the ‘Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires’ line before Smokey the Bear,” Korkis said. The U.S. Forest Service had started the public service announcements to fight wildfires, and Walt Disney allowed his popular new character to appear in fire prevention public service campaigns, on loan to the government for a year.
“It was careless campers who set the forest fire,” Korkis said. “Walt originally wanted to show them burned to death, to show they had paid the penalty for that fire. (Animator) Frank Thomas raised his hand and said, ‘Walt, when we draw the hunters, do we draw them medium well or well done?’ and at that point Walt realized that showing it suggestively would be more effective.”
The movie was also, Korkis said, one of the first animated features to strive to capture an authentic and realistic portrayal of animals.
That blending of animation and naturalism, Korkis said, turned out to be highly successful, and influential.
“In terms of advancing the art, this is the first animated film where we’re getting animals that move realistically, although there are some cartoon exaggerations,” Korkis said, noting that the lead animators “did sketches of human baby faces and also sketches of young deer faces, and combined them together. That’s why Bambi has such big eyes. That comes from human babies, and that’s why people empathize with Bambi. It touches onto those unconscious feelings we have as children.”
An emotional highpoint in the movie is the death of the white tailed deer’s mother at the hands of the film’s villain, a hunter known only as “man.”
“When the film was originally released, it was promoted as a love story, not as an animated film,” Korkis said. “If you go back and look at the posters and publicity at the time, that’s how it was promoted. And it was very well received, and convinced many children – including many children today – that you shouldn’t be going out into the woods and shooting Bambi’s mother, which has always been a sore point with the National Rifle Association and other sporting groups. They’re surrounded by their children saying, ‘Don’t shoot Bambi’s mother, don’t shoot Bambi’s mother.’ ”
As traumatic as that scene was for many young viewers, it could have been even more graphic, Korkis said.
“The traumatic killing of Bambi’s mother has always been a topic, ever since the film was first released,” he said. “Many young children were traumatized by that, the separation of the child from his mother, and the never-there father. That was heartbreaking. At one point, the Disney company was actually going to show the death of Bambi’s mother, so that when Bambi ran into the cave, you would have heard the crack of the gun, and see Bambi’s mother fall, and when Bambi came back out you would see a stream of blood as if the carcass had been dragged away.
“Fortunately,” he added, “Walt decided he didn’t need to show all that for it to be effective. The reason for Bambi’s mother being killed is the same reason why many Disney films had only one parent. Walt thought a stable family was like a three-legged stool – a mother, a father, and the children. But Walt thought there was no story in that, no conflict. If you remove one parent, the children have to work harder to get that balance back. That’s why so many of the Disney princesses only have one parent, even into the modern Disney classics like ‘Aladdin.’ “
Ironically, when “Bambi” was first released, it was a hit with the critics, but failed to earn the box office profits Walt Disney had anticipated.
“It didn’t bring in the box office that Walt expected, because of the war,” Korkis said. “The European markets were closed, which was 50 percent of the market at the time, so it couldn’t be shown overseas. The film was popular. However, the Disney company didn’t see the profits immediately.”
To learn more about Walt Disney and his films, visit Amazon.com to order “The Vault of Walt” by logging onto http://www.amazon.com/Vault-Walt-Jim-Korkis/dp/0615402429/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1300996230&sr=8-1.
Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.