Bambi (1942; based on Bambi, A Life In The Woods by Felix Salten)
The Plot: A forest deer comes of age, dealing with matters of love and death along the way.
The Songs: "Love Is A Song," "Little April Shower," "Let's Sing A Gay Little Spring Song," "Looking For Romance"
A Little History: Director Sidney A. Franklin originally conceived Bambi, A Life In The Woods as a live-action feature for MGM, but soon realized that the story would be better suited for animation. He sold the film rights to Walt Disney in April 1937. Disney intended to release Bambi as his follow-up to Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, but his relentless perfectionism delayed the project, and he turned his attention to Fantasia and Pinocchio instead. (Incidental animation from Pinocchio was later recycled for Bambi's climactic forest fire sequence; Bambi's mother, in turn, made "cameo" appearances in The Sword In The Stone, The Jungle Book, and Beauty And The Beast.) Bambi's design was inspired by artist Tyrus Wong, whose stark, mysterious landscape paintings of forest deer sparked Disney's interest. Animators spent an entire year studying the anatomy and behavior of the animal characters; as further research, the Maine Development Commission donated two live fawns to Disney's studio, which were kept as pets during this time. Disney cut 12 minutes from the film to lower the budget; Bambi still cost over $2 million to produce, and (mostly) due to the advent of World War II, it failed at the box office.
How It Broke New Ground: The first Disney animated feature with songs performed entirely by a soloist or choir, and not by the characters themselves. Despite Bambi's disappointing theatrical run, animators treasured their time working on the film, as they learned new techniques and color styles, including the ability to draw naturalistic characters. The film's financial failure also prompted Disney to re-release Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs in 1944, to raise much-needed revenue for the studio. This venture proved so successful that Disney made it common practice to re-release an Animated classic once every 5 to 10 years. (Bambi eventually recouped its $2 million budget during its 1947 re-release.)
How It Holds Up Today: Now this is more like it: The animation is crisper, cleaner, and more fluid, the characters are richly detailed, the plot is straight-forward and to the point. Above all, Bambi is a compendium of all the moments, large or small, that define our own lives – from the way we adapt to the world around us, to finding our place in the hierarchy of things, to the heartache and joy we feel at regular intervals, to the friends we make and the love that we share. The mood is so serene and so peaceful that man's very presence is a violation (indeed, hunters offended by the movie called it "an insult to American sportsmen"). Man, however, is just another obstacle for Bambi to overcome; like everything else in his existence, our protagonist accepts each new challenge at face value and pushes past it on his path to maturity. The tonal shifts are handled beautifully, and better still, actually force younger viewers to think through what's happening on screen. (Nothing about the movie feels spoon-fed.) Thumper, too, is an extension of this theme – a loveable, downright adorable little creature who is who he is, does what he does, and makes no apologies for it. Few things in life bring a silly grin to my face like that little rabbit.