At some point, practically everybody on the planet has laughed and cried with Flower the Skunk, Thumper the Rabbit, the Great Prince of the forest and his unnamed mate, and Bambi, the title character in the Walt Disney classic first released on this date in 1942. It has become a favorite of generation after generation of kids and critics alike and ranks third in the American Film Institute’s all-time best animation features, “…the crowning achievement of Walt Disney’s animation studio.”
It wasn’t a big success out of the gate. The New York Times said: “In the search for perfection, Mr. Disney has come perilously close to tossing away his whole world of cartoon fantasy.” Another critic called it “entirely unpleasant.” Hunters called it “an insult to American sportsmen.” Even Disney’s daughter complained, saying that Bambi’s mother shouldn’t have died. When Walt said he was just following the book, she protested, saying that he had taken other liberties before, and that Walt Disney could do whatever he wanted.
As it was, we didn’t see Bambi’s mother die on-screen. They decided it was emotional enough without showing it. And there was much more we didn’t see. We didn’t see the six bunnies modeled after the Seven Dwarfs. They became five generic rabbits and Thumper. The squirrel and chipmunk comedy team didn’t make the final cut, nor did the two falling autumn leaves conversing like an old married couple. The civilization that Bambi destroyed by stepping on an ant hill and a family of squabbling grasshoppers didn’t pass the “What’s this got to do with Bambi?” test. And Walt was talked out of showing a man burned to death by the fire that he inadvertently started.
Oddly enough, Bambi is also listed in the Top 25 Horror Movies of all Time by Time magazine, because it “has a primal shock that still haunts oldsters who saw it 40, 50, 65 years ago.” Which brings us back to the question, did Bambi’s mother really have to die?