Origin of Bambi
Like many of Disney’s most famous films, Bambi was adapted from literature. The movie is based on the novel Bambi: A Life in the Woods by Austrian author Felix Salten. Salten first published the book under the pen name of Siegmund Salzmann in 1923. The story about the young fawn navigating life in the wilderness caught the attention of Hollywood, although Disney wasn’t the first to plan a film based on the novel.
MGM filmmaker Sidney Franklin bought the screen rights to Salten’s book in 1933. Franklin originally planned to adapt the story into a live-action film, but he quickly determined that using an all-animal cast would be too difficult to achieve. After realizing this, he contacted Walt Disney in 1935 to encourage him to tell the story in an animated movie instead.
While Disney had several animated features under his belt already, Bambi presented a unique challenge for his artists. The characters in the studio’s earlier films like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio had more cartoon-like features. But with Bambi, the studio aimed to create lifelike animation. To ensure his artists were up to the task, Disney had them study animal anatomy and movement. He even had live deer brought into the studio so the artists could observe them up close.
Even though the animals in Bambi do speak, dialogue is used sparingly in the film. In fact, only about 950 total words are spoken throughout the movie. Walt explained the importance of limiting the dialogue, saying, “We were striving for fewer words because we wanted the action and the music to carry it.”
Of the voice actors on the cast, perhaps the most recognizable was Will Wright, the voice of Friend Owl. Wright went on to have a lengthy Hollywood career after Bambi, earning roles in over 200 movies and TV shows, including I Love Lucy, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, and The Andy Griffith Show, to name a few. By contrast, the child actor who voiced Bambi, Donnie Dunagan, left the entertainment industry after his role in the film and went on to become a United States Marine.
Although he wasn’t a character in the movie, Mickey Mouse did help with production in a way. Walt knew that laughter was a difficult expression to create on cue, especially for the cast’s child actors. To get a genuine response, he invited the children on the cast to a special screening of Mickey cartoons, with hidden microphones placed throughout the studio to capture the genuine laughter, which was later used in the film.
Legacy of Bambi
Despite its family-friendly reputation, Bambi also depicts some of the darker elements animals face in the wild. In fact, Stephen King once referred to Bambi as the first horror movie he ever saw. The film’s villain, “Man,” even earned the #20 spot on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 Years…100 Villains. “Man” is placed higher on the list than some iconic antagonists, including Count Dracula and Freddy Kruger.
In 2015, a Saturday Night Live episode starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson kicked up the story’s violence even further with a parody of a live-action Bambi remake. Johnson plays the titular character in the sketch, which reimagines the story in the style of The Fast and the Furious franchise.
Unlike many of Disney’s classic films, a live-action version of Bambi hasn’t been produced, although plans for a photo-realistic remake were announced in January 2020. The announcement revealed that the movie would use similar photo-realistic CGI as Disney’s remakes of The Jungle Book (2016) and The Lion King (2019). Since then, few updates have been given on the project, and it’s unclear whether it’s currently still in the works or if it’s been shelved.
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