Narrative wise, there isn’t much to “Bambi” and its story that garners a lot of subtext or undertones. Bambi is born, he learns about the world, his mom dies, he becomes a man, falls in love, and the end. For the rest of the world “Bambi” is a bonafide masterpiece, but objectively it’s a very stripped down and basic animated movie that feels so much more like an animation experiment than it does a movie.
Heck, even Bambi and his friends don’t have much depth beyond simple broad character strokes with assorted personalities. And when they grow up they fall in love, and we don’t see them until the end of the film when it’s become clear the circle of life has taken place. Wink wink. I’m not sure if the original book featured much more emphasis on people like Thumper or Flower, but the characters on-screen are more simple concepts that offer Bambi someone to befriend for a little while before he jumps straight in to adult hood. For “Bambi,” it’s about a young kid learning to adjust to a humongous world, but there isn’t much to that humongous world we learn.
Save for the concept of death. The villainous human hunters and Bambi’s fear of them provide the most ominous moments of the film, as he and his mother have to avoid their fire while looking for food. The death of Bambi’s mom is very unique and a harrowing moment in the film that’s otherwise marred by the almost over explanation of it. Bambi’s sadness toppled by the buck who pretty much declares “Life sucks, man up or die, come with me” very much over explains the more subtle grief of losing someone to a premature death.
Granted, the animation is absolutely incredible, with sweeping landscapes of beautiful nature that changes tones with every glimpse of Bambi’s own outlook on the world. Sometimes it’s bright and welcoming, and other times it can be dark and unforgiving. The sad fact there just isn’t a lot of focus on character. Bambi is taken off and then re-emerges as a buck, while his friends also come back to engage with some frolics only to disappear yet again as Bambi suddenly finds himself besieged by forest fires and fighting another mysterious buck for the love of his girlfriend. “Bambi” as a whole gets a pass mainly for its incredible animation and nostalgia, but it’s very lacking in terms of story, exposition, and characterization. It’s a good Disney title, but not a great movie.