Dawn breaks in the forest and the old owl settles down in a tree to drift off to sleep, but just as he begins to doze he is rudely awakened by the other animals making a commotion. They are rushing to a clearing where the new prince of the forest has been born, and the woodland creatures are enchanted by him, charmed by his efforts to stand up on his own four hooves. When asked what she will call him, the fawn's mother states simply, "Bambi" and they all like the name very much, including the young rabbit Thumper who will become Bambi's friend and guide as he grows up over the course of the months ahead. However, Bambi's first year will bring tragedy as well as fun...
Although it's thought of fondly today, Bambi was not a big success when it was first released, which is hard to believe when Disney clean up on DVD sales for the title and even bring out a sequel to cash in. It takes anthropomorphism to its logical conclusion, where all the animals of the forest are friends with each other and bid one another "good morning" as they go about their business. Of course, they all talk (except for the insects such as butterflies), although dialogue is wisely used sparingly so we can appreciate and tell what the characters are thinking by their actions and admire the exquisite animation.
The film was based on Felix Salten's book, adapted by Larry Morey and Perce Pearce, and in these days where ecology and conservationism are more important in the public's minds than ever, is conspicuously timely. This is especially noticeable in the way that the animals have only one real enemy: Mankind. Before they turn up to spoil the party, Bambi lives in a woodland paradise where he is looked after by his mother - his father, the current Great Prince of the Forest, mainly stands around posing in the middle distance - and plays with his friends, learning all the while about his environment.
This idyll is accompanied by songs, including the famous April Showers one, and treacly classical stylings from Edward H. Plumb, which emphasise the beauty of nature as the seasons pass and the sentimentality goes into overdrive. But there's a dark side to the film, as everyone must know by now, when Man makes his presence felt. Winter has arrived and Bambi and his mother are out in the snowy meadow when she suddenly looks up, sensing something is wrong. She abruptly urges her son to start running for the safety of the trees as the shots begin to ring out... Bambi makes it, but his mother is not so lucky.
Apparently that scene is one of the most traumatic in all Disney for many viewers, and although you don't see the death it certainly resonates throughout the film. All the animals we see save for the hunters' dogs are vegetarian, so the thought of being eaten, never mind killed, by one of your fellow creatures is alien to them, a cruelty that Man has brought. Not only that, but it is the humans who start the forest fire that provides the story with its grand finale - the film really does take a dim view of us people. So if you're partial to grabbing your rifle and going hunting of a weekend, then you may object to the view of nature depicted here. If, on the other hand, you're partial to dressing up as fluffy bunnies of a weekend, then Bambi is ideal for you; it's beautifully rendered, but some may quibble with its misty-eyed outlook.