For the Birds Radio Program: Bambi

Original Air Date: Oct. 23, 1989

This is the second program Laura produced about this movie. (4:00)

Audio missing


The word “Disney” has always held magic for me. I love the old Disney cartoons and full-length animated films, but now when I watch them, the magic is tainted. For if Walt Disney’s vision of animation is realized in his films, his vision of three-dimensional entertainment is realized in Disney World, the very place that pipes its sewage into the Florida Everglades at a shameful and shocking rate. Last year, Disney World managed, with some scurrilous legal dodging, to get out of a lawsuit by the EPA which was intended to force it to reduce its sewage output. Florida’s development boom has come at a high price to the Everglades, a unique national treasure. The nutrient load from so many people is choking the sawgrass necessary to the natural food chain.

Also, Disney World shamefully capitalizes on the extinction of the Dusky Seaside Sparrow, displaying the stuffed body of the last Dusky Seaside Sparrow in the world on Discovery Island, next to endangered parrots and macaws, birdnapped from the tropical rainforest. Until Disney World cleans up its act, literally as well as figuratively, I will not wear my official Mickey Mouse pin or buy anything else associated with them.

Well, almost anything. Even a raving environmentalist occasionally compromises her values, as I did the moment the videotape of the movie Bambi hit the stores. Bambi is one of the most satisfying movies I’ve ever seen. It was released in 1942, when the word Disney was associated with creativity, not megabucks. THe artwork is richer than the other Disney films—it’s the only one done in oils. And of all the Disney movies, Bambi is the only one centered on theme—the regeneration and cyclical nature of life—rather than on plot.

Environmentalists may decry the forest fire scene as hysterical and overdone, hunters may ridicule the unabashed anti-hunting sentiment that pervades the entire movie, and I myself laugh at the artwork which somehow makes Bambi’s father into a hybrid of a white-tailed deer and an elk. But I suspect that the loudest critics haven’t watched the film recently. And to the charge that Thumper doesn’t act like a real rabbit and Friend Owl isn’t at all like a real, fierce Great Horned Owl, all I can say is, So what?

When I was in graduate school in the Fisheries and Wildlife Department at Michigan State University, wildlife managers and instructors ridiculed anyone with concerns about hunting and its regulations as suffering from the “Bambi complex.” And not long ago, Audubon magazine charged that the movie Bambi was almost singlehandedly responsible for public hysteria about the 1988 Yellowstone fire. But oddly enough, the movie manages to show both that a forest regenerates very quickly after a fire, and also that hunting doesn’t harm deer populations. After all, even though Bambi’s mother dies, in the end there are actually more deer than at the beginning.

It’s possible to find flaws in any movie. In spite of the incredible amount of painstaking work in piecing together Walt Disney’s favorite film, the animators somehow shifted a panel in their multiplane originals, causing a baby raccoon to suddenly leap to the opposite side of the screen, while his mother continues to lick empty space. Every time we watch that part, my kids all shout, “Beam me up, Scotty!” But it’s that kind of flaw that makes me appreciate the complexity of putting together such an artistic entity. No matter how much I love the genuine natural world, and no matter how much I decry the 1980s Disney corporate mentality, the unnaturally sweet and gentle world of Bambi will always hold a special magic, too.