The reason I picked up Bambi is because I am now on a Disney critical discussion podcast and feel it is appropriate to read the original texts that Disney would later adapt. I have now since read Snow White, The Snow Queen, Pinocchio, Alice in Wonderland, and am currently reading the Hunchback of Notre Dame. I'm not reading these books to see how the original stories are better. I come from both sides of the pond in the argument between book purists and Hollywood gurus. 99% of the time I would be on the book purist side...but then there are Disney movies and I'm actually a big supporter of Disney and what they do, so coming at the issue from this angle is challenging for me because I am starting to see why some complain that Disney ruins their favorite story. That being said, I do not believe that Bambi was ruined by Disney.
Bambi is a story written by Felix Salten about a young deer growing up in the woods. It is a coming of age narrative in which Bambi must learn to face the harsh reality of life amidst such beauty and majesty within the space that surrounds him. He grows from a curious young fawn to the wise Prince of the forest. The book places heavy emphasis on a character called "He" who the deer believe to be a three armed creature who creates a thunderous clap and one of their own ends up dead straight afterwards. From the very beginning when Bambi's mother takes him to the meadow, Bambi is taught to be cautious and to run when his mother runs and to be on the lookout. Many of Bambi's relations are killed by "He", including his mother which is known to be one of the saddest moments in Disney history. The forest that surrounds Bambi is alive. The leaves speak to each other just as the birds speak to one another. It seems to have been the choice of Salten to make the forest alive to make the reality of "He" that much more real. The Disney film has often been referred to as a nature preservation activist statement. Neither the book nor the film shy away from painting man in a really really awful light...and just when they seem to be redeemed, something awful happens that ruins their image to the reader once and for all. Since Salten humanizes the forest and the animals, a strong bond is formed between them and the reader and the reader grows to sympathize. After all, that is what good story telling is all about - seeing something from another perspective and learning to sympathize with that particular situation.
As I said above, the novel is very much a coming of age story. Ultimately, as the reader gets further and further into the text it is learned that Bambi must one day take the place of the great Prince of the forest, his father. Through his circumstances Bambi gradually becomes more and more distant from his own kind and instead grows close to the great Prince who he admires dearly and the forest itself, where life blooms but is quiet and reflective without forcing interaction. Bambi was always destined to become the great Prince though he never was aware of the fact - his circumstances led him to it. The great Prince before him seems to have carefully planned Bambi's development to one day take his place. This reminds me of Dumbledore from Harry Potter, who we learn from the very beginning when Harry obtained his scar had a plan to defeat the Dark Lord Voldemort.
Now, I did make the statement that the Disney movie does not ruin the book and I am sticking to that statement. The film deviates from the original text in small ways - for example, it takes out a lot of characters that don't need to be there for the movie. They work for the book but it is hard to keep up on screen. Another deviation is that there is no fire in the book...though Bambi does get shot. What I think the film captures from the book is the very peaceful and reflective tone. The film is unlike it's predecessors which are very much based on structure and plot while this story focuses on the characters and the poignant beauty of their world. For example, in the film we hear the beautiful music that coincides perfectly with the rain storm and see a wide array of colors depicting the landscape in which Bambi resides. I listened to a commentary of the film earlier this year and the two gentlemen watching this film kept complaining about how boring it was because of the long shots of the leaves falling to the water or the long scene where Bambi and his mother search for food in the winter but I actually love these small touches to the movie. It gives the viewer that much more perspective and lets them digest everything that is happening. Stories like Pinocchio and Dumbo seem to move very quickly while Bambi decides to take things in a slow pace and I really like it. The book is very slow as well...a fast read but a nice and slow pace. I always felt very satisfied when I finished reading a chapter.
Is this book quality? Absolutely. I would recommend it to one and all, whether you be a Disney fan or a nature activist or a children's lit lover or maybe even just a book lover. The book is wonderful and it makes me rather sad to know that so little people have read it. I will also clarify that I don't blame Disney for the fact that so many people don't read the original text. Yes Disney dominates the screen but they aren't at fault for people being lazy and not doing research. This book is an A++!
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars