Source Material of Bambi

28th March, 2011 - Posted by DisAnim - Comments Off on Source Material of Bambi

Bambi is based off a book by Felix Salten called Bambi: A Life in the Woods. Since Salten was Austrian, the book was originally written in German and was translated into English a short time later. It was hugely popular, both in Austria and America (where it became book of the month). MGM studios originally purchased the rights for the film, but realizing that it would be too expensive to make as a live-action movie, they sold the rights to Disney.

The film follows the book in the main premise, namely of a deer growing up. Several key plot points were carried from the book, including the death of Bambi’s mother, falling in love with Faline, fighting other deer for her, and getting shot by Man (called “He” in the book). The antagonist is the same, of course. There are many characters that are different, however. Thumper and Flower are completely Disney creations (though there is a hare that goes by the name of “Friend Hare”). Also unique to the film is the fire as the climax of the story. The book has many more deer characters, a few other characters (such as a squirrel), and more of an emphasis on the effects of Man on the animals rather than just the fear of Man.

While researching for this article, I found a few claiming that the book was far too mature for children and shouldn’t be located in the children’s section of libraries. That’s where I found a copy in my local library. It is, however, definitely a children’s book. The writing is simple. John Galsworthy, who wrote in foreword in 1928, thought that it was poetic. I just think it’s simple. It is, nevertheless, far more mature than the Disney film ended up being. Blood is mentioned multiple times, as well as animal body parts being crushed and mutilated (one part mentions a deer’s entrails at least partly outside of its body). Felix Salten wasn’t much for the sport of hunting. There are other themes that probably wouldn’t go well with parents. For example, in the first few pages Bambi’s mother rudely ignores a magpie that is speaking to her (I thought it was rather funny, actually). And at the end, Bambi is spending more time by himself (like the other stags), and when Faline asks him if he still loves her, he replies, “I don’t know.” And of course, Faline is Bambi’s cousin, making their relationship a bit incestuous to begin with.

Another interesting thing is that the creatures despise Man, yet give him many godlike qualities. It seemed rather anti-religious to me in that regard, until the end when Bambi realizes, “There is Another who is over us all, over us and over Him [Man].”

One interesting difference is that while the book involves a lot more death, not all of it is caused by Man. Natural predators, which are absent from the film, kill off a few animals (although these are all smaller creatures—there aren’t any cougars or anything in the book). I thought this was very appropriate, as that is the way the forest really is. In a bizarre way, however, adding in natural predators causes Man to look like just another part of the food web, which is unusual since it has a strong anti-hunting message.

After reading the book, I understand why Disney had to adapt the children’s book so that it would be appropriate for children. It is bit more thought-provoking than the film is, a lot more somber too. I suppose it deserves the acclaim that it received seventy years ago when it was written, but it isn’t necessarily better than the film in my opinion.

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