I have a friend who steadfastly refuses to let her five year old daughter watch Bambi. “It might traumatize her,” she whispered with an almost comically exaggerated seriousness, as though children are incapable of dealing with emotions. It’s not that the movie is traumatic, or disturbing, or inappropriate. Her objection was that Bambi’s mother is shot by a hunter, and that might scare little Suzy. I asked her why it was so bad for Suzy (not her real name, of course) to be frightened for a segment of a movie. After all, it turns out all right in the end. Bambi grows into a stronger deer at the end, partly because of the experience of losing his mother. But she just shook her head and looked at me as though I had suggested dropping Suzy off at the registered sex offender’s house for daycare. “You’ll understand when you have kids,” she replied, failing to shed any light on her position and making me wonder what happened to the adventurous woman I used to know.
That is, of course, because there is no light to shine. Her position is based on a strange obsession we have today: protecting our precious, delicate children from anything that might make them feel bad. We have crossed the threshold from physical protection and social and emotional guidance to shielding them from anything that may cause them pain. You know, the stuff that shapes character.
It’s amazing to me that we have so little regard or respect for children. Advocates of “wholesome” entertainment have sucked the life and vitality out of children’s movies and television. There was a time when children were meant to learn about life from the stories parents told at their bedsides. And not mundane nonsense you could get out of a Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle book, like why we should eat our vegetable or how we oughtn’t to sass our parents. Today kids movies are only meant to keep kids quiet for a little bit while keeping them just as dumb as when they woke up that morning.
Early fairy tales were meant to prepare children for an unpredictable and often cruel world. Today they are prepared for a world where masked superheroes will save the day. Oh, and that they shouldn’t chat it up with strangers.
Early Disney movies were often based on sanitized interpretations of these fairy tales, but Bambi is based on a novel by Felix Salten and, though I’m sure the movie makes it sugary sweet, it does retains some of its darkness. It is powerful and worth seeing because of this, not in spite of it. Few films deal with an individual’s place in nature better than this story about the childhood and maturation of a young male deer named Bambi. What many people like my overprotective friend see is only a movie in which Bambi’s mother is gunned down by an unseen hunter. But how does Bambi’s triumph mean anything without her death? Lonely and afraid, Bambi had to make his way without the protecting guidance of his mother and, though frightened and insecure, managed to carve a place out for himself in the forest.
Instead of traumatizing kids, Bambi ought to reaffirm the essential courage and strength in all of us, even (or maybe especially) after the darkest losses. Instead of fearing that your precious little angel couldn’t possibly handle a movie that deals with serious issues, parents should seek out challenging stories like Bambi. Otherwise we’ll end up with an entire generation of kids who think pain is for losers and to be avoided at all costs, not an essential and healthy part of growth and life.