“Your mother can’t be with you anymore.” — Best Pictures of 1942 — Bambi (#8)

Bambi and friends

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.

Bambi navigates a strange new world

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.

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4 Comments

Filed under 1942, Yearly Best Pictures

4 responses to ““Your mother can’t be with you anymore.” — Best Pictures of 1942 — Bambi (#8)

  1. Jon

    Jason,
    Nice essay and thoughts here. I have 2 small girls. One is 4 and the other is 2. We have an old videotape of Bambi. My oldest asked to see it about a month ago. I turned it on and all of us watched it together, even my youngest. I can safely say that they were completely entranced by the film. When the particular scene in question came up, I contemplated fast forwarding the scene. I decided not to, in order to see what their reaction would be. They didn’t cry. They didn’t run out of the room. You know what they did? They asked me what happened. They wanted to know what and why Bambi’s mother was gone and I got to explain that she was killed by a hunter with a gun etc., and that this was part of life. They surprised me by the whole thing. They’ve been watching the movie nearly daily for the last month now. They’re so funny. My oldest says this, “Eating greens is a special treat, it makes long ears and great big feet, but it sure is awful stuff to eat.” So cute I must admit. I was thinking though, that as parents, I don’t think we’re actually fearful of our kids getting scared, but we’re uncomfortable with having to DEAL with it. It takes effort, it takes time to deal with issues. I debating with my wife over whether to show our kids The Wizard of Oz. I’ll have to let you know how I make out.

    • I think you are absolutely right. My friend and other parents who are afraid of “traumatizing” their kids are actually afraid of having to go through the uncomfortable process of explaining death or sex or whatever other awkward subject they’d feel better ignoring. But I think most kids, like your own, are capable of understanding without having a nervous breakdown.

      My brother and his wife have been contemplating showing The Wizard of Oz to my 5 year old niece. It will be interesting to compare notes.

      Thanks for the great comment and kind words, Jon!

  2. Yes, this has certainly been the central concern with BAMBI, a work of art that can with all fairness be included in Disney’s Big Four of the classic period with FANTASIA, SNOW WHITE and PINOCCHIO. While death has been examined provocatively since in both animation (something like GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES for instance) and live action, there’s no denying the impact of this film over decades. Reportedly it was Disney’s personnel favorite, though I’ve heard conflicting reports on that, and it’s one of animations finest weddings of exquisite cell drawings to emotion, a masterpiece of the genre and well deserving of the placement you’ve awarded it here with a marvelous essay.

    • Thank you as always Sam. You are absolutely right about it ranking with the other classics of the period.

      I think it’s interesting you linking its considerations of death with other animated movies with Grave of Fireflies. I don’t disagree, but Grave of Fireflies is SOOO much darker than Bambi. Still, you are right that they are both animated examinations of death and its repercussions.

      Great comment, as always Sam.

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