powered by AFI
Felix Salten's novel first appeared as a serial in Die Neve Freie Presse in 1922. After the opening credits of this film, an onscreen dedication reads: "To Sidney A. Franklin, our sincere appreciation for his inspiring collaboration." According to the Hollywood Reporter review, producer Franklin originally bought the rights to Felix Salten's novel in the mid-1930s, and although he "planned to make it himself, [Franklin] surrendered the rights to Disney in the belief his medium would do greater justice to the yarn." A July 19, 1942 New York Times article reported that Disney had purchased the rights from Franklin in April 1937, and modern sources assert that Franklin also agreed to serve as an artistic consultant on the picture. Several contemporary sources report that Bambi began pre-production in 1936 and was intended to be the studio's second feature-length animated release after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1938). Producer Walt Disney's desire to make the film look as realistic as possible, as well as intermittent labor problems at the studio and economic difficulties, however, prolonged production significantly, and Pinocchio became the second release. According to an August 1938 New York Times article, the Maine Development Commission sent two fawns, named Bambi and Faline, to the studio, where the animals were kept as pets while artists studied their movements, growth and behavior. The article noted that as the film was not due to be completed for two more years, the artists could photograph the animals "in all their phases." Other animals, such as skunks Herman and Petunia, squirrels, birds and chipmunks, were kept at the little zoo established at the Disney Studio in Burbank for use by the artists. When Bambi and Faline were fully grown, they were released into nearby Griffith Park, according to a May 17, 1942 New York Herald Tribune article. Numerous contemporary sources discuss the contributions made by Maurice Day, an artist sent by Disney, in mid-1938, on a lengthy trip to Maine to photograph, sketch and paint scenes of the forest and its inhabitants. Day returned to Maine to study the winter landscape, and his extensive works were used as a reference for the animators. According to the July 1942 New York Times article, while Day was gone, the studio assigned its "top animators-Frank Thomas, Milt Kahl, Oliver Johnston and Eric Larson-to the forest fable." The article also noted that Disney believed that Bambi "was going to be the toughest animation anybody had ever attempted." One of the problems plaguing the production was how to make the animals look natural while they talked. Modern sources state that the "look" of Bambi was most heavily influenced by the watercolor drawings of background artist Tyrus Wong. According to the film's pressbook, well-known animal artist Rico Lebrun conducted a series of classes for the animators about animal anatomy and motion. More lectures on anatomy and life drawing were conducted by art instructor Don Graham, according to publicity materials for one of the picture's re-issues. In a 1991 article in Funnyworld, animator Jack Kinney stated that he worked on the opening sequence of Bambi early in the film's production but asked to be removed from the project due to friction with story director Perce Pearce. According to the film's pressbook, the models for "Bambi's" and "Thumper's" ice skating were actress Jane Randolph, who had never skated before, and Ice-Capades star Donna Atwood. While the animators were working on various facets of Bambi, the studio finished and released three more features: Fantasia, The Reluctant Dragon and Dumbo (see entries below). [Brief animation of the character Bambi is seen in The Reluctant Dragon, although that clip does not appear in Bambi itself.] The lengthy production of Bambi presented a unique problem, according to the July 1942 New York Times article, when retakes were needed from young Peter Behn, who provided the voice of "Thumper" as a young rabbit. According to the article, retakes were required several years after the initial recordings by Behn were done, and the sound department was worried that Behn's voice had changed, but "Peter just got in under the wire" and completed the retakes successfully. Modern sources credit the following actors with supplying the voices of the animal characters: Bobby Stewart, Donnie Donagan, and John Sutherland (Bambi); Paula Winslowe (Bambi's mother); Cammie King (Faline); Mary Lansing (Aunt Ena/Mrs. Possum); Fred Shields (The Great Prince of the Forest); Stanley Alexander (Flower); Tim Davis (Thumper/Flower); Thelma Boardman (Mrs. Quail); Margaret Lee (Mrs. Rabbit); Otis Harlan, Jeanne Christy, Janet Chapman, Bobette Audrey, Jack Horner, Francesca Santoro, Babs Nelson, Sandra Lee Richards, Dolyn Bramston Cook and Elouise Wohlwend. A April 30, 1942 Los Angeles Daily News article on the film reported that Disney previewed a rough cut of the picture for friends and "because it was too long, eliminated 1,000 feet of it." According to a 1990 Los Angeles magazine interview with supervising animator Oliver "Ollie" M. Johnston, Jr., Bambi was trimmed from 9,000 feet to 6,200 feet because of "the initial lack of success on Fantasia, which the studio had put into limited release in 1940. According to Hollywood Reporter news items, the picture was scheduled to have its world premiere at New York City's Radio City Music Hall on July 30, 1942, but the premiere was delayed due to the lengthy run of the M-G-M film Mrs. Miniver. The film's advertising campaign included the promotion of a song entitled "Twitterpated," composed by Helen Bliss, Robert Sour and Henry Manners, which was based on the lecture "Friend Owl" delivers about the amorous effects of Spring. The trio also wrote "Thumper Song" for publicity of the picture. Modern sources report that the film, which cost over $2,000,000 to produce, did not turn a profit during its initial release, largely because the European market was inaccessible during World War II. It was not until the picture's first theatrical re-release, in 1947, that it began to recoup its production costs. The film proved to be a great success in each of its subsequent theatrical re-issues and its releases on home video. In a 1996 "making of" documentary that accompanied one of the picture's releases on home video, animator Johnston asserts that Bambi was Disney's favorite feature among the studio's output, largely because of its realism. Bambi was one of the last films to feature new songs composed by longtime Disney collaborator Frank Churchill, who committed suicide in May 1942. The picture received Academy Award nominations for Best Song for Churchill and Larry Morey's "Love Is a Song," Best Sound Recording and Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture. In 1947, the film won a Golden Globe special award for "Furthering the Influence of the Screen" for its ground-breaking Hindustani version. The film also was to be dubbed into Russian, according to a December 1943 Hollywood Reporter news item, with "new lyrics, the narration and dialogue" prepared by Russian-born character actor Leonid Kinskey. Hollywood Reporter news items noted that the film was dubbed into French, Spanish, Swedish, Portuguese and Italian, with plans to do additional dubbing into Dutch, Urdu, Japanese, Chinese, Malaysian and Slovak. According to an April 1981 Los Angeles Times article, the Spanish-language version of Bambi was scheduled for a theatrical re-release. A November 1994 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that the picture had been dubbed into Arapaho to help encourage "Arapaho children to learn and preserve their language." The picture remains somewhat controversial due to the death of Bambi's mother, which some critics claim is too traumatic for young viewers, and due to objections from hunters, who assert that the film presents an unfair and biased view of hunting. An August 1942 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that while most critics praised the film, a "big blast" had come from "the professioanl hunters who are attacking Bambi for casting reflections on their sport." The Motion Picture Herald Prod Digest review also raised the issue, commenting, "some fathers are going to have a hard time explaining their yearly hunting trips." According to a modern source, early screenplay drafts included the shooting of "Friend Hare," the prototype of "Thumper," by hunters, and the discovery by "Bambi" and his father of a hunter's dead body after the forest fire. In a June 15, 1948 Hollywood Reporter news item, German author Eugion Prandi announced his intention to file suit against the Disney Studio, which, he claimed, had based Bambi on his 1932 novel The Hind rather than on Salten's book. The outcome of Prandi's claim is not known. Although several contemporary sources reported that Disney intended to produce a sequel to the film, based on Salten's book Bambi's Children, that picture was not made.