(David Hand, USA, 1942)


I have on several occasions voiced my heartfelt doubts about the more questionable aspects of Walt Disney’s legacy – his fawning relation to high culture (as in parts of Fantasia [1940]), his hopelessly unhip attachment to old-fashioned trends in popular music (as in The Aristocats [1970]), and his bizarre racial fantasies and fixations (as in The Jungle Book [1967]).

Each time, I have watched these films anew and sincerely wondered: what on earth does a child of today make of this stuff?

Bambi is undoubtedly one of the best and most captivating of Disney’s productions on a purely aesthetic plane. The synchronisation of action and music, the harmony of the animals and their natural surroundings: Disney was at his peak here. But it is also his queerest film – and I use queer in the sense that people now speak of queer cinema.

I defy anyone watching this film for the first time to know unproblematically what gender some of characters are. The back cover blurb on the re-released video calls Bambi timeless; it’s certainly sexless.

On the other hand, the film is Disney’s most intense tale of a person finding and claiming their supposedly natural gender role. Bambi is raised by women; his father is an absent and mysterious figure. The way Disney and his team ultimately resolve this frankly Freudian situation is both moving and appalling. If kids respond to this, it is surely on an unconscious level – and the thought that many of us grew up with Walt’s fantasies clogging our collective unconscious is a scary one indeed.

© Adrian Martin April 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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