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Sacramento At The Movies Group Message Board › My favorite Roger Ebert review - "Bambi"

My favorite Roger Ebert review - "Bambi"

user 6712279
Fair Oaks, CA
Post #: 77
Below is one of the most mind-blowing movie reviews I've ever read, a commentary not just on a film, but on parenting, enculturation and the American way of life. I think of this review as the moment at which I realized that Roger Ebert was a genius and understood why he won the Pulitzer Prize. This review used to be up on his website, but when his reviews were moved to the Chicago Sun-Times' site, it mysteriously disappeared. I was able to retrieve it from (If it's too long for you, just read the second to last paragraph.)

By Roger Ebert

(Date of publication: 07/15/1988)

In the annals of the great heartbreaking moments in the movies, the death of Bambi's mother ranks right up there with the chaining of Dumbo's mother and the moment when E. T. seems certainly dead. These are movie moments that provide a rite of passage for children of a certain age: You send them in as kids, and they come out as sadder and wiser preteenagers.

Seeing "Bambi" again the other day, I was reminded of the strength of the movie's most famous scene. I was sitting one row behind a 4-year-old who asked his mother, "Where's Bambi's mom?" during that long, sad passage before Bambi's father comes along to explain the facts of death. How do you answer a question like that? For some kids, "Bambi" probably represents their first exposure to the existence of death.

And there are other moments in the movie almost as momentous. "Bambi" exists alone in the Disney canon. It is not an adventure and not a "cartoon," but an animated feature that describes with surprising seriousness the birth and growth of a young deer. Everybody remembers the cute early moments when Bambi can't find his footing and keeps tripping over his own shadow. Those scenes are among the most charming the Disney animators ever drew.

But in the course of little more than an hour, those funny moments are followed by Bambi's exposure to man, his first experience with guns and killing, the death of his mother and the destruction of the forest by fire. By then the deer has grown to young adulthood and finds that he must battle another stag for the favors of the female deer he fancies.

The movie ends after Bambi has become a father. Do you remember the last shot? It shows Bambi and his own father, two proud stags silhouetted against the sky. Meanwhile, Bambi's mate takes care of raising his child. This is as it should be, in the world of Bambi; the hero is raised by his own mother, while his father poses on the mountaintop.

"Bambi" is essentially a fable about how children are born, raised and come of age in a hard, cruel world. Its messages are many. Young viewers learn that fathers are absent and mysterious authority figures, worshipped and never blamed by mothers, who do all of the work of child-raising. They learn that you have to be quick and clever to avoid being killed deliberately, and that, even then, you might easily be killed accidentally. They learn that courtship is a matter of "first love" and instant romance with no communication, and that the way to win the physical favors of the desired mate is to beat up all of the other guys who want to be with her. And they learn that after you've grown to manhood and fathered a child, your role is to leave home and let your mate take care of the domestic details.

Hey, I don't want to sound like an alarmist here, but if you really stop to think about it, "Bambi" is a parable of sexism, nihilism and despair, portraying absentee fathers and passive mothers in a world of death and violence. I know the movie's a perennial clasic, seen by every generation, remembered long after other movies have been forgotten. But I am not sure it's a good experience for children - especially young and impressionable ones.

We forget how real animated cartoons seem to small children. Think back. When you were very young, didn't you always consider the cartoons to be more real than the live-action features, because the colors were brighter, the edges were sharper, and the motives and behavior were easier to understand? That's how I felt, and for me "Snow White" and "Pinocchio" and "Dumbo" were not fantasies but realities. There's a tradition in our society of exposing kids to the Disney classics at an early age, and for most kids and most of the Disney movies that's just fine. But "Bambi" is pretty serious stuff. I don't know if some little kids are ready for it.

Bambi 3 1/2 stars
Running time: 69 minutes.

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