Sidney Franklin originally initiated "Bambi" as a film project in 1933, envisioning it as a live action film. He had even gone to the stage of recording 'Margaret Sullavan (I)' and Victor Jory's voices for the soundtrack. Eventually he realized that the technology simply wasn't adequate enough to make the film. After seeing Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), it dawned on Franklin that there was someone who could realize "Bambi" as a movie. So he contacted Walt Disney who immediately leaped at the idea of working on the project. Disney started work on the film in 1936, though he was also developing Fantasia (1940), Dumbo (1941) and Pinocchio (1940) at the same time. All this explains why there is a dedication in the film's opening credits "To Sidney A. Franklin - our sincere appreciation for the inspiring collaboration".
Austrian writer Felix Salten (real name Siegmund Salzmann) - an insurance clerk who began to write out of boredom - got the inspiration for his novel during a trip to Italy when he became fascinated with the Italian word "bambino".
The Disney studios were walking a very precarious line financially, and were constantly on the verge of bankruptcy. A studio strike and, of course, the outbreak of war - which deprived them of their lucrative European market - didn't help matters. Disney was able to secure another loan from the Bank of America, but when both Pinocchio (1940) and Fantasia (1940) failed at the box office, a lot was riding on Bambi (1942) to be a success.
Bambi (1942) premiered August 8, 1942 in London - a very daring move in the midst of war - and a few days later in New York. Despite glowing reviews, it was an initial box office disappointment. This prompted Disney to re-release Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) in the summer of 1944, a tactic that the studio regularly adopts now for all their animated features.
No matter how skilled the animator, the Disney cartoonists simply could not draw Bambi's father's antlers accurately. This was because of the very complicated perspectives required. To get round the problem, a plaster cast was made of some real antlers which was then filmed at all angles. This footage was then rotoscoped onto animation cels.
The Maine Development Commission sent two fawns, appropriately named Bambi and Faline, to the Disney studio, to be kept as pets while artists studied their movements and behavior. When they were fully grown, they were released in nearby Griffith Park. Other animals, such as skunks and squirrels, were kept in the Disney zoo for similar purposes.
Six-year-old Peter Behn auditioned with several other children for the voice roles of Mother Rabbit's children. When Behn said the line (in reference to Bambi), "Did the young prince fall down?", a casting director who was watching the audition in another room shouted, "Get that kid out of here! He can't act!" However, the Disney animators who heard the audition tape loved the sound of Behn's voice. Behn was called back to the studio, and the character of Thumper was created largely based on his vocal performance.
Animation from this film has been reused more often than animation from any other Disney film. Usually it is used as incidental animation of birds, leaves and the like. Only a few of the major characters have been reused. Bambi's mother, for example, appears in the very first shot of Beauty and the Beast (1991), and is the quarry of both Kay in The Sword in the Stone (1963) and Shere Khan in The Jungle Book (1967). Bambi and his mother fully appear then in The Rescuers (1977).
Before he died, the last request of Frank Churchill, the composer who scored the music for this film, was that the film's song, "Love Is a Song", be dedicated to his wife, Carolyn, who was Walt's personal secretary from 1930 to 1934 after she married Frank. But Walt had to deny the request since the song had already gone to the publisher.
Walt Disney and his staff attended a preview of the film in a Pomona theater on February 28, 1942, only a few months before the film was released. During the screening, the audience remained quiet; Walt didn't know whether they were spellbound or bored. The audience was shocked by the scene of Bambi's mother being shot to death, but when Bambi started looking around for her and calling out to her, asking where she is, a teenager in the audience answered, "Here I am, Bambi!", causing everyone else in the audience - except Walt's staff - to howl with laughter. Walt and his staff left the theater in disappointment, but Walt refused to cut the scene from the movie, insisting that the movie was right as it was. Bambi's mother's death is considered to be one of the most tragic, heartbreaking moments ever, not only in Disney movies, but in movies in general.
For the film's DVD release in 2005, over 110,000 frames were cleaned up individually, requiring more than 9,600 hours of work. This was done from a copy of the original nitrate negative borrowed from the Library of Congress.
Disney animators spent a year studying and drawing deers and fawns to perfect the look of Bambi and his parents and friends. Deer are notoriously difficult to render in human terms as their eyes are on either side of their face, their mouth does not lend itself to speech and they have no real chin. Ultimately animator Marc Davis resolved these difficulties by infusing the character of Bambi with the traits of a human baby.
The world premiere of this film was scheduled to be in the tiny Lincoln Theater in Damariscotta, Maine, USA. Maurice Day, an animator with Disney, brought Felix Salten's book to the attention of Walt Disney, and when Disney decided to make the movie he thanked Maurice by planning to hold the premiere in Maurice's home town. However, the State of Maine objected, fearing that hunters would be offended by the film, and the actual world premiere was elsewhere.
The hunter who shoots Bambi's mother was originally going to be included as a character in the movie. But, for a man to shoot the mother of the hero, he would have to be clearly cruel and villainous for children to accept him. Since Walt Disney didn't want to be seen as maligning hunters as evil, the character was cut and never shown in the final version of the film.
The movie is responsible for the so-called "Bambi-confusion" ("Bambi-Irrtum") in German-speaking countries. In the book Bambi is a roe-deer (German: Reh). But since there are no roe-deers in the US, Walt Disney changed Bambi's appearance to that of a white-tailed deer, which in turn is unknown in Europe. However, both the original German-dubbed version from 1950 and the re-dubbing from 1973 stuck to the original Felix Salten version and called Bambi a roe-deer instead of a stag (German: Hirsch), which would be a lot more correct. Since the appearance of Bambi's father and Bambi in adult life resemble a red deer (which is common in Europe) a lot closer than an adult roe-deer, kids in German-speaking regions for the past 60 years have come to believe that a Reh (roe-deer) is the younger version of a (Rot) Hirsch (Red deer). This confusion has never really been cleared up for many so that this is now even taught to children by their parents who saw the movie when they were young.