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.
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).
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.
The last full-length animated feature made by Walt Disney until Cinderella (1950). The gap was due to the lack of film workers (who were in military service) and materials necessary to make films when WWII was going on.
Disney animators spent a year studying and drawing deer 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.
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 Disney'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.
"Bambi" 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.
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-deer 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.
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.
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 and Henry Fonda's voices. 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" which means small boy.
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.
For the film's Platinum Edition 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.
Donnie Dunagan kept his role of Young Bambi quiet while in the Marines, as he feared he would pick up the nickname "Bambi". He would have a remarkable career in the service, becoming the youngest drill instructor in its' history, rising to the rank of Major and serving in the Vietnam War where he would be decorated for valour and wounded three times.
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 copyright status of the Bambi character and other Disney characters based on the original novel by Salten have been in dispute. Salten copyrighted the novel and characters. He sold the film rights to Sidney Franklin but retained all other rights. Franklin passed his rights to Walt Disney who did create a film based on them. However, Disney went on to use the character in comic books and other media which were not explicitly covered by the original deal. Salten and his family, who continued to hold the rights to the novel and characters until 1993, never challenged this practice. In 1993, the Salten family rights were sold to publishing house Twin Books. The new owners soon sued the Disney company for copyright infringement. While several trials have resulted from the dispute, they were inconclusive. Both companies maintain rights to versions of the same characters.
The original novel "Bambi, a Life in the Woods" (1923) is not a work intended for children and Disney toned down much of the material. By one description of the novel, it consists of 293 pages packed with blood-and-guts action, sexual conquest and betrayal. The forest characters include cutthroats and miscreants, including 6 murderers.
The scene depicting Bambi and Thumper on the icy pond was based on live-action references. The movements studied were those of actress Jane Randolph (1915-2009) and figure skater Donna Atwood (1925-2010).
When Bambi is fighting Ronno. It's easy to tell who's winning when you look at the colors in the background. When Ronno is winning the colors are green, blue, and black. When Bambi is winning, the colors are yellow, orange, and sometimes pink. This is all explained in the commentary by Walt Disney himself in the 2-Disc Platinum Edition.
The original novel "Bambi, a Life in the Woods" (1923) had a sequel. Author Felix Salten released "Bambi's Children, The Story of a Forest Family" in 1939. Disney never received the rights to the second book.
In the original novel, Bambi and Faline are first cousins. Faline is the daughter of Aunt Ena, the sister of Bambi's mother. Disney probably discarded this detail because a mating of first cousins would be considered incest.
One key scene of the novel missing of the film is Bambi's realization that man is neither all powerful, nor immortal. It comes when the Prince of the Forest shows Bambi the corpse of a man shot by a fellow human.
One of the discarded characters from the original novel is Gobo. He is featured in the novel as Faline's twin brother and Bambi's first cousin. His death is a major plot point of the novel. Gobo was found by a man while wounded, nursed back to health, and released back into the wild. He concluded that men should not be feared and later willingly approaches a hunter who simply kills him.
This was only the first Disney film based on a Felix Salten work. The novel "Perri" (1938) by Salten was adapted into a 1957 live-action film of the same name by Disney. The novel " The Hound of Florence" (1923) by Salten was the basis of the 1959 live-action film "The Shaggy Dog" (1959) by Disney.
The sequel novel "Bambi's Children, The Story of a Forest Family" (1939) by Felix Salten feature's Bambi and Faline's twin children. They are called Geno and Gurri. Faline also adopts orphan fawns Nello and Membo.
The production of the film was a slow process. Walt Disney acquired the film rights in 1937, but it took two years for the initial storyboards to develop. Production begun of mid-August 1939, but the writing and rewriting process only ended in July, 1940. It took two more years until the film was read for release.
While the sequel novel "Bambi's Children, The Story of a Forest Family" (1939) never received a film adaptation, it received a 56-pages long comic book adaptation by Dell Comics in 1943. The story was drawn by Ken Hultgren. Disney has the copyright of the comic book adaptation.
According to animator and writer Mel Shaw (1914-2012), one reason for the production delays of the film was that that Walt Disney and his staff kept having ideas about new scenes and characters, spend time developing them, and then had to discard them because they did not really fit in the film. He described an example. A brief scene was originally set to have Bambi step on an ant hill and depict some disturbed ants. Then the staff started working on elaborate depictions of the damage done to the ant civilization and detailed plans for the ant characters. At the end it was decided that the entire scene was irrelevant to the plot and they discarded all work done for it.
When the film staff decided to add rabbit characters to the film, they took an idea from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (1937). The plan was to develop 6 rabbits with individual personalities and looks, similar to the Dwarfs from the previous film. Perce Pearce then had a different idea. He suggested to depict 6 rabbits, but to depict to 5 of them with generic looks and personalities. The 6th one would have distinctive coloration and personality to allow him to stand out. Pearce's idea for the unique rabbit was developed into Thumper.
While "Bambi, a Life in the Woods" (1923) is Felix Salten's best known work in the English-speaking world, his reputation in the German-speaking world rests on an entirely different work. The erotic novel "Josephine Mutzenbacher" (1906) by Salten has been a best seller for over a century, has received sequels and derivative works by other writers, and received several adaptations into theater and film.
The planned scene which had man die in the forest fire he started in the first place was conceived to depict poetic justice. Death as a consequence of his own actions. It had to be discarded when the staff decided to keep man off-screen for the entirety of the film.
The film briefly depicts two realistic leaves falling to the ground. The original plan was, however, to have the leaves be sentient and conversing like an old married couple while falling down. Walt Disney thought that talking flora did not fit this film and revised the scene.
An unnamed squirrel and an unnamed chipmunk briefly appear in the film. They were originally supposed to have a larger role in the film as a comedy duo. They would be the film's own version of Laurel and Hardy. Walt Disney decided to cut their scenes and focus on the leading trio of Bambi, Flower, and Thumper.
The animators working on the deer characters had to study the shape, structure, and movement of the real animals to produce more realistic designs. They had no previous experience doing so, and the only previous animated deer in Disney's history were minor characters from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (1937) with unrealistic designs.
There is a minor animal character in the Marvel Comics series "Defenders" called Bambi. He is named after the Disney character, since he is a young deer who had his mother shot by hunters. He was created by Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema and used in a few stories in 1976.
One of the reasons for the film's initial failure at the box office was that it was actually released in less markets than its predecessors. Events of the European theatre of World War II and severance of relations of the United States with Axis Powers members resulted in the film not being released in most of Europe and Japan.
Bambi and his supporting characters were adapted into the Disney comics in 1942. They have had several appearances over the decades, either starring in stories of their own or appearing with other characters. Bambi himself has had crossovers with characters such as Goofy, the Seven Dwarfs, the Wicked Witch, Chip and Dale, Dumbo, and Timothy Mouse.
The original novel "Bambi, a Life in the Woods" (1923), along with the rest of Felix Salten's books, was banned in Nazi Germany. Salten was a prominent Austrian Jew and his works were included in the prohibited "Jewish literature".
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.
The death of Bambi's mother is often considered to be saddest and most heartbreaking moment of any film in the Disney canon. It's only rival in that respect is in The Lion King (1994) when title character's father dies.
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.
Many movie-watchers in the 1940s were not prepared to see killing in any Disney movies at that time. Which is pretty common nowadays showing the protagonist's relative, spouse, or parent killed in movies to make a deeper, and sadder story. This was the first Disney film to bring this out to the public.