The Disney movie Bambi gave rise to what is known as the Bambi Principle in environmentalism. It extended the concept of environmentalism, as in do no harm, to a role of humans as caretaker of nature. The following article explains how Bambi did that. It is provided by Arizona State University: LINK: https://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2016/04/19/how-bambi-hoodwinked-american-environmentalists-2/ideas/nexus/ (edited and abbreviated)
- A man who had gone deer hunting and a number of does strolled from the woods into the meadow. Joe tried to pick out the fattest doe to shoot but his wife was overcome with the Bambi image she remembered from the movie and it brought her to tears. The hunt was abandoned. These contradictory responses derive from the lingering power of of the Bambi principle – a 1942 Disney cartoon about that big-eyed fawn, so cute that even 74 years later, Bambi still animates debates over animal rights and environmentalism such that saving Bambi has now been extended to saving the planet.
- Bambi didn’t start as an American environmental fable. It recounts the story of a fawn who grows up to be the prince of the forest alongside his royal father. But his rise to power comes only after the death of his mother and near loss of his mate Faline. While hunters and predatory animals are a problem for these deer, in the forest, owls eat mice, crows eat a friendly rabbit, and a fox eats a duck but these images are antithetical to the Bambi Principle of environmentalism. Early reviewers had thought that Bambi was anti-fascist fable and recent writers thought that the story was an allegory about the plight of the Jews in Europe.
- By 1942, when Disney released the film, Americans were processing their shock at the attack on Pearl Harbor and our entrance into a world war, which is reflected in the film’s simplified portrayal of deer living in an idealized forest where predators and prey play together and fear only a shadowy character called “Man,” who is equipped with guns and fire.
- The emotional punch of Bambi is heightened by the artistry, which combines gorgeous natural realism with cartoonish animals, their exceptionally large heads, small noses, and wide eyes resembling human children. Disney gave Bambi playful friends like the rabbit Thumper and the skunk Flower, in contrast to the more melancholy, quarrelsome animals of the book. Even though these cartoon animals frolic to the tune of “Little April Shower,” Disney paid special attention to the details of the forest, sending artists to sketch foliage in Baxter State Park and shipping two fawns to the studio as artist’s models. This uncanny mix of cuteness and terror and fantasy and realism has led some to call it a horror film.
When it was released the Bambi movie was surprisingly controversial. Hunters saw it as an ideological threat. Outdoor Life editor Raymond J. Brown called the film “the worst insult ever offered in any form to American sportsmen,” and even asked Disney to correct slurs against hunters. Disney said that sportsmen were not the target because Salten’s story was about German hunters.
Bambi had fans too. In a July 1942 issue of Audubon Magazine, naturalist Donald Culross Peattie “hotly denies” that Bambi “misrepresented anything.” That same year the National Audubon Society compared the cartoon’s consciousness-raising power for the environment to what Uncle Tom’s Cabin did for the abolition of slavery. New York Times reviewer Theodore Strauss claimed Disney films “teach us variously about having a fundamental respect for nature. Bambi inspired conservation awareness and laid the emotional groundwork for environmental activism.
When it was first released, Bambi lost money, but subsequent re-releases in theatres and video rentals brought in close to $300 million by 1988 as the film had become a rite of childhood. And over the years that “emotional groundwork,” took hold in the form of “The Bambi Factor, or The Bambi Principle” a sentimental anthropomorphized view of wildlife.
One of the first people bitten by the Bambi Factor was environmentalist Aldo Leopold. In 1943, Leopold encouraged Wisconsin to institute an antlerless deer season that would have allowed hunters to shoot does and young bucks to thin the overpopulated herd. Leopold was interested in the good of all life as part of an ecosystem, not just special animals. In his Sand County Almanac, Leopold extends ethics to include nonhuman animals, as well as the plant life that sustains them. For the new converted Leopold the Bambi Principle holds that “the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts, and those parts include all elements of the natural environment, from soil and plants to “Bambi.”
A graduate of the Yale forestry school, Leopold promoted game management, evolutionary biology, and ecology, rather than sentimental anthropomorphism. To maintain a diverse ecology, Leopold supported regulated sport hunting, including shooting a limited number of Wisconsin’s does with the aim of keeping the herd size smaller. But his Wisconsin proposal was shot down—the public, according to scholar Ralph H. Lutts, was outraged at the idea of culling any of Bambi’s child-like creatures.
There is another environmental ideology hidden in Bambi that’s at odds with reality. Bambi’s underlying message is that Man and deer can’t co-exist. Of all the creatures in the movie, only the humans disrupt the pristine view of nature. “Why did we all run?” Bambi asks after a gun shot sounds. “Man was in the forest,” his mother replies. A later gunshot is the end of Bambi’s mother, hiding the violence that is heightened by her absence. Other hunters go on a chilling rampage, wounding Bambi and causing a final eco-disaster when their campfire explodes and burns down the forest destroying the animals’ home. The fire effects light the scene in oranges and reds, in the spirit of the “Burning of Atlanta” scene in Gone with the Wind. In the context of Disney’s film version of Bambi, humans and their vicious dogs are evil shadowy harbingers of death destroying an idealized paradise.
In the movie, the forest is presented as a kind of idealized human-free world where nature can frolic. Unless humans arrive, animals of all species live without fear in a “paradise” untouched by human hands where even owls have morphed into vegetarians. Here all interaction with humans, and only with humans, end in death or suffering. There is a complete separation of nature into two worlds – humans and humanless nature.
The big question in modern environmentalism extended into the Anthropocene, a paradise lost, where humans are in control of the planet. In many ways, Bambi played a role in the more modern concept of an ecosystem that does not contain humans but one which must be managed by humans. This view is in contrast with the earlier movie Mr Bug Goes to Town that presents a peaceful coexistence between man and beast. Despite the anthropomorphism in the movie, Mr. Bug’s focus on interdependence presents a more realistic view.
Bambi lovers want to protect the deer even when the deer are sick. As recently as 2012, naturalist Valerie Blaine blamed the Bambi Principle for the North Rutland Deer Alliance’s opposition to killing deer even to test for chronic wasting disease. The Bambi Principle encourages sentimentalized and unrealistic views of wildlife that romanticize nature. With its vast and varied ecologies.
America’s myth is that it is both a frontier to be conquered and an Eden to be preserved, but there’s more to living on this planet than choosing between paradise and a parking lot. Bambi presents us with a powerful but flawed vision of nature that draws a line between us and them. Instead of looking for a paradise that separates us from wild nature, we need to find a new vision that stresses that to live together as different parts of nature.