The lovely and gentle Bambi was adapted
from the 1929 novel by Felix Salten. The rights to the book
had actually been purchased by producer/director Sydney A.
Franklin (The Good Earth, Waterloo Bridge, Mrs. Miniver),
who was eager to collaborate with Walt Disney on the project.
He surrendered his rights and served as an advisor on the
project. The opening credits express Disney's gratitude: "To
Sidney A. Franklin, sincere appreciation for his inspiring
Walt Disney had wanted to begin development on Bambi when
he first read the book in 1935, but actual story development
and study began in 1937 as production of Snow White and the
Seven Dwarfs was winding down.
The film moved slowly through
production, as Pinocchio (1940), The Reluctant Dragon (1941)
and Dumbo (1941) superseded it. The desire for the ultimate
combination of realism and animation art was at the heart
of this sluggish progress, but the results delighted Walt
Disney- "Fellas, this stuff is pure gold," he told
Bambi was released at the time
that international markets were still cut off to Disney, so
although the critical and public reaction was positive, the
profits were relatively small. Over the years, the film has
come to be revered for its gentle story and skillful stylization.
The realistic depiction of the
animals and their settings led the production of Bambi to
stretch over six years. Although work on the film was not
continuous over this span, it rarely came to a complete halt.
Four of Disney's key animators- Ollie Johnston, Frank Thomas,
Eric Larson, and Milt Kahl-supervised the production "part-time" over its six-year schedule. They worked so diligently that
Bambi was largely finished in early 1941, when the completion
of Dumbo allowed Bambi to return to full production and completion.
The artists working on the film
studied animal movement and anatomy under celebrated California
artist Rico Le Brun. A pair of four-month-old fawns was sent
to the Disney Studio from the Maine Development Commission
for animator study. Two skunks numerous squirrels, birds,
rabbits, chipmunks, owls, and other forest creatures were
also brought to the "animal compound" at the Disney
Studio. When the deer became too tame and well adapted to
the human domain, their behavior was no longer reflective
of deer in the wild. Walt sent Maurice "Jake" Day
to Maine, where he shot extensive footage of not only deer,
but also anything else that could help document the world
of a "real" forest.
Although renowned for its "realistic" animation, Bambi also features beautifully stylized work,
including Bambi's fight with the young buck and the forest
More than four million drawings
were executed during the production of Bambi. In addition
to the animators, a staff of 25 scenic artists created more
than 450 background paintings, working in oils rather than
the usual tempera or water-color to achieve greater depth
in the forest settings.