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Friday, April 28, 2006

The Bambi Dilemma

My mom took me to see Walt Disney’s Bambi when it came out in 1942. I was six years old. I still remember sitting with my mother and watching it in the Hobart theatre on Steinway Boulevard in Astoria, Long Island. I wish I could say it was a wonderful childhood experience but it was not. I was stricken when Bambi’s mother was killed by MAN in the meadow and for years I remembered with great sorrow how little Bambi cried: “Mother? Mother? Where are you mother?” I cried for Bambi that day in the movie theater as I am sure hundreds of thousands of children have cried since.

Over the years, I have discussed this film with generations of parents and almost without exception they have reported having had, as children, the same experience. Almost all of them have wondered: “How could Disney justify such a traumatic encounter with the death of a mother in a movie made for children still so powerfully attached to their own mothers?” To this day I am mystified and offended by the decision.

Sadly, this one overpowering and traumatic event in Bambi kept me from taking my children to see the film. I could not justify putting them through the same experience. Yet, the wonderful scenes of Bambi as a faun meeting Thumper and Flower and having his first experience with snow and ice are some of the most cherished of all my movie memories. Unfortunately, I did not think it was a workable solution to take my daughters to the movie theater and then try to cover their eyes and ears when the death of Bambi’s mother occurred and so I did not take them at all. At some point, of course, all three of my daughters did finally see the movie and they all agreed that the loss of the mother was very painful and that it blemished their memories of the film.

And so, Lars, my almost three year old grandson, came to stay with me for a couple of days this week. He has seen, I believe, all of the Disney movies except Bambi. I was faced with the Bambi dilemma—what to do, what to do. Then, It occurred to me that if I rented the film on DVD I had the option to simply skip over the painful segment using the DVD remote. I decided that I could pull it off and rented the film.

I did a sales job on Lars about Bambi prior to watching the movie with him. He is currently enthralled with Spider Man, Superman, The Hulk and The Fantastic Four and I was worried there would not be enough action scenes in Bambi to keep him satisfied. But then I remembered the fire scenes and the episode where Bambi saves his girlfriend from the dogs and thought that perhaps I was selling the movie short. I explained to him that the movie was about a baby deer that lived in the forest with his mother and all of his nice animal friends and that Bambi and his buddies had lots of fun playingtogether. Lars agreed to watch the movie and we proceeded to do so.

I was thrilled as Lars giggled at Bambi’s difficulty learning to walk and I was overjoyed to watch his face as he roared at Bambi’s pratfalls on snow and ice. It occurred to me that he himself was not so far removed from learning to walk and that he was probably remembering those same trials and tribulations.

Watching the film with Lars, I was again struck by the genius of the cartoon work. Bambi’s facial expressions are even more sweet and adorable; Thumper’s voice is more charming and Huck Finnish; and the leaves falling on water and the birds’ songs of spring are as magical as I remembered. I watched Lars’ face as the movie unfolded and he was as enthralled as I had hoped.

Already an experienced DVD watcher, Lars can pick up on film score cues. And so, when the music became ominous the first time we are introduced to the danger of MAN in the forest, Lars said: “Uh oh—bad guys.” I said to him: “Yes, there are men with guns in the forest who want to shoot the animals.” Lars’ eyes got big and he looked worried. I knew that the first run-in with the hunters worked out safely for Bambi and his mother and so I allowed Lars to see it. He handled it well and was relieved when they escaped unharmed.

Then, when the second run-in with MAN occurred, as Bambi and his mother began to run away, I skipped the traumatic section using the DVD remote. Lars searched my face to see why I had done it. I said: “Lars, Bambi’s mother got shot in the foot and had to go and get it fixed, but Bambi’s okay.” He seemed a tad troubled by this but pretty much bought it at face value. As the rest of the film played he stayed involved and did not ask any more questions about Bambi’s mother. I felt that I had successfully protected him from the film’s unnecessary trauma.

Lars had a strong positive reaction to Bambi’s father. He kept pointing to him and saying: “Papa, Papa.” I agreed and pointed out that the Papa in the movie was not only Bambi’s father but also a “good guy” who protected all the animals in the forest.

The part of the movie that Lars seemed least interested in was the “Twittilated” sequence showing all the animals falling in love during spring. I do not think that at this time he has enough information to figure out what it all means. I tried to explain that Thumper, Flower and Bambi each “found a girlfriend to play with.” He seemed to accept this but I could tell by his face that it was not adding up. His experience playing with others does not include the lovesick looks, the kisses and the other strong flirtation stuff in the movie. But, he hung in there and found enough interesting things—he was quite impressed with the forest fire scenes and Bambi’s dash to safety--to offset this somewhat mysterious part.

Naturally, Lars will see this movie again at some point and it is likely that he will probably see the entire movie and have to deal with the loss of Bambi’s mother. But, he will be older and more able to handle it. All things considered, I feel really good about his first Bambi experience and of course am honored to have been there for his first viewing. True, it was the Grandfather’s Expurgated Version but I believe I found a suitable solution to the Bambi dilemma.

1 Comments:

Blogger PattyMenden said...

What a great idea. I'm still traumatized by Bambi losing his mother. They (I don't know who) said no child under the age of 8 should view even a G rated film due to violence.

10:58 PM  

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