I have a collection of Disney figurines – Bambi’s, Thumper’s, Flower’s – all the charming characters given voices to gently teach children about the kindness of life – only hinting occasionally at possible danger. The Disney animals taught us joy, love, and safety, occasionally making us laugh in the bargain. My parents were, I am sure, confounded by my insistence that, yes, animals could talk; and yes, they could teach me about life; and, absolutely, my parents could sit through Bambi ten times! Not to mention, Wind in The Willows, which I called “English Disney.”
When I was a very young girl, and it was time for me to learn about my body and what to expect, Walt Disney came out with a movie called, The Story of Menstruation. Mothers everywhere were relieved that they wouldn’t have to explain it! Blue Birds, Campfire Girls and Girl Scouts were offered showings of the film. I remember my mom saying to my dad, “don’t hold your breath!” And so, I saw the movie with my fellow Blue Birds/Camp Fire girls. Arriving home from work, Daddy couldn’t wait to find out how it went! Mother said rather cryptically, “Go ahead, ask her!” “Oh, daddy,” I spurt forth, “it was the cutest movie! This little girl had this problem and then as she grew up, it wasn’t a problem anymore! And there were all these cute little helpers and I just loved it!” When dad quit laughing, mom said, “she wants to see it again!”
Of course, I cried in every Disney movie, except that one. I received my own copy of Bambi in 1944, the year Walt Disney Productions copyrighted it. The book was based on “Bambi a Life In The Woods” by Felix Salten, copyright 1928. All the animals could talk – no surprise to me! And, they were friends – also not surprising. Owl could be cross, especially if the little rabbit Thumper woke him up. It was Thumper who shared the news of a baby deer being born. Owl judged it to be of great importance- pronouncing it “quite an occasion.” Thumper is irrepressible, and finally Owl suggests that they all leave the baby deer to rest with its mother. The last animal to leave is Thumper who is waiting to hear the name of the newcomer, “Bambi.”
As an older child might do with a baby, Thumper helps Bambi learn to talk and then to play. Bambi makes all the forest creatures happy, but none more than the little skunk who he names Flower. Of course, Bambi learns of danger as a part of life, he learns the value of a friend, and whom to trust. He learns of man, of forest fires and of hunters. He learns parallel to a child growing into adulthood. Disney’s versions covered all the bases and that is, indeed, a major part of the value of these charming books. Just as Bambi learns how to live in the forest, we learn to live in the world. We, like Bambi, learn our limits. We learn what to fear and when to be brave. We learn that life offers many joys and inevitably sorrows. We learn that by doing and staying the course we become who we are meant to be and then some.
And, of course, maybe the most important thing of all that we learn is that “truer than true” statement: if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all!