Disturbing Scenes From Disney Films We Blocked Out
Remember when you could sit the entire family down in front of the television and pop in a G-rated DVD (or, if you’re as old as I am, a VHS) without having to worry about offending someone’s sensibilities? And you were reasonably sure the whole clan could just sit back and enjoy a “family-friendly” film without violence, sex, cursing or — egads — politics?
For many of us, this is how Disney films are typically remembered years later: tame, not vulgar, with a lesson to teach and a happy ending.
Yes, but, what about the horror those seemingly innocent movies — animated or live action — invariably engendered? Here then, are some of the most horrifying moments from the “classic” Disney catalog that you either forgot or blacked out from your memories … until now.
Cinderella’s Dress Torn to Shreds
Let's start off with the not-so-terrifying. We all remember that Cinderella just wanted to go to the ball to meet her prince, but you may have forgotten that her vile stepsisters not only ugly-shame her, but also proceed to tear up Cinderella’s ball gown, while she is wearing it, so that she’ll have to stay home. Thankfully, a kindly fairy intervenes to offer a stellar new dress and a magical carriage, and Cinderella is off to the party and her man.
Whether or not you have wicked stepsisters, the sad fact is that a great many of us have been the victims of bullying at some point in our lives, which can take many forms, be it violent or just plain derisive. Tearing up Cinderella’s dress is cruel and belittling, and done not only to make Cinderella feel small but also out of sheer jealousy.
The Cinderella story exists in many cultures and has infinite variations. In a recent essay for “Daily Titan,” Esmeralda Figueroa posits that the 1950 Disney version can also be viewed through a feminist prism, particularly given how the vile stepsisters and stepmother think that by destroying Cinderella’s dress, they are somehow ruining any hopes of beauty Cinderella might possess.
“The destruction of her dress before the ball is a dark moment in the film. Her ‘family’ humiliates her, tearing her dress apart from her body. She pleads for them to stop as her stepmother watches,” Figueroa writes, arguing that, like many other Disney “princesses” (such as Ariel in “The Little Mermaid”), Cinderella’s going against her stepmother to get to the ball effectively bucks an entrenched patriarchy — or, in this case, a matriarchy.
“Even after the humiliation, she manages to go to the ball, knowing that her abusers will be there, too,” Figueroa opines. “As for the ball itself, Cinderella only wanted to go for the experience. She had no intention of going to find a man, in fact it was the prince who sought her out. The girl just wanted to have a night out … She does not let her situation dictate how she lives her life.”
Sleeping Beauty Touches the Loom Needle
All she had to do was not touch it. That’s literally the only thing she wasn’t supposed to do. But Maleficent tricks her into sleepwalking (no, that’s not a pun; watch the movie) to the loom and then pricking her finger on the needle, which puts Sleeping Beauty into a deep sleep from which only her prince can rouse her.
What makes this so upsetting is that, as in many other classic Disney tales, there’s a mean older adult who just can’t stand that there’s a younger, prettier person out there, and so they have to go. Perhaps that’s an indictment against Western society’s fear of aging — or perhaps I’m giving it too much credit. Either way, this scene from the 1959 animated movie touches on some primal fear of being manipulated, against one’s will, into doing something self-destructive, be it at the hands of an evil witch or just someone you know casually.
Like many of you, I, too, was wondering how — or why! — the loom in “Sleeping Beauty” became such a dangerous aspect of this story. According to a 2011 article from Patch.com, collector Kathleen Crippen said that spindle wheels date back to 1000 A.D., and became quite fashionable in Europe — which likely accounts for the tool finding its way into this particular fairy tale.
“This was the standard type of spinning wheel up until around 1500, when the bobbin and flyer assembly came into being,” the Patch article reports, adding, “As there is no place on a flyer wheel to conveniently prick one’s finger, it would stand to reason that Sleeping Beauty was using some type of spindle wheel, [Crippen] believes.
“Typically, spinners keep a cork on the spindle tip when the wheel is not in use as the spindle is about 6- or 8-inches long and can be quite treacherous to bump up against.”
Any way you slice it, there’s nothing — and I mean absolutely nothing — pleasant about the idea of touching that loom needle. Frankly, I’d rather stay sleeping.
Dumbo and the Pink Elephants
Cute little Dumbo makes a bubble with his trunk, which then hypnotically transforms into a fleet of dancing pink elephants that look like they just stepped out of the “aided” fantasies of Jerry Garcia and Pink Floyd.
In a word: Huh?
It’s not that it’s scary per se, just super duper insanely weird. “Dumbo” came out in 1941, which was years before the word “psychedelic” had even entered the language, but there’s no other way to describe the pink elephant business than precisely that way. I suppose the great thing about being young is that it never even occurs to you to take animated fantasy material like this in any way but at face value. Adults, however, can't help but guess what substances the animators were using to stoke such creativity.
Becky Bezile, writing for AudiencesEverywhere.net, expands upon this point, maintaining that one of the reasons the scene may be so upsetting to young children is that they have little understanding of intoxication (considering Dumbo drank some water mixed with champagne, leading to the weird hallucinations).
“This psychedelic freak show comes out of left field,” Bezile claims. “It does nothing to advance the plot or have anything to do with Dumbo besides the fact it features elephants. It is unlike anything Disney had ever done or has ever done since.
“This five minutes is absolutely and unforgettably nightmare inducing … Although, like all our fears, it starts to become rather silly once you face it enough times.”
In other words, maybe those animators were just bored and thought to throw in this Dali-esque scenes to amuse themselves — and frighten kids in the process. Let’s see what Tim Burton does with his live-action remake this year.
The Headless Horseman
Actually, all things considered, the Headless Horseman in the 1949 short animated movie, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” isn’t all that bad. Sometimes, it’s all about context: Ichabod Crane, scared stiff by a spooky story told by romantic rival Brom Bones, rides his rather sedentary horse through Sleepy Hollow on Halloween night, freaked out by every sound and motion. Then, he in fact comes face to face with the spirited rider sans one cranium.
This is actually a great example that teaches kids it's alright to be afraid. Sure, the Headless Horseman is genuinely frightening, but what’s important to keep in mind is that the actual sequence itself is a master class in pratfalls and comedy. While furiously escaping the demon rider, Ichabod at one point winds up on the Horseman’s steed, and at another hilarious moment, peers down the Horseman’s collar to see, hey, is there anything down there? (Nope!)
So, is it too scary? TV Guide, in its writeup of the animated romp — which was paired theatrically and on video with “The Adventures of Mr. Toad” — heaped praise for the imaginative animated realization of the chase by the Headless Horseman, saying:
“For pure imaginative animation, this pell-mell race through forests and glens is still unequaled. [‘The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad’] is superb family entertainment, though very young children may find the climactic sequence of the ‘Sleepy Hollow’ portion too frightening. So, your best bet is to pre-screen the cranium-less knight chasing ol’ Ichabod through the hollow prior to showing it to your kids. And remember to tell them it’s OK to be scared."
The Boulder Falls on the Wicked Queen
She’s so so SO mad that Snow White is the newly crowned fairest of them all. So much so, in fact, that the Wicked Queen drinks a magic potion that turns her into an old crone in an effort to get close enough to Snow White and slip her a bad apple that will knock her off. (Never mind that the Wicked Queen doesn’t seem to have conjured a reverse-potion to then make her young again thereafter.)
Anyway, the Seven Dwarfs are understandably angry about this and chase the Wicked Queen to the top of a mountain, where she nearly dumps a boulder on the pint-size fellows. This is, however, interrupted when a super bolt of lightning destroys the ledge she is standing on, plunging her screaming to her death.
To add insult to mortal injury, the boulder then falls on top of her — just in case we didn’t get the point. Granted, there are many mean old ladies out there, but even this kind of punishment seems excessive for the 1939 animated film.
Although the queen’s rather dramatic demise is particularly unpleasant, the late film critic Roger Ebert, who included “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” in his “Great Movies” review series in 2001, said that what makes “Snow White” so good for kids is that it forces young eyes to peer into the darker elements of life from a safe distance.
“What you see in ‘Snow White’ is a canvas always shimmering, palpitating, with movement and invention,” Ebert writes. “To this is linked the central story, which like all good fairy tales, is terrifying, involving the evil queen, the sinister mirror on the mall, the poisoned apple, entombment in the glass casket, the lightning storm, the rocky ledge, the queen’s fall to her death. What helps children deal with this material is that the birds and animals are as timid as they are, scurrying away and then returning for another curious look. The little creatures of ‘Snow White’ are like a chorus that feels like the kids in the audience do.”
Gosh, we miss you, Rog!
Pinocchio Trapped in a Cage
I’m going to go out on a limb and say there’s no scarier image than lightning illuminating a train car full of puppets while the protagonist swings helplessly in a cage thanks to the awful Stromboli. But this is precisely where Pinocchio finds himself in the second act of his journey in the 1940 animated film.
There’s something extremely primal about a nighttime scene lit up by a lightning flash for only a few seconds. This one’s even more disturbing given that the windy weather makes Stromboli’s puppets “move” and seem truly alive as Pinocchio helplessly swings above them.
And this is also the same film where a giant whale swallows Pinocchio’s creator and an entire island of kids are transformed into donkeys (more on this later). But for whatever reason, all these years hence, this moment in “Pinocchio” remains stuck with me.
Ebert feels the same. “Was there ever a scarier, more exciting animated feature than ‘Pinocchio’? I doubt it — at least not if you were between the ages of 5 and 10 when you saw it, and could identify with its block-headed little hero,” he writes in 1992, when the film turned 52.
Ebert praised the film for its stellar animation, but also said he was “the right age” when he first saw it as a boy. He calls Pinocchio the very personification of youthful innocence, which makes him prime plucking for the vile circus-master Stromboli, “who thinks there is money to be made from a wooden puppet who can walk and talk.”
In other words: Dark-hearted capitalists will always find a way to exploit the less fortunate. All this could have been avoided if Pinocchio had just stayed home.
“The beauty of ‘Pinocchio’ is that what happens to Pinocchio seems plausible to the average kid … Kids may not understand falling in love with a prince, but they understand not listening to your father, and being a bad boy, and running away and getting into real trouble,” Ebert writes as a valediction for this classic tale.
The Fox and the Hound and the Bear
As anyone who lives with a British person, as I do, knows, foxes and dogs are not exactly chums. And so it was ill-fated for the animated fox Tod and the hound Copper to be at first fast friends and then, inevitably, enemies in the 1981 “Fox and the Hound” romp that is actually a lot smarter than it might be given credit.
The innocence of Tod and Cooper not knowing, when they’re young, that they should be enemies is a fairly profound notion, and it’s only when they’ve been “socialized” as adults that they realize they cannot be friends. (Choose your real-world allegory.) The climax has Cooper and his human handler hunting Tod, a pursuit that is interrupted by a rather surly grizzly bear.
I’m honestly not sure what’s more disturbing: the bear attack or the former friends becoming enemies thanks to their respective stations. This being the Disneyverse, there’s a reconciliation of sorts, but thank goodness Tod and Copper didn’t have social media to continue their feud.
In reviewing the film upon its release, Ebert says that, as horrendous as the bear attack on Tod and Copper is, it forces the two frenemies to work together and thus recall that, before they were forced to become adversaries, they shared much in common.
“They realize (and perhaps the kids in the audience will realize, too) how quickly our better impulses can be drowned out by the noise of society,” Ebert writes. “The message is not heavy-handed, nor does it need to be, because the lessons in the movie are so firmly illustrated by the lives of the animals.”
Once again, animals have shown us measly humans the way.
Woody and His Friends Almost Get Shredded
The Disney/Pixar machine is so powerful that they managed somehow to get “Toy Story 3” a G-rating despite a scene that is upsetting in a way one would never expect in a supposed children’s movie. The climax puts Woody and his toy friends in the worst peril imaginable, on a conveyor belt that is pulling them all toward an inferno that will tear them all to pieces, then torch the remains.
Now, I have stuffed animals in my home, and the thought of my teddy friends getting anywhere near a shredder or fire makes me want to hug them right now! We all anthropomorphize our “things” in some form or another, and seeing a raging fire about to turn the live toys into bits forevermore isn’t for the faint of heart, even though it turns out OK in the end.
As crazy as this sounds, however, an essay written for the site Avidly tries to make the case that, basically, in order for us to grow up, our toys must be destroyed (gasp!). “If the toys are not destroyed,” the article argues, “what happens to our personal narratives of attachment to our belongings?”
And while Woody and his friends are saved from the torch to return this year in “Toy Story 4,” their owner, Andy, now out of college age, winds up donating them to a daycare center. In a way, this allows Andy to become a young man and the toys to find purpose with new children, but the essay turns this into an indictment of materialism and the culture of disposability.
Be that as it may, “Toy Story 4” comes out June 2019, so let's just hope that now-grown Andy will remember to hug his toys again in this upcoming flick.
Old Yeller Is Put Down
Why was Disney so intent on killing off poor defenseless animals? In this live-action version of a 1956 book by Fred Gipson, the lovable, loyal golden retriever becomes infected by a rabid wolf while protecting his human family. His young master, Travis, then faces the awful task of either watching his furry companion succumb to the disease, and thereby become a danger to the rest of the family, or put Old Yeller down.
Remember, Travis is a just a boy, and facing that kind of choice isn’t something you’d wish on a grownup, let alone a child! However, as much as we love the pooch, Travis makes the “right” decision to end his little friend’s life with a bullet to the head. That’s a heavy burden for such a young heart to carry.
Fortunately, veterinary medicine has come a long way since the mid-19th century, when “Old Yeller” was set, and we now know that prevention is the best antidote. But back in the day, when family animals spent more time outdoors, rabies was an awful reality, including when Old Yeller had to defend his human family. There was no medicine, so the only way to curtail the suffering was to put the animal down.
That’s cold comfort to the viewers of the 1957 film, however. “Was it really necessary to kill Old Yeller? Yes, though it made a truly sad ending to the story, it was necessary to kill him given the series of events that occurred,” according to PetMD.com. “In the mid-1800s … rabies was a fatal disease, and an animal exposed to the disease not only would likely die an unpleasant death, but would also pose a threat to people and other animals.”
As disturbing as the ending of “Old Yeller” is, it’s a great lesson for kids in the value of the greater good. The poor doggie, who was only defending his masters, must be put down lest he spread the disease to them. Or, as the great Vulcan philosopher Spock said: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few — or the one.”
Lampwick’s Terrifying Transformation
Maybe the makers of “Pinocchio” were trying to ham-hand us some anti-drinking message, but any way you slice it, watching Lampwick devolve from feisty little tyke into neighing donkey is the stuff of nightmares. On the not-subtly named “Pleasure Island,” Pinocchio and Lampwick are shooting pool and in general misbehaving when Lampwick starts downing the magical drink that makes him first sprout ears, then a tail, before he realizes what’s happening.
Upon understanding the transformation, he drops to his knees, miserably begging Pinocchio for help, which leads to the most awful moment when his hands change into hooves, leaving Lampwick a baying, incoherent mess. If you’ve ever worried that you might fall asleep and wake up as another species — it isn’t just me, is it? — do not watch “Pinocchio.” Ever.
Let's leave it to our Mr. Ebert again, however, to show us the way when it comes to interpreting why “Pinocchio” was such a crucial building block in the imaginations of children, especially concerning the dark carnival of Pleasure Island — where you can do anything you want, for a price.
“The scenes that haunted my childhood dreams mostly took place on Pleasure Island, that isle of lost boys where the carnival pleasures of shooting pool and smoking cigars were only a lure to trap the kids before they could be turned into donkeys,” Ebert writes in his 1998 “Great Movies” essay on the film.
Recall that not long before Lampwick’s horrifying transformation, the evil Coachmen says, “Give a bad boy enough room and he'll soon make a jackass of himself.”
Put another way, the movie is actually teaching kids that their actions have consequences, and no one is more responsible for your life than, ultimately, yourself.
‘Night on Bald Mountain’ From ‘Fantasia’
Before you all send us angry letters, remember this film was rated G, and we’re just here to rehash a sequence from a 79-year-old animated masterpiece. But who can argue that the “Night on Bald Mountain” segment in “Fantasia” is certifiably both severely creepy and downright inappropriate for tender eyeballs?
It all begins on a typically dark night as Mussorgsky’s 19th century musical theme starts in, and the top of Bald Mountain comes alive in the form of the demon Chernabog, who looks like a cross between the classical representation of the Devil and the Balrog from “Lord of the Rings.” During the furiously enervating piece of Russian music, Chernabog, smiling rather demonically, picks up all manner of creatures of the night and casually tosses them into a pit of fire at the heart of the mountain. And, just so we’re clear, several of the female demons are topless.
But like most nightmares, the light of day chases away the darkness, and Chernobog is forced to abandon his play as the morning bells chime and “Night on Bald Mountain” transitions into the Schubert “Ave Maria,” the yin to the yang of the infernal night just seen. It’s also the last sequence of the film, and thus, like all dreams, you are forced to wake up, hopefully thinking more about the morning light than the dastardly Chernobog and his pit of fire.
Recall that “Fantasia” came out in 1940, with Eastern Europe already in Hitler’s grasp and the rest of the world about to be pulled into the greatest conflict in history. James Torpy of St. Patrick’s College theorizes in “The Courier” that, as scary as Chernabog’s dance macabre might seem, his being banished by morning light shows kids that good can triumph over evil — and that Nazism could be thwarted.
“Not only is the ideal that a virtuous world can survive in a society shrouded by darkness inspiring to a collective fighting the Axis powers, it can indeed be a timeless thought one can carry throughout their lives. Optimism in the face of despair,” Torpy writes.
The Banshee in ‘Darby O’Gill and the Little People’
This live-action film from 1959 features one cantankerous old Irishman and a fleet of leprechauns, but it’s the appearance of an entity from beyond that walks home with you. Late in the film, with Darby’s daughter Katie at death’s door, the Banshee appears to collect her soul, but Darby isn’t giving her up without a fight. First he tosses his lantern at the spirit (spoiler alert: ghosts don’t catch fire) and then attempts to fight off the Banshee a second time with a shovel.
Yep, a shovel. Forget proton packs, all you need is a snow-removal tool to ward off evil spirits. Turns out the Banshee appeared only as a warning that the “Death Coach” is coming to take Katie to the great beyond, which somehow makes the entire scene less frightening and even more silly. (Yet another spoiler alert: The Leprechaun King tricks Darby into making a fourth wish, which negates his third wish, which was to have the coach take him instead of Katie.)
This film is also notable for being one of the first appearances by a then-young Sean Connery as Michael, Katie’s erstwhile suitor.
And while “Darby O’Gill” ends happily, with Katie snatched from the maw of the afterlife and Darby tricked into also avoiding the same fate, the site, Film School Rejects, takes a bit of a darker tack when it comes to the Banshee:
“Death is a serious business — inevitable and always on our horizon. Childhood films like ‘Darby O’Gill and the Little People’ perpetrated death as a villainous wailing banshee all too eager to snatch your loved ones away while they’re sleeping. There is no reasoning or bargaining with such a creature. Scream all you want, when the time comes you will submit.”
Fortunately, the same article leavens such an angst-ridden realization by pointing out that the figure of death has often been portrayed for laughs, including by actor William Sadler, who was recently announced to be returning as the Grim Reaper in next year’s “Bill & Ted Face the Music.”
“Comedy iterations of death are more appealing for those on the other side of the hill. Death should not hold the power of Darby O’Gill’s banshee,” the article states, reminding us that it’s important to laugh at absolutely everything, even our inevitable end.
Teaching this — gently — to kids is a great lesson.
Into the Black Hole
It’s 1979, and the Disney corporation is probably miffed that “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” are beginning to siphon off a large section of the moviegoing public, so into the mix came “The Black Hole,” a genuinely weird — and severely dated — flick that would be perfectly forgettable were it not for a decent cast and a killer score by John Barry.
I’ll give the Mouse House credit: They really went for a darker edge to this offbeat sci-fi outing, adding killer robots (watch what happens to the scientist of the ill-fated spacecraft Palomino) and the megalomaniacal villain Dr. Hans Reinhardt that the late Maximilian Schell did his best to imbue with some complexity.
But the movie's appearance on this list is because of the trippy sequence at the end when our heroes get sucked down into the black hole itself. What follows is a surreal montage of lights, sounds, hellfire, brimstone, a human melding with a robot, otherworldly screams and just bizarro-time imagery that was clearly an attempt to outdo the acid trip ending of “2001.”
Then, the human crew emerges from a “white hole” and movie over. Maybe it’s a metaphor for death and the afterlife or something. Who knows? I’m not even convinced the filmmakers knew when they were making it.
Jason Heller of the AV Club writes that the seeing the movie "sent him to hell" when he saw it at the ripe old age of 7. Heller claims that, based on the marketing, he expected this film to be more along the lines of “Star Wars,” but once that literal and metaphorical trip into the unknown flashed on the scream, his nightmares were fomented. And for anyone raised in a religious house, as Heller claims he was, the climax of “Black Hole” provided a rather unpleasant, perhaps unwelcome, look at one potential eternity.
“The infernal imagery of ‘The Black Hole’ didn’t enthrall me because I thought I might go to hell and burn forever someday,” he writes, adding that sci-fi was more his religion.
Which goes to show that we often bring as much to a movie as it brings to us.
A Hero Leaps Into the Black Cauldron
The titular object in “The Black Cauldron” is what Hitchcock called a “MacGuffin,” which is basically a device everyone wants in order to keep the plot moving along. One such desirant is the Horned King, intent on using the dark vat of doom to control the world, or something.
The human hero Taran has a hanger-on of a little critter named Gurgi, who seemingly just wants to be friends but is so irritating that Taran keeps trying to ditch him along the way. At one point, Gurgi, seemingly despondent, throws himself into the Cauldron, but his gesture in fact stops the Horned King’s undead army, and also gets the villain sucked into the cauldron in the process (don’t you hate that?).
Fortunately, Gurgi is resurrected, so that’s all good, but what’s really upsetting is that, if you think about it, Gurgi has issues with making friends, clearly has mental health problems and doesn’t know how to relate well to others. And his jumping into the cauldron to save the day seems, looking back as an adult, less a heroic gesture and more a terrible cry for help. Severe depression, pure and simple. Although he gets to come back in the end, the pain of his “sacrifice” takes much longer to wash away after the credits roll.
In his review of the film in 1985, Ebert is quick to point out that even though the movie was dark and features Gurgi’s selfless sacrifice, this wasn’t exactly anything new for the Mouse House.
“The best of the Disney animated features were not innocent children's entertainments, but blood-curdling stories of doom and obsession … They only looked innocent because they were cartoons,” Ebert writes of the film, adding, of Gurgi: “Gurgi is a slavishly devoted little yes-man who gurgles with appreciation for everything done by anyone within earshot who is stronger than he is.”
Maybe that’s what dooms Gurgi. He marvels at everyone, so much so that he often doesn’t believe he has anything within himself worth noting. But that all changes when he makes the ultimate sacrifice, only to return from the dead.
Bambi’s Mom Gets Shot
Read those words again: Bambi’s. Mom. Gets. Shot. Like shot dead. In front of Bambi. In a Disney movie. For kids. If this did not scar you, as it did me, I invite you to check your wrist for a pulse.
Fortunately, the actual “death” is not explicit and the offscreen gunshot only heard. One website claims this was tamed down from earlier plans to have Bambi actually discover her body (THE HORROR!!!). But then Bambi has to wander on alone through a snowstorm, crying little Bambi tears, until he is found by the Great Prince of the Forest (his father).
“Bambi” was released in 1942, when the entire world was at war, and Americans had no idea if Nazism and Imperial Japanese aggression could even be stopped. So, why didn’t old Walt have more soothing entertainment for us than this madness in such awful times? On the other hand, perhaps this was a way to help kids whose parents (mostly fathers) had gone off to war, but would not return, deal with such tragedy. Whatever the justification, when you’re a kid, watching this scene is about as horrifying as getting separated from your parents in a shopping mall.
Writer Alexander Abad-Santos has come to describe disturbing moments like this in children’s films as, well, “Bambi’s Mom moments,” meaning scenes in pop culture that force children to confront the reality of losing grandparents, friends, parents or teachers to the great beyond. It’s unpleasant but one of the most important lessons there is.
“Yes, there comes a point in our lives when we're all faced with these moments, when we realize that even though we're watching a movie made for kids, there's a harsh reality that something we've grown … will be taken away in a heartbeat. After that, nothing can ever be the same,” Abad-Santos writes for the Atlantic.
Abad-Santos references such other offenders as the death of Littlefoot’s mother in “The Land Before Time,” but for our money, nothing — and I mean nothing — will ever top the sheer awfulness of Bambi running off into the woods, only to realize his mommy is gone forever.
Excuse me, I need to go call my mother!
The Forest Fire in ‘Bambi’
Hey, look, “Bambi” yet again! As if a never-named man dispatching Bambi’s mommy to the great beyond wasn’t traumatic enough, later in the same film, our poor antlered hero and his animal friends have to outrun a forest fire set by the same never-named man.
I suppose the character “Man” is meant to stand in for all of us awful humans and our poor relationship with nature. But I’d wager that nuance, allusion and allegory are elements far beyond the reach of your average four-year-old. Thus, the only thing he or she would see is an inferno chasing down Bambi and his creature pals.
An article on Looper.com makes the case that the forest fire is actually far more traumatic than the death of Bambi’s mom, in that it removes not only Bambi’s maternal safety net but basically takes his entire environment and, well, tosses it to the flames. “Our heroes all narrowly manage to survive, but the sight of the entire world we've known for the whole movie burning to the ground around them is nothing short of haunting,” the article states.
However, there is a good lesson, the writeup argues, in that fire is as much an element of nature as death itself. And from those ashes, new life, the Phoenix of myth, arises to begin anew. Go, Bambi, go!