Wildlife Expert: "Why, in Bambi, the buck steps into the clearing ahead of the doe and fawn to be sure there are no hunters there. Actually, bucks hang back and have even been seen kicking the does out of the brush ahead of them. And the picture wasn't true to life in so many other respects, either."
Walt Disney: "How right you are. And do you know something else wrong with it? Deer don't talk."
— Walt Disney's conversation with a wildlife expert during a dinner party at Smoke Tree Ranch, ca. 1952
Both the original Disney movie, its midquel and their respective tie-ins are notorious for playing fast and loose with traits of the animals and their real life counterparts (and by proxy, their novel counterparts, which are far more accurate to real life nature, though not void of their own liberties)—it would be far easier to list the things they did get accurate, as these examples attest.
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Examples from the Disney movies
- Bambi's anatomy is mostly accurate to how a white-tailed deer looks and moves even when taking cartoon exaggeration into account, but there are more than a few liberties taken with his species biology and behavior:
- Bambi does subtly age throughout his first year (most obvious when you look at one of the original model sheets◊), but his aging is notably slower than that of a real life wild deer, which grow very fast and can reach a size close to that of their mothers in only six months, while Bambi stays the size of a two month old fawn all the way from winter into a few months in his second spring, and apparently doesn't reach the full size of a yearling until he's at least two years old.note
- Bambi also keeps his spots during his first Winter and doesn't lose them until a few months into his second spring—real deer fawns lose their spots by autumn (between four to six months of age) to blend into the environment for survival.
- In the midquel, Bambi and Ronno's antlers start sprouting while they're still the size of small fawns, even though antler growth usually starts when a deer is much older and bigger. However, their species-tweaked aging in the films muddles this, as antler growth does begin when a fawn is 10 months to a year old, which Ronno likely is by the time Bambi meets him and Bambi most likely is at the end of the midquel, since the first film implies he was born around Spring. Also, Bambi's antlers when he's a yearling and adult more closely resemble those of a Mule Deer than a white-tail's.
- Bambi gets "twitterpated" (falls in love) in the spring when he's a yearling, but the mating season of a white-tailed deer is in the autumn.
- Also in the midquel, Bambi is depicted having upper front teeth to clench with, which is something real life white-tailed deer do not have—they have teeth on the upper jaw around (but not at) that area, hence why they chew their cuds side to side. Presumably, this liberty was taken to make it easier to get expressions out of him.
- While real life deer do in fact bleat to communicate, Bambi's bleating in the midquel sounds more like the rhythmical, vibrating bleat of a sheep or goat instead of a real life fawn's honking, squeaky bleat. And while a fawn's bleat can occasionally sound similar to them, they don't do that kind of bleat nearly as frequently.
- When Bambi is shedding the velvet from his antlers when he's a yearling, the result is far less messy than in real life, since shedding velvet results in a lot of blood (which is pumped through it) being shed on the antlers.
- Both films imply that Bambi and his family have roughly the same sleeping patterns as humans and go into deep sleep, and always sleep with their eyes closed and their ears down, which is totally inaccurate. Deer, being prey animals, are always on alert, and their sleep cycles vary from the length of a cat nap to a mere half hour. Their ears are always raised to detect a threat, even while sleeping, and real deer sleep with their eyes wide open far more often than with them closed. Also, real deer are more active at night than they are in the daytime, which is a period where they tend to hide and rest more, but the films show the exact opposite happening.
- Science Marches On and it turns out many predators and prey that are capable of being active at night do so only because of human disturbance. In the absence of Anthropogenic influence, many predators will hunt during the day which would cause Prey animals to be more active in the daytime.
- The film deliberately sacrifices a piece of the novel's accuracy for the purpose of humanizing Bambi's mother and to make her death all that more devastating. The novel shows her actively weaning Bambi and leaving him to fend for himself when he's only a few months old, (which is accurate to how real life does raise buck fawns.) Real does also, after several weeks, allow their fawns to choose their own bedding site some distance from them. Here, she keeps Bambi with her all the way from spring (the film implies it's as early as April) to late winter, far longer than any real life doe would raise a buck before forcing them to become independent. This has had devastating consequences on how people see deer in real life, as it has indirectly caused hundreds of uninformed people each year to believe a lone, resting or hiding fawn has been abandoned by its mom, even though this is perfectly natural behavior for deer,note and it often results in them being illegally fawnnapped from the does and, in worst cases, a scenario where a stolen fawn cannot be returned to its mother in time. This is often because the people don't bother delivering the fawns to a rehab, and try to raise them themselves and are either ill-equipped to do sonote or rear them in a way that makes them lose their wild instincts note and thus harder or even impossible for them to safely return to the wild—which is something the original novel strongly advocated against with the tragic story of Faline's brother Gobo.
- One of the most notorious misconceptions spread by both films is that Bambi, when several months to a year old, is still so young that he needs a parental figure to keep caring for him, which is not true at all for real life deer. In fact, evidence exists that a button buck orphaned by six months of age would actually have a better chance at surviving in the wild than one that's still with its mother. Fawns are always weaned by four months of age and capable of caring for themselves before hunting season, and surviving on their own without needing to nurse off their mother when as young as three (in some cases even two) months old (although they'll still stick with them and even nurse off them for several months)—in fact, this is exactly why hunting seasons are scheduled as they are. This issue has caused no shortage of grief for real life hunters, wildlife conservationalists and the deer themselves, as regulated hunting is necessary and even beneficial for deer populations due to them often lacking a common predator, and the unfairly bad stigma given to hunters over this (particularly the ethical concerns over shooting a doe that still has her fawn(s) with her, which the first film had a huge hand in raising) has often caused many overpopulation problems (i.e. starvation, spreading illnesses like Chronic Wasting Disease, causing property damage and car collisions in dense areas, deforestation due to an overpopulated herd eating all of the forage available, etc.) for real life deer herds. And even if a doe and her fawn(s) aren't separated by outside means, they usually spend less than a year together anyway note , as a doe separates from her older fawns (bucks go or are forced off to live on their own—does sometimes stay in their mothers' territory and form herds with them, but have been known to be forced away too) to give birth to new fawns the following year.
- While The Great Prince of the Forest is a white tailed deer in the Disney movies, his oversized antlers and thickened neck, complete with ruff, make his appearance closer to that of an elk.
- Both he (and later on, a grown up Bambi) are shown with fully-grown antlers in spring, summer and winter, and in spring again the midquel, even though deer shed their antlers and grow new ones every year around spring.
- The midquel shows The Great Prince having the same den (a small grotto canopied by a large, fallen tree) over the course of a few months. While deer do have consistent territories in real life due to them being creatures of habit, they never have a consistent home or sleep in the exact same place twice in real life in order to evade predators.
- Also, it's implied in the midquel that Bambi's Mother was the Great Prince's only mate and that he had a genuine loving relationship with her, whereas real life bucks sire multiple does per season and never interact with them outside of mating season, being attracted to them out of instinct rather than by personality or affection. Also note that this is a change from the first novel (concerning Bambi and Faline mating), which more accurately depicted the fast and fleeting relationships of real bucks and does — though the second novel also contradicts this to some degree by similarly showing Bambi, Faline and their young as a closer unit.
- In the first film, bucks are shown traveling in herds in spring. To begin with, bucks are usually territorial and only group together during mating season, and while they can and do form small groups together (particularly when they're spike bucks still learning how to survive), they do not travel in herds. We also see bucks and does in a herd together in winter in both the midpoint of the first film and early in the midquel, which is something they don't do — only does travel in herds together.
- The Great Prince is also depicted as being the one who keeps a lookout for danger and is the one to alert them when a threat appears, which bucks do not do. Alpha Does that are the matriarch of their herds are responsible for alerting the other deer about the danger of a nearby predator.
- In the midquel, bucks are shown challenging each other and marking their territory by scraping off tree bark with their antlers during spring (and for a brief moment during winter in a long distance shot early in the film), whereas real bucks do that during mating season.
- Thumper is depicted with paw pads in the movies, something real rabbits do not have. Though if he didn't have them, people probably would have thought it was an error. Also, his nose is drawn like a cat's nose as opposed to the "V"-shaped noses actual rabbits have. The Disney Bunnies storybook "A Day With Papa" also says that Thumper does not have claws, even though even real life infant rabbits do have claws. However, Adult Thumper is briefly shown having claws when he gets twitterpated.
- He and his sisters also stay with their mother for at least a year if not longer, even though real wild rabbits only spend four to five weeks with their family before moving out on their own.
- Early in the midquel, Flower hopes the groundhog will see his shadow so he can have more time to hibernate. In real life, skunks do not hibernate, although they are generally inactive during wintertime.
- Also in the midquel, Flower's smelly musk is presented as a foul smelling green mist typical of cartoon skunks, as opposed to the stinky liquid spray it would be in real life. However, it does keep accurate to the fact that Flower has to let out the musk himself as a defense mechanism, unlike most cartoon Smelly Skunks who just have a perpetual odor.
- Many animals of various species are unrealistically shown collectively celebrating the birth of Bambi — something they would never do in real life, considering their innate fear and avoidance of each other. In reality, generally placid deer are territoriality intolerant of intruders and can be downright vicious to each other. Compare this to the opening scene of the book, where Bambi's birth is treated as a mundane event and only one other animal—an obnoxious magpie—is present.
- Friend Owl, while curmudgeonly, is shown to be on friendly terms with animals that in real life are natural prey of the Great Horned Owl, like rabbits and, ironically, fawns.
- Several times through the first film, male northern cardinals (the red birds) are shown together, including at one point a whole flock. Cardinals are so territorial they will relentlessly attack even their own reflection, so this is very unlikely.
- In the first film, Pileated Woodpeckers are shown to have three toes in front instead of the normal two. There are also several songbirds that have two toes instead of three.
- There is also the misplacement of quails in a dense forest. The quails in question also look like a mashup of a Bobwhite and California quail.
- In the first film, we briefly see a family of possums hanging from a tree by their tails early in the morning, implying its a regular thing for them and that they sleep like that. While possums do have prehensile tails and can certainly do this, they only do it for brief periods of time and don't sleep that way.
- The recurring squirrel and chipmunk duo are both shown sleeping on branches, which is something neither species do in real life.
- The book "Bambi: Friends Of The Forest" has Bambi nearly become the prey of a red fox. Real foxes rarely go after white-tailed fawns, as they are scavengers that usually go after small prey like rodents, and it would be rather difficult for a fox to actually catch and kill a fawn unless it was a newborn and a doe wasn't around to defend it in time.note
- While it seems like a cartoon invention, its been proven in several real life cases that fawns and rabbits do get along quite well in real life, both in the wild and in captivity. There's also been at least one documented case of a fawn getting along with little skunks.
- The midpoint of the first film implies that the Great Prince takes care of Bambi on his own after he loses his mother, whereas in real life bucks have absolutely nothing to do with raising their fawns, abandoning their mother after mating and leaving the responsibility of raising their fawn(s) entirely on them. Bucks have pugilistic and hormonal tendencies that preclude domesticity and a participating role as an attendant, defending, or mentoring father. Additionally, does generally don't allow bucks to be near their fawns and sometimes will drive them away if they're close by. However, the midquel acknowledges this by making it clear that only does care for the fawns and that the Prince is rearing Bambi out of obligation (at first). It's a major plot point that Friend Owl tries to find a stepmother to raise Bambi in spring, since the harsh winter has made it so that the other does can barely feed themselves.
- The idea of finding Bambi a stepmother in the midquel seems a little far-fetched and overtly humanized, but there have been some cases in real life where a doe will adopt another doe's fawn. This is seen more with deer in captivity than with deer in the wild, though, where it's unusual for a doe to do such a thing. This plot point was touched upon in the original novel as well, with an elderly doe similarly looking after Bambi following his mother's death.
- Also in contrast to Bambi's maternal dependency as a fawn in both films, the midquel having Bambi Take a Level in Badass is accurate in terms of gaining early physical independence. He is able to fight off another fawn and outrun a pack of hunting dogs (fending off one with a strong kick). Deer in fact become physically strong even as fawns, with their hooves already sharp as knives.
- In the midquel, Bambi briefly submerges himself in water to hide, and is able to dry himself off quickly despite having fur. It's not clear if the fimmakers knew this, but deer have oil-producing glands in their skin that render their fur water repellent, making it very easy for them to stay dry.
- Bambi learning from his father how to "Feel The Forest" in the midquel (that is, feeling the vibrations and hear things from far or close by) is something real deer can actually do due to their sharp sense of hearing.
- Bambi and Faline having near-identical character designs as fawns is another case of Truth in Television, as it is notoriously difficult to determine a fawn's gender at a glance — to the extent that even expert methods of determining them aren't always accurate.
- Ronno's behavior in the first film (where he tries to rape Faline and kill Bambi for getting in his way) is presented in a bad light, but it's actually quite accurate to real life (aside from the period of mating being incorrect). Bucks become very aggressive and territorial when in rut, and will fight each other, sometimes to the death, over the right to sire a doe they covet. As mentioned above, real bucks are attracted to does out of instinct, not love, so the idea of a relationship like Ronno's, while aggressive and wrong in the context of the humanized morality of the movie's characters, is perfectly normal behavior for actual bucks.
- The movement of the hunting dogs in the first film was intentionally made inaccurate by basing their movements on that of a panther instead of a dog to make them scarier. The midquel does away with this by depicting their movements more accurately.