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Disney Received Hate Mail Over Bambi's Environmental Themes


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Donnie Dunagan is the voice behind Bambi, one of Disney’s most iconic films, but he is revealing that the beloved movie was once spurred an onslaught of hateful letters. The spotted young fawn and his forest friends are among some of Disney’s most recognizable characters, even more than half a century after Bambi hit theaters. The film was one of Disney’s earliest animated movies, but its groundbreaking ideology and artistic style helped to solidify the film’s status in cinematic history.


The playful innocence of the characters offered a welcome reprieve for Bambi's original audiences. Released in 1942, America was slowly recovering from the devastating impact of The Great Depression, and fears grew concerning the growing war in Europe. Walt Disney was even forced to delay Bambi's theatrical debut due to the attacks on Pearl Harbor. All the while, outbreaks of massive wildfires ravaged large portions of land across America. The catastrophes inspired Walt to take the initiative in bringing awareness to the issues.


Following the success of Bambi, Disney addressed the US Forest Service and offered the character to be used as a conservation icon, focusing on preventing forest fires and preserving nature. An agreement was struck between the two entities, but it did not last long. Son of Frankenstein actor and the voice of young Bambi, Donnie Dunagan, recently spoke at Dallas Comic Show. Dunagan divulged that Disney received great backlash for offering use of his character. Read below to see how threats caused Disney to cancel the agreement.


“…Bambi was the first film that focused on saving the environment. You remember the fire scene started by the careless person? Disney offered Forest Services Bambi to use as an icon. They bought it; that was actually in the papers. Then, he started getting hate mail. I don’t know if it was from some angry hunter whose little girl said, “Daddy, you can’t kill Bambi!” or someone else. I heard Walt went to Forest Services and said, “We can’t do that one.” I think he had the original idea to use another animal as an icon for Forest Services, a bear.”



Dunagan was not specific about what types of threats or condemnation were contained in the letters to Disney, but it is evident that he did not want his character or movie marred by its association with the US Forest Service. Disney's partnership with the government agency was short-lived, only lasting a year before it was pulled. In 1944, almost immediately following Bambi's removal from ads, the iconic deer was replaced by the Forest Service's current mascot, Smokey the Bear.

Bambi vividly portrays the causes and dangers of forest fires, and there is also evidence that poachers shot Bambi's mother since the events unfold in the spring, outside of deer season. Because of this, it makes sense that Bambi would be the face of conservation efforts. However, due to the psychological impact the movie has, especially on young viewers, one could see how hunters may feel vilified. Even so, if Dunagan's memory is correct, Disney still found a way to leave a lasting ecological impact without having to sacrifice the perception of his work in the process.



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