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This classic Disney movie “mutilated” the original book, apparently

Many Disney movies are based on historical sources, and one in particular made a lot of changes to the text that an expert doesn't believe was for the best.

Tom Hanks as Walt Disney

Many of the best Disney movies are based on ages old source material. Sometimes they’re fairy tales, like Sleeping Beauty, other times children’s books inspire the animated movies. In Bambi’s case, it was Bambi: A Life in the Woods, by Felix Salten, first published in 1922.


The novel has all the broad strokes from the family movie we’re familiar with, except it’s considerably darker. It’s not just Bambi’s mother that dies, and there’s no happy ending. The story is seen as an analogy for the persecution of Jewish people in the decades preceding World War II, and indeed the Nazis would ban the text during their reign.

Jack Zipes, German and comparative literature professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota, put together a fresh translation of the book for Princeton University Press. The process gave him some new perspective on the kids movie.

“Disney mutilated the novel,” he told The Guardian. He notes that only limited records exist of Salten’s opinion on the adventure movie.

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“It was a simple, ‘Yes, it was a very fine film and I liked it’,” Zipes states of Salten’s thoughts after a showing in 1942. “And then he left. And that’s all we know about how he felt.” Of course, the Disney version has become ubiquitous, whereas the source material is much lesser known. Whatever comparison can be made between them, it’s always worthwhile to go back and understand the history behind a story.

Bambi was only the fifth of Walt Disney’s feature films. Check out our list of the best Pixar movies to see more of his legacy, and keep an eye on our new movies list for more classics on the way.