Most of us who hunt have heard a version of this quip many times before, generally offered up in a light-hearted way by a friend who doesn’t hunt: “You going out to shoot Bambi?”
Most of the time, we smile, nod our heads, and don’t think twice. No offense meant. No offense taken. Just one of hundreds of interactions on a given day. “Bambi,” the Disney film, came out in 1942, after all. And though it portrays hunters as villains, there’s really no sense getting worked up about a 78-year-old children’s movie.
Or is there?
A few days ago, word began to circulate about a new Disney project that’s in the works. Following a growing trend — see “The Jungle Book” and “The Lion King” — Disney is planning to release a live-action version of “Bambi,” presumably with talking deer and rabbits and skunks that look just like critters you’d see in the woods of Maine.
On the surface, no big deal. But what is your lasting memory of seeing “Bambi” when you were a young child?
Around the office today, more than one colleague used the word “traumatized” to describe the way they felt when Bambi’s mother fell to the bullet of a (seemingly) evil hunter in the original film.
Now, let’s take a look at what Traumatized 2.0 might look like.
If the off-screen death of a cartoon deer could have such a long-lasting effect on generations of Americans, how will future Bambi-watchers react to the seemingly real-life (aside from the talking deer part) slaughter of a sweet, harmless animal?
Many have called the original movie an insult to hunters, and have complained that it doesn’t accurately reflect the role that hunters play in modern big game management efforts.
Me? I usually don’t waste time railing at pop culture’s failings. Not even the memes that my stepchildren love and that I don’t understand.
And although I’m an avid hunter and a gun owner, I don’t agree with those who think the government is going to try to take those guns away from me.
In addition, I’m not one who spends too much time worrying about the future of hunting. Instead, I’m confident in the role that responsible hunting plays in today’s society, and have learned that hunters are among our best conservationists. And I’ve noticed that many of the same people who tell us that they want more hunters to take up the activity are the folks who tell you their hunting grounds are too crowded. An often unspoken reason we hunters want more people to hunt is very simple: The more of us there are, the more political power we possess.
I offer all of this to prove a point. I’m not a gun-toting activist. I see myself as a reasonable, rational hunter and conservationist who is willing to consider other points of view.
With that said, the new, more realistic, live-action “Bambi” worries me a bit.
Hunting, by nature, is not an activity that everyone will choose to participate in. Animals die. Blood is shed. Even for an avid hunter, taking the life of an animal can be an emotional event. But hunting puts food on our tables, and it helps keep wildlife populations in a healthy balance.
When a movie personifies that animal and gives it a human voice and an actual personality, the eventual death of that animal is bound to have more impact than the similar demise of a cartoon character.
There are some who are sure to use the film to their own advantage, and cast real-life hunters in an inaccurately unfavorable light.
And there are others — many of them children — who will simply grow up thinking of hunters as the ultimate villains. Later on, those same kids will be more unlikely to pursue hunting as a pastime. And that could help create a generational void of new hunter-conservationists.
Knowing an entirely different reality, I think that would be a shame.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke. His first book, “Evergreens,” a collection of his favorite BDN columns and features, has been published by Islandport Press and is available wherever books are sold.