Home > Greatest Scores of the Twentieth Century, Reviews > BAMBI – Frank Churchill and Edward H. Plumb

BAMBI – Frank Churchill and Edward H. Plumb


Original Review by Craig Lysy

Walt Disney was in dire financial straits with his last two films, Pinocchio and Fantasia, both under-performing at the box office. He needed a hit to reverse the company’s sliding fortunes when he came across the 1923 novel “Bambi, A Life in The Woods” by Felix Salten. The novel offered violence, sexual conquest, betrayal, and blood-and-guts action by cutthroats and murderers, yet after sifting out all its unsavory elements, it spawned an idea of a family film that centered on a young fawn named Bambi. Disney purchased the film rights in 1937 and personally took charge of production with an $858,000 budget. He insisted that the voices of children be used to speak for the many forest animals instead of adults speaking as children. It would take a team of six writers led by Perce Pearce, three years, with countless revisions, to finally draft a screenplay that met Disney’s expectations. David Hand was tasked with direction, and the voice cast included Bobby Stewart as Baby Bambi, Donnie Dunagan as Young Bambi, Hardie Albright as Adolescent Bambi and John Sutherland as Young Adult Bambi. Joining them would be Peter Behn as Young Thumper, Tim Davis as Adolescent Thumper and Same Edwards as Young Adult Thumper, Paula Winslowe as Bambi’s Mother, Will Wright as Friend Owl, Cammie King as Young Faline and Ann Gillis as Young Adult Faline.

The story follows the life of Bambi, a fawn born who is destined to one day succeed his father as the Great Prince of the Forest. Bambi makes many friends with the forest’s fellow animals and eventually courts a beautiful doe Faline, whose affection he earns besting the bully Ronno. Troubles follow when cruel human hunters kill Bambi’s mother and then enter the forest with greater numbers. They release their vicious dogs who manage to corner Faline, who Bambi saves, although he is wounded in the process. The hunter’s campfire releases sparks which ignite the forest in a great fire that forces all the animals to flee to the safety of a lake island, Where Bambi and Faline are reunited. The next spring Faline gives birth to twins, much to Bambi’s joy and the Great Prince’s satisfaction as everyone lives happily ever after. The film was a commercial success, earning a profit of just over $2 million. Critical reception was mixed with the lack of a fantasy element cited as a flaw, as well as a backlash by sportsman across the country. Nevertheless the film earned three Academy Award nominations, including; Best Sound Recording, Best Music – Original Song and Best Film Score.

Frank Churchill was assigned with composing the score, while he and lyricist Larry Morey, who had gained Walt Disney’s respect and gratitude for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937, were tasked with writing the songs. Assisting Churchill would be fellow composer Edward H. Plumb. Once again Disney was insistent that the quality of the musical score match the visual splendor of his animation and that the songs be singable, have memorable lyrics, and bear melodies that would resonate with the public for years to come.

In supporting his soundscape, Churchill provides two primary themes, including; the Love is a Song Theme serves as the Main Theme and uses an orchestral rendering of the song’s melody. It offers an idyllic and tender romanticism, which warms our hearts and endears the forest inhabitants to us. Bambi’s Theme offers an extended and repeating sixteen-note phrasing, which provides a musical narrative by playful woodwinds and strings felice. The tender melody perfect captures the young Bambi’s innocence and gentleness, and later as a young stag, his confidence and nobility. Four songs were integrated into the film’s Soundscape including; “Love is a Song”, “Little April Shower”, Let’s Sing A Gay Little Spring Song”, and “I Bring You a Song”. The songs are classic Disney and fit seamlessly with the score, achieving a cohesive musical narrative. Although “Bambi” is a cartoon, the composer team’s action writing was outstanding, robust, and worthy of any dramatic film. Lastly, cues coded (*) contain music not found on the album.

We open with grandly as the RKO Pictures studio logo displays, that is joined by sparkling refulgence as we flow into “Main Title”, a beautiful score highlight, which showcases the song ‘Love is a Song’ sung by the sterling tenor voice of Donald Noris with choral support. The heartfelt song abounds with tenderness and sweet romanticism, which perfectly sets the tone of the film. The following quaternary cue provides beautiful, heartfelt score highlights. “Sleepy Morning In The Woods” offers, a pastorale that reveals the serenity of a verdant forest filled with waterfalls, shimmering bubbling brooks and birdsong, which is graced by the ethereal mixed wordless choir singing the “Love is a Song” melody. An oboe tenero joins to support Friend Owl returning to his tree hole nest. Lyrical strings join and take up the song melody, which is offered with embellishment, and variations that include warm French horns as we see a squirrel wake and stretch as his branch buddy chipmunk tries to continue his slumber. Spritely woodwinds join at 0:46 as a mother bird brings food to her nest bound kids. We flow stop strings gentile as a mouse wakes up to greet the day, taking a dew drop to wash his face, while below, Thumper the rabbit struggles to wake up. At 1:27 we segue into “Everybody Awake” atop bubbling woodwinds animato as a blue bird flies and awakes her kindred forest friends as one by one we see them rise to greet the dawn. An idyllic musical narrative of buoyant bliss unfolds as we see everyone eating their breakfast and then running to visit the young newborn prince.

At 2:18 we flow into “The Young Prince” atop somnolent violins tenero as we see him sleeping by his mother as his subjects look on adoringly. They express their heartfelt congratulations and child-like woodwinds bubble as Bambi opens his eyes as his subjects offer sweet greetings. At 3:24 we segue into “Learning To Walk” atop plucky pizzicato strings as the young prince attempts to stand for the first time. A tender musical narrative by playful woodwinds and strings supports his first tentative steps, and first fall. Soon the young prince begins to fall asleep and Friend Owl sends everyone away as the somnolent choir returns and joins with strings tenero for an extended and embellished rendering of the wordless “Love is a song melody”. As we are soothed by the tender melody his mother tells Thumper that her son shall be called, Bambi. At 4:59 we conclude atop warm horns reale as we see Bambi’s father, the Great Prince standing proudly as he overlooks his heir.

“Exploring/Through The Woods” offers a delightful tertiary cue, which reveals Bambi and his mother exploring his woodland realm. Churchill supports with an extended rendering of the Bambi Theme by a retinue of playful woodwinds and strings felice. All the forest inhabitants warmly greet Bambi on their travels, and as he explores with Thumper and his siblings, a descent motif at 1:44 supports Bambi sliding done a hill. Afterwards as they all run off and frolic, a playful, child-like musical narrative filled with joie de vie carries their progress. Throughout the frolicking, comedic accents sync with Bambi’s clumsiness and falls. At 3:09 we segue into “Say Bird” atop energetic strings animato as they come across a flock of birds. The musical narrative softens and becomes tender as Thumper helps Bambi to say “bird”, his first effort to speak. We explode with happiness when Bambi blurts out “Bird!” much to their and the rabbit’s delight. At 4:11 Bambi comes across a butterfly with bubbling woodwinds of delight and strings animato carrying its flight as Bambi’s pursues. At 4:30 we segue into “Flower” as Bambi discovers a young skunk and names him flower. They bond, and playful woodwinds and strings tenero support the new friendship. At 5:11 we close with a delightful reprise of Bambi’s Theme as he and Thumper head home.

“Little April Shower” reveals Bambi and his mother laying down as an April shower arrives. Churchill syncs varying woodwind pulse tones with the slowly increasing fall of rain drops. As the pulse tones gradually flow together a mixed chorus begins singing the delightful and child-like “Little April Shower” song as we see all the animals and birds seeking comfort. We conclude as we began with woodwind pulses supporting rain drop falls, which slowly decrease and fade away. In The Meadow” Bambi’s mother says she is taking him to the meadow, a very special place. Churchill weaves together Bambi’s Theme and a string borne pastorale to support their journey. In the film the music darkens and becomes suspenseful as Bambi is told to wait while she ensures the meadow is safe. This interlude is not on the album. The album resyncs with the film at 1:08 with wonder and gentility as Bambi’s mother calls him to join her, and they frolic in the meadow. At 1:54 the music becomes playful with bubbling woodwinds and celeste as Bambi discovers a frog, who flees to a pond with him in pursuit. At 2:40 we segue with surprise into “Bambi Sees Faline” when Bambi looks up from the pond to discover the pretty doe, Faline. A prancing musical narrative borne by playful woodwinds and strings support Bambi’s retreat with Faline in pursuit. The playfulness is joined by comedy with phrases of Bambi’s Theme as the very shy Bambi is encouraged to say hello to Faline. After he says hello at 3:52, Faline prances with unbridled joy, which causes Bambi to fall into the pond. We conclude at 4:01 with “Bambi Gets Annoyed” atop plucky woodwinds as Bambi is unhappy to land in the water while Faline giggles. He is angry and a scherzo enters at 4:29 to support his chasing her round and round. We abruptly end and flow into the next cue.

Fanfare by horns bravura launch “Gallop Of The Stags” as we see a flock of young stags prancing into the meadow and then pairing off to bump their antlers and test their masculine strength. They then prance off propelled by horns bravura with Bambi in pursuit. As each leap off a rock face, the composer team supports with synchronous cymbal crashes. Bambi watches in awe as the stag herd prances across the meadow empowered by strings energico and a powerful, masculine and horn driven narrative. At 1:09 we segue into “The Great Prince Of The Forest” one of the score’s finest moments, supported by a marcia maestoso as the massive adult stag, the great prince of the forest walks to Bambi majestically. He stops, acknowledges him, and then walks off into the forest as Bambi’s mother informs him that his father is the oldest and wisest deer in the forest. As the Great Prince slowing walks away at 2:06 and returns to the forest, a reverential rendering of the Main Theme joined by wordless chorus supports his noble departure. At 3:04 crows take flight and the composer team sow a rising, foreboding tension in “Man, which unleashes an orchestral furioso as the Great Prince sounds the alarm and leads the deer flock to safety. Bambi is confused in the stampede chaos but is finally rescued by the Great Prince who then flees with the fawn and his mother as shots are fired.

In “Autumn” a tentative woodwind borne narrative with undercurrents of fear supports Bambi’s mother coaxing him to come out of hiding and join her. When he asks why they ran, she answers, because man was in the forest. At 0:09 swirling vortices of strings and wordless choir support windswept autumnal leaves. A pastorale unfolds as we see deer migrating along a pond with a reprise of the opening windswept autumn leaves motif, which slowly dissipates as the two last leaves flutter down to the ground. At 1:21 we segue atop soft strings gentile into “The First Snow” as Bambi wakes to find the forest covered with snow. As he takes his first tentative steps into it, a playful musical narrative by pizzicato strings and dancing woodwinds unfolds replete with a kerplop at 2:00 as Bambi falls into a snow bank. The playful musical narrative resumes as Bambi explores and has fun playing in the snow. At 2:29 we segue into “Fun On The Ice” a wonderful score highlight of joyous fun! We see Thumper run, leap and slide across the frozen pond. The composer team supports the unbridled fun with a danza felice. Bambi is coaxed into joining, and horns propel his jump at 2:57, with violins supporting his slide. As Thumper tells him to get up, the playful danza felice interspersed with comedic accents of Bambi’s many falls carries the musical narrative. It’s all great fun and we build upon the dance that transforms into a valzer felice, which ends in a magnificent flourish as Bambi and Thumper slide into a snow bank!

“Thumper Wakes Up Young Flower” (*) reveals Thumper and Bambi exiting the snow bank supported by a tender woodwind pastorale as they wake up Young Flower from his slumber. He decides to return to hibernating supported by wordless somnolent choir voices. We segue into “The End Of Winter” supported by swirling violin vortices, trilling woodwinds and wordless choir as we see blowing snow in the windswept sky as deer tread through the forest. The soundscape becomes bleak as they strip bark off the trees for food and struggle in the winter’s implacable grasp. At 0:50 strings sereni support a full moon whose light glistens on the snow. We return to the aural bleakness as Bambi despairs under the weight of the long winter, yet a kernel of hope remains as his mother reassures him that Spring awaits. At 1:18 we flow into “New Spring Grass” atop Bambi’s Theme carried by strings tenero as his mom reveals the arrival of spring grass, which they dine on with delight. At 1:33 the music darkens, borne by a lurking, repeating triplet menace in “Tragedy In The Meadow” as mother senses danger. At 1:57 she sounds the alarm and orders Bambi to flee and not look back as a gunshot is fired. Horns of alarm and desperate strings furioso full of fear propel their escape until a second shot at 2:15 dissipates the flight music with a diminuendo of grief as Bambi continues to flee alone.

“Wintery Winds” reveals the relieved Bambi arriving at their shelter, only to discover that he is alone. A lament by wordless choir supports Bambi’s desperate cries for his mother as he searches for her as unrelenting snow falls from the sky. He meets the Great Prince who informs him that his mother cannot be with him anymore. In “Father and Son” (*) strings affanato offer a threnody as the Great Prince says “Come, my son”. “Let’s Sing A Gay Little Spring Song” offers a paean of thanks, abounding with joy as choir celebrates the return of verdant springs. We see the return of bird life and flowers as we are bathed in happiness.

“Friend Owl Remembers” (*) reveals him making light of the recurring springtime ebullience supported by a tender string borne musical narrative, with a transfer of the melody to woodwinds, and then French horns. A string energico ostinato intrudes shaking Friend Owl on his branch as we see Bambi, now with antlers, scraping them on the tree trunk below. To his surprise Bambi is now a handsome young buck. “It Could Even Happen To Flower” reveals Thumper, blue birds and Young Flower joining, supported by a strings tenero borne Bambi’s Theme as Friend Owl explains to them getting twitterpated (falling in Love). Bambi, Thumper and Young Flower pooh-pooh the idea and at 0:32 march off supported by a confident, prancing Bambi’s Theme with delightful woodwind embellishment. At 1:11 the playful music becomes romantic as Young Flower finds a girl skunk who is flirting with him. She is smitten with him and woodwinds comici join at 1:44 after she kisses him, causing him to blush and falls off his feet. We close with a confident Bambi’s Theme as we see him and Thumper treading forward until they discover Young Flower is missing. “Thumper Gets Twitterpated” (*) reveals him marching behind Bambi supported by Bambi’s confident Theme when lo and behold a girl rabbit catches his eyes. Coquettish strings romantico stir Thumper to life as a lusty saxophone trills. Her wordless singing clearly arouses him and once again a lusty saxophone trill supports his reaction. When she kisses him woodwinds of delight express his happiness as he falls lovestruck at her feet. She then starts singing a lullaby as she stroke’s Thumper’s ears.

In “Bambi Gets Twitterpatted” Bambi looks back with disappointment and stops to take a drink from a pond supported by a pleasant rendering of his theme. Faline arrives and strings felice soar as a startled Bambi looks up. As she approaches, a comedic musical narrative joins, as he backs up, falls over a rock and then gets his antlers tangles in tree branches. At 0:31 her kiss reprises the entry of a lusty saxophone as he sighs and then enters a dream state in the clouds elicited by ethereal harp. A danza romantico unfolds as the smitten Bambi leaps and bounds in pursuit of Faline. At 1:00 the music darkens and the composer team sow a rising tension as the dream is shattered by the arrival of the aggressive young stag Ronno. Ronno forces himself on Faline who calls for help. At 1:18 we segue into “Stag Fight” and an orchestral torrent of violence unfolds as the two stags battle for supremacy. In “Bambi is Victorious” (*) Bambi vanquishes Ronno who tumbles down a hill into a pond. Bambi’s triumph is borne by tender strings romantico and warm French horns nobile as Faline caresses her champion. As the stroll off together, we flow seamlessly into a romantic score highlight, “Looking For Romance”, atop a valzer romantico. At 1:16 chorus joins and sings the romantic ballad “I Bring You A Song” as we see our young lovers frolicking through scenes of great natural beauty, which achieves a rapturous cinematic confluence.

“Bambi Senses Danger” (*) reveals Bambi waking and leaving Faline asleep as we see he senses danger. An eerie musical narrative full of occult menace borne by woodwinds and portentous strings support Bambi’s tentative search of the forest. When he reaches a cliff edge and sees tents and a campfire below, an ominous descent motif supports, crowned by dire horns. Horns reale join to support the arrival of the Great Prince who informs Bambi that man has returned to the forest. Ominous muted horns portend danger as Bambi is told there are many men this time and that they must go deep into the forest. The Great Prince leaps and says “Follow Me”, supported by tense strings energico, but Bambi, instead turns back to secure Faline who is awaken by a flock of crows, crowing alarm. We flow seamlessly into “Man Returns” as woodwinds and drums, pulse like footsteps, as Faline calls for Bambi. Kindred woodwinds join to voice menace as Faline flees in search of Bambi, with him returning to find her missing. A musical narrative of dread permeates the forest as the human footfall motif slowly swells and we see a rising fear in birds and the animals. At 0:55 a crescendo of fear slowly rises as we see a growing terror in all the forest inhabitants. A quail cracks under the pressure and foolhardily takes to the air, with the now deafening crescendo climaxing with death as a shot downs the quail. Chattering woodwinds, xylophone propel a panicked cacophony of flight, which supports all the nearby animals fleeing for their lives as one shot after another is fired.

“Faline Flees For Her Life” (*) offers a score highlight, a tour de force, which is inexplicable absent from the album. It reveals Faline fleeing a ravenous pack of hunting dogs propelled by a string ostinato of terror. The creative team unleashes a ferocious musical narrative as Faline is hunted down relentlessly and finally trapped on a ledge as the dogs repeatedly leap up trying to bite her. She cries out for Bambi who comes to her rescue, propelled by awesome orchestral kinetic power. He charges and fights the pack and orders Faline to flee. Just as he is about to be overcome, he leaps and bounds up a rock face, which unleashes an avalanche, supported by a tumbling musical cascade, which buries the dogs below. Surging strings energico propel him as he leaps over a gorge and is shot midair. He is clearly wounded, and has a tumbling landing. We end with plaintive muted horns of woe as his efforts to stand up fail.

“Fire” reveals the composer team expressing orchestrally, fire spreading from the hunter’s campfire. The orchestral swells creating alarm as the conflagration expands and begins consuming the forest. An eerie, surreal soundscape supports the sight of countless animals fleeing the approaching flames. Album-film desynchrony occurs after 1:51 with the album failing to support the arrival of the Great Prince who orders Bambi to get up. A struggling ascent motif support his efforts until he succeeds. As the two flee, the conflagration motif returns as flames nip at their hooves. A tour de force erupts propelled by a stunning and dramatic musical narrative, which supports their harrowing dash for freedom. They are finally cornered and forced to leap off a waterfall to escape a large burning tree, which is falling on them. At 1:52 album-film synchrony resumes atop eerie tremolo violins as we see a lake island sanctuary surrounded by a massive conflagration. One by one animals make their way ashore with their kids. At 2:07 a cello triste emotes the “Love is a Song” melody as a distraught Faline stands vigil. At 2:23 we segue into “Reunion” as we see The Great Prince and Bambi arriving. A harp glissando ushers in a heartfelt rendering of the “Love is a Song” melody by strings d’amore. We are then bathed with tender romanticism as Bambi and Faline caress. At 2:51 the melody transfers to woodwinds gentile as we see that spring has arrived and the forest is slowing regaining its verdancy. At 3:06 youthful spritely strings surge as Thumper and his four kids arrives and wake up Friend Owl. Young Flower joins with his young baby boy as everyone heads to the thicket propelled by joie de vie. At 4:07 wordless women’s choir tenderly sings the “Love is a Song” melody as we see Faline has given birth to twins. We conclude at 4:41 in “Finale” with The Great Prince and Prince Bambi standing proudly on a cliff overlooking their domain. The Great Prince departs, and our story ends with a heartwarming choral reprise of the song, “Love is a Song”, with lyrics, which ends magnificently with a grand flourish!

I would like to thank Randy Thornton and his technical team for this wonderful digital restoration of the Disney score for “Bambi”. While the restoration does not achieve current 21st century audio standards, the recording offers good crisp sound and provides a wonderful listening experience. Churchill, Plumb and Morey were tasked with creating a soundscape with songs, which captured the child-like wonder of Disney’s tale. The heartfelt main title song “Love Is A Song”, perfectly captured the emotional core of the film’s narrative with its tenderness and idyllic romanticism. They also masterfully provided a musical narrative abounding with happiness, playfulness, tenderness and joy for all the cute animals, which wormed themselves into our hearts. In scene after scene the synergy of Disney’s animal character and setting animation with the score and songs were exceptional. What was surprising and greatly appreciated was the dynamic, kinetic and ferocious action writing, which offered two tour de force compositions fine enough to support any major non-cartoon film. Folks, this film has one of the finest animated soundscapes for score and songs in the genre, abounding with child-like wonderment, happiness, playfulness and familial love. The writing for woodwinds is masterful, and the songs have wonderful, endearing, heartfelt lyrics, which served to enhance the scenes to which they were attached. The composer team well-deserved their Academy Award nomination and I highly recommend that you purchase this album as an essential film score for your collection.

For those of you unfamiliar with the score, I have embedded a YouTube link to the Main Title: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7vvMAPeP_I&list=PLbQulrpWiD1o0Xflh13JuLSXSFPw4yBPF&index=1

Buy the Bambi soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (Love Is a Song) (written by Frank Churchill and Larry Morey, performed by Donald Novis) (2:55)
  • Sleepy Morning in the Woods/Everybody Awake/The Young Prince/Learning to Walk (5:13)
  • Exploring/Through the Woods/Say Bird/Flower (6:02)
  • Little April Shower (written by Frank Churchill and Larry Morey) (3:53)
  • The Meadow/Bambi Sees Faline/Bambi Gets Annoyed (4:56)
  • Gallop of the Stags/The Great Prince of the Forest/Man (4:11)
  • Autumn/The First Snow/Fun on the Ice (4:40)
  • The End of Winter/New Spring Grass/Tragedy in the Meadow (2:32)
  • Wintery Winds (1:10)
  • Let’s Sing a Gay Little Spring Song (written by Frank Churchill and Larry Morey) (1:41)
  • It Could Even Happen to Flower (1:59)
  • Bambi Gets Twitterpated/Stag Fight (2:32)
  • Looking for Romance (I Bring You a Song) (written by Frank Churchill and Larry Morey, performed by Donald Novis) (2:08)
  • Man Returns (2:04)
  • Fire/Reunion/Finale (5:35)
  • Rain Drops (Demo Recording) (1:37)

Running Time: 53 minutes 08 seconds

Walt Disney Records 60880-7 (1942/1997)

Music composed by Frank Churchill and Edward H. Plumb. Conducted by Alexander Steinert. Orchestrations by Charles Wolcott and Paul J. Smith. Additional orchestrations by Leo Arnaud, George Bassman, Joseph Dubin, Milt Franklyn and Leigh Harline. Music directors Scott Bradley, William Lava, Carl W. Stalling and Oliver Wallace. Score produced by Frank Churchill. Album produced by Randy Thornton.

  1. William D Wehrs
    June 13, 2022 at 2:57 pm

    Churchill did a great job with this score. Tragic that he took his own life before the release after a quarrel with Disney. Found dead at his piano. So chilling.

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