The cult underground cartoon of the 1960s that paired two pop culture icons – and the various sequels and remakes that followed.
The mighty Godzilla has had many opponents – ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous – over the years since his 1954 film debut, but no battle has been as unusual and brief as his encounters with Bambi, the annoyingly cutesy fawn from the cloyingly sentimental Disney film.
Bambi Meets Godzilla was the creation of animation student Marv Newland in 1969, a ninety-second joke that took on a life and legend of its own. A copyright conundrum, as well as the two titular characters, the film ends with the final chord of the Beatles‘ Day in the Life, slowed down – but none of this really mattered because the film was never going to get any sort of release.
In 1973, the film found itself entering the repertory circuit in America, where it would play as a support ‘feature’ to midnight movies and as part of oddball short movie packages, and its reputation began to grow. In the days before home video, this was the only way to see the film, and so for most people, it remained something of an urban legend until copies began showing up on VHS. Soon, the film became a regular filler item with tape traders and saw assorted quasi-official releases in compilations of oddball cartoons.
It’s the sort of joke where you see the punchline coming but still chortle nevertheless – the timing is everything and there’s a certain satisfaction in seeing Disney flattened.
Newland would go on to work on a variety of projects, ranging from commercials and educational cartoons to shows like Barbapapa and, in the 1990s, the two Tales from the Far Side animated adaptations of Gary Larson’s cartoons. Inevitably, nothing has quite had the lasting cultural impact of his student short.
As the legend of Bambi Meets Godzilla grew, the inevitable follow-ups emerged, all given Bambi a second chance. In 1976, John Roope, Norman Gibson, Ernest Geefay and Frank Wetzel created Bambi’s Revenge, a film very much in the visual tradition of the original film.
And in 1999, Eric Fernandes made another unofficial sequel, Son of Bambi Meets Godzilla. This primitive CGI affair now looks rather more dated than Newland’s original film, but if you can leave that aside, it’s still a fun riposte.
Perhaps inevitably, Newland’s original film has also been remade and reimagined, because nothing is sacred anymore. Out of all the different versions out there – and there are several – this 2020 version is perhaps the best. In retrospect, we can see all the sequels and remakes as also being very much in the Godzilla tradition – after all, the King of the Monsters has had several incarnations and reinventions himself.
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