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Bambi Goes Horror

As more iconic Disney properties that helped shape our childhoods fall into the public domain, expect more horrific reimaginings.

While even the hardest-core Disney fans among you will likely admit the original Bambi had enough horror-like elements to scar many childhoods, how does the idea of our gentle orphan buck as a vicious killing machine sound?

It’s an intriguing idea, for sure. And dark retellings of familiar stories have gained a lot of cultural traction. So what’s to come of this retelling of a childhood classic? Let’s take a look.

Why Now? Step Into the Playground of the Public Domain.

If you’re wondering how this sort of morbid twist on an old favorite will pass the diligent legal team at the House of Mouse, fear not.

Bambi’s source material, published in 1928, passed into the public domain on January 1, 2022. When something becomes public domain, it means that previously copyrighted material can be freely shared, adapted, or performed without paying a licensing fee to the original copyright holder. Thus, as with royalty-free sound effects and other goodies, the source material is up for grabs, even if the iconic Disney faun is still protected.

After a 95-year copyright term, works published in 1926 are fair game, including the book Bambi: A Life in the Woods by Felix Salten (which inspired Disney’s 1942 animated film). Also on that list is A.A. Milne’s influential book Winnie-the-Pooh (including the illustrations by E.H. Shepard). That’s why we’ll soon get the horror release Winnie the Pooh: Blood and HoneyNetflix’s The Ritual has also been cited as a source of inspiration for that odd but highly anticipated retelling of a beloved classic.

(Note that the copyright expiration only applies to the original book, Winnie-the-Pooh, and not any of the later properties. Thus, we won’t see the fan favorite Tigger in this upcoming adaptation, as he did not appear in the Pooh franchise until 1928.)

The upcoming Bambi: The Reckoning seeks to similarly explore a darker side of a childhood icon. Pleasantly described as Bambi on Rabies, we can only assume the trauma of losing his mother will be the inciting incident to kick off Bambi’s bloody killing spree. However, we’ve yet to see any definitive information on the plot and cast.

What’s Next? Prepare for More Nightmares to Come.

If you’re longing to see more of our childhood come to life as bloody gore-soaked horror movies, there’s (surprisingly) another iconic classic about to get the nightmare treatment.

As with Bambi and Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan has passed into the public domain, and Neverland Nightmare is also on the cards for release. All will originate from the mind of Rhys Frake-Waterfield, the director and now also producer behind these dark twists on the current Disney live-action trend.

While some would argue they can’t be more horrific than the rather universally-panned ‘official’ Disney live-action remakes, it’s certainly a twist we never saw coming.

Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey will arrive to destroy childhoods in February of this year (2023). Meanwhile, Bambi: The Reckoning is said to be in production and will presumably release sometime later this year if all goes well.

Disney’s most iconic and beloved character will also be entering the public domain this year, and that’s the most famous mouse himself. Mickey Mouse was first introduced in 1928 with his first cartoons Steamboat Willie and The Gallopin’ Gaucho. This means that companies outside of Disney could theoretically use Mickey on their own merchandise, as long as they use his original 1928 image.

Does that mean a murderous mouse could be on the horizon for genre fans in the near future? Only time will tell!

Who’s Ready? Horror Fans Will Determine if More Adaptations Get Made.

The original Mickey Mouse (1947)

There’s a compelling Five Nights at Freddy’s vibe to taking the gentle constructs of our childhood imagination and turning them into vicious, revenge-motivated killing machines. While we’ve yet to get a true sense of whether the director can deliver, horror fans have responded fantastically to the trailer and marketing details for Winnie, making it one of 2023’s most anticipated horror movies.

If these first two dark reimaginings are successful, it’s highly possible and probably that we’ll see a whole new subgenre of horror take shape.

We’ve got a while before more of the properties from the House of Mouse are up for grabs. For example, the Walt Disney Company’s first feature-length film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs won’t enter the public domain until 2032 — and that’s assuming copyright laws aren’t modified before then to extend the length of the copyright. Cinderella is currently public domain.

However, as previously noted, Mickey Mouse enters the public domain this year, and future iterations of the Mouse will become available to adapt soon. All of the Tom and Jerry cartoons are currently in the public domain. Given how violent the original show was, this seems like a likely candidate for future horror film adaptation.

Other public domain titles include King Kong, Wizard of Oz (the book, not the film), and several original Looney Tunes cartoons.

For those curious, Superman and Batman will become available in 2034.

Are you keen to see this new retelling of the Bambi story? What other classic literary and cinematic tales would you like to see adapted? 

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