It’s a crudely-animated, abbreviated one-joke anomaly of a cartoon short.
And it’s one of the most unexpected and funniest bits of animation the world has ever seen.
But that’s the brilliance of what the cartoon’s creator, Marv Newland, does here: he plays with our expectations, and then utterly shatters them. From the moment the cartoon begins–from the instant we hear the opening strains of Rossini’s Call to the Dairy Cows from the William Tell overture (a perfectly cliched choice that plays with the preconceived notions of pastoral bliss that accompany that familiar tune)–we are lulled into a sense of serenity, one that is dashed so abruptly that it is at once startling and hilarious. (And let’s not even get into those priceless, cheekily egotistical opening credits.)
Is the cartoon as one-note as it first appears, however? Instead, is Newland deliberately thumbing his nose at the sanitized family-friendly animation of the Disney studios–the company that originally immortalized Felix Salten’s Bambi character in its own iconic 1942 film? That movie may have traumatized generations of young viewers with its heartrending depiction of Bambi’s mother’s demise, but it nonetheless remains a gentle paean to nature and the circle of life, one that relies heavily on sentiment to tell its story. By contrast, there is absolutely no sentiment to be found in Bambi Meets Godzilla; the monster literally stomps on any notion of mawkish nostalgia that the deer’s name might engender. In that respect, the cartoon certainly feels like a broader statement on the state of animation and where it was heading as of this short’s creation in 1969; whether that is genuinely the case, though, is up for debate.
Either way, it’s a damn memorable cartoon. In 1994, Bambi Meets Godzilla was voted the thirty-eighth best animated short of all time in the Jerry Beck-curated compendium of the 50 Greatest Cartoons–making it one of the few non-studio productions to appear on that storied list. And despite its ultimately informative title, it’s one that, even to this day, continues to surprise and amaze those watching it for the first time.