Culture Pop Bestiary

Friend Owl

Image for Friend Owl

One in a series of posts dedicated to pop-culture depictions of owls — as stand-ins for educated, highbrow humans — from 1924–1983. The series derives its title from Owl’s home in A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh stories.

Voiced by Will Wright (who was frequently cast in movies as an argumentative coot; he is described by IMDB as “one of those familiar character actors who seems to have been born old”), Friend Owl is a curmudgeonly figure of fun in the 1942 animated Disney movie Bambi.

The advice that Friend Owl offers to Bambi and his friends about the perils of becoming “twitterpated” (falling in love) is alarmist and even rather cruel. I find it a fascinating scene, though, because… I really can’t tell if Friend Owl really means the things he’s saying, or if he’s just amusing himself. Is he misogynist who hopes to warn these adolescent males of the perils of coupling up… or does he just get a kick out of pulling their legs?

The ambiguity here makes it difficult to characterize this pop-culture owl with precision: Is he yet another puffed-up, posturing fraud who thinks he’s wiser than he really is? Or is he a trickster?

The following excerpt from the 1923 novel Bambi offers some context that leads me to suspect that the answer is: “puffed-up, posturing fraud.”

Bambi enjoyed hearing the owl. She is so dignified as she flies, perfectly silent, perfectly effortless. A butterfly is quiet just because of her size, but the owl is so immense. And her face is so imposing, so determined, full of so much thought, her eyes are so majestic. Bambi admires her firm gaze with its quiet courage. He enjoys listening when she talked with his mother one time, or with anyone else. He stands slightly to one side, a little afraid of that imperious gaze he admires so much, he does not understand much of the clever things she says, but he does know that they are clever, and that enchants him, fills him with admiration for the owl.

Bambi, like other creatures of the forest, is over-awed by the owl — by the owl’s gaze, which makes everything the owl says seem clever. Are the owl’s remarks actually clever, though? One gets the sense that they aren’t….

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