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There's something about deer.
Perhaps it's because they are the most common large animal one is likely to run into if one goes out in the wild. Perhaps the buck's antlers reminds us of a king's crown. Perhaps it's just because they were (and still are in many places) a staple of humanity's diet in the Northern Hemisphere and therefore became a key figure in folklore (Carnivore Confusion is nothing new). In any case, in older fiction, deer are often employed as a symbol of nature in general and forests in specific. All well and good.
In much of today's fiction, however, something got seriously lost in the translation. Somehow, deer became symbols of innocence and all that is pretty and sweet in nature. Therefore, if you want to show the death of something innocent to make some sort of point or other, you kill a deer. The examples of this trope speak for themselves (see below) and it has gotten to the point where it can barely be taken seriously; this trope is a rich vein of Narm.
The Trope Namer (unrelated to the term used by some critics of vegetarianism to describe how they see the vegetarians' philosophy) is a term used offhand to criticize this trope in Douglas Coupland's novel Generation X. What's especially bizarre is the fact that Bambi is often accused of spreading the idea that "deer are innocent". If you feel this way, please go and watch the movie again. In actuality, the film does not shy away from the "Deer can be Bastards and, Really, Sometimes You Can't Blame Them" / "Nature, Red in Tooth and Claw" world of Felix Salten's original novel (which, needless to say, is a bit closer to reality.) Bambi himself goes from cute little fawn to Badass Prince who kicks (antlers, rather) butt for love.
As far as how this trope has affected Real Life... let's... not even go there. (If you must, take it to this here Headscratchers page. We don't want this to turn into Complaining About Hoofed Mammals You Don't Like.) It is worth noting that deer cause more human deaths than any other large land animal, due to their cute propensity for mimicking speed bumps on highways (so please drive carefully especially around dusk and at night.) Also, if deer happen to give you problems in your backyard, there are easy ways to thwart them. Try planting sages and onions. The latter will keep squirrels from digging at your tulips too. Alternatively, put in The Thing That Goes Doink. The more you know!
- The supervillain who fought Superman to the death, Doomsday, pets a doe and then snaps her neck when he first appears. For his next trick, he lets a little sparrow land in his hand - and crushes her.
- Depending on the Writer, The Incredible Hulk is quite fond of deer. He even calls them Bambi! One memorable issue had him stumble upon some hunters killing deer, and he reacted pretty much exactly how you'd expect him to.
Hulk: Men killed Bambi's mother!
- Simon Birch, where the deer in question is actually Simon's dead mother. Or something. Whatever.
- Naturally, the 1989 Christmas film Prancer is all over this.
- William Blake in Jim Jarmusch's film Deadman grieves over the remains of a dead baby deer, which was shot by one of his pursuers. The scene echoes a previous scene where an innocent woman was killed by someone trying to kill him.
- My Dog Skip - Willie (Frankie Muniz) touches a dying innocent deer in shock before being forced to look away when the hunters finish off with the killing blow.
- Used in the movie Commando, in which Schwarzenneger's character spends quality time with his daughter... and at some point, they are seen petting a friggin' deer in the woods.
- In more fantastic stories, unicorns are used instead of deer. Case in point, Harry Potter.
- There is an excellent Jane Yolen short story, "De Natura Unicorni", that plays this variation absolutely straight until the climax - and it works.
- Harry Potter also has this with actual deer -- James Potter's Animagus form was a stag, which symbolically makes his wife Lily the doe, and they both died at Voldemort's hands trying to save Harry (Lily, specifically, chose to die despite having the clear choice to save herself, and her sacrifice put The Power of Love on Harry as a magical protection against Voldemort). Later, Harry's Patronus (a Care Bear Stare spell to counter the Emotion Bomb effect of Dementors) manifests as a stag, representing James, and Snape's turns out to be a doe, representing Lily.
- Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings's novel The Yearling: Jody's killing of his pet deer signifies the end of innocence.
- In Spin City, Mike refuses to kill a fawn to score political points with a political contributor who's big on hunting. Mike's attempt at "missing" ends up killing the mother, though. Just to drive the point home, the hunter shows a sort of sadistic glee at the fact that the fawn will no longer have a mother, while they're eating meat made from her.
- It does, however, lead to a Crowning Moment of Funny when they take the wounded fawn into a hospital. Carter fills out a form for it.
Carter: Relationship to patient. Oh, that's easy - assassin!
Mike: Yeah? Well, I may have killed him - but you ate his mother!
- Of course, this turns into Did Not Do the Research for actual hunters watching, as either they were poaching or live in a previously-unknown area where it's legal to hunt in early spring. Even game ranches won't send people out to shoot deer in spring and summer, which is the only time the fawns are with their mothers.
- Shows up in Sports Night when Jeremy is traumatized on a deer hunt with executives. Isaac rightly tells him he should have voiced his objections sooner.
- Similarly, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer when Willow pets a fawn in a green garden... before slitting its throat to use a spell ingredients in order to resurrect Buffy. One of the first clues to the wrongness of said resurrection and the dark path Willow's on. It's specifically noted to be "blood of the innocent" or some such.
- Linderman saves a deer in one of the Heroes online comics. Maybe a direct reference to Starman.
- Likewise, in a later comic, Arthur Petrelli takes his two sons out hunting. You win no prizes for guessing Peter's reaction to his daddy's order to shoot at a buck.
- BeastMaster - The beast master finds an injured doe and takes care of it in his shack until it's healthy enough to move again. The group of men who trash the shack and kill the deer is meant to show how much bastards they are.
- In The Walking Dead, Carl stops and walks to a buck because it is literally the most beautiful thing he has seen since the Zombie Apocalypse began. A hunter shoots the deer and the bullet hits him by accident.
- In The Sopranos, a minor character has a quiet moment with a deer. Then it runs away and Tony brutally garrotes him.
- The second expansion of World of Warcraft features Bambina, Mother of Bambina, Flora, and Thudder. Occasionally an NPC will shoot the mother and cheer, at which point Bambina takes several levels in badass and slaughters the NPC mercilessly. Players can watch this unfold repeatedly.
- In Franz Schubert's wangsty song cycle Die schöne Müllerin (The Beautiful Girl of the Mill), the protagonist keeps a little doe, and he accuses the manly, bristly hunter, whom he imagines to be his romantic rival, for frightening it.
- In Rilo Kiley's "Accidntel Deth" (sic) from the album Execution of All Things contains the verse "the story your father told you long ago/He was hunting with his own father/for deer, he pointed and spotted her/and then tripped over some roots or some dead trees/The gun went off, It was a mistake/And my father was only eight/And as he watched the dying deer he was changed/Cause he felt sorry for what he'd done/And he put down his gun."
- Kingdom Hearts in which Bambi himself is a summon. When you first summon him, he appears amidst a cloud of flowers and butterflies, then proceeds to prance around the battle field dropping gratuitous amounts of MP bubbles. So, in the end, it ends up subverted as cute little Bambi gives you enough fuel to spam the hell out of your magic fire, ice, and lighting attacks.
- The Pokémon Deerling is clearly a case of this. Its evolution, Sawsbuck, isn't.
- The Iron Giant, though it's actually done rather well there to show the Giant's first inkling of others' mortality.
- Beauty and the Beast: Gaston sings in his Villain Song, "I use antlers in all of my decorating!" Judging by the state of his trophy room, that's a lot of dead deer.
- Some of the animators on that movie even said they were trying to imply that Gaston was the one who killed Bambi's mother. She appears in the opening shot in the movie as well.
- Hilariously, because deer shed their antlers yearly, even an incredibly lousy hunter could decorate with antlers just by walking around the forest and picking them up. His boast becomes much less impressive that way. Check out the giant arches made of deer and elk antlers at the corners of the town square in Jackson, Wyoming.
- And Judge Doom from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? was meant, in earlier drafts, to also be revealed as Bambi's mother's killer. They decided this pushed him too far over the Moral Event Horizon, especially given what he'd done so far in the film (that poor little sneaker...); it also created Fridge Logic, since the movie worked on the idea of Animated Actors.
- In Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, during a camping trip gone wrong, Mac makes a trap to catch a deer, so they could eat it to survive. After seeing the deer, however, he chickens out.
- Superman: The Animated Series - A group of low level thugs testing out high powered weapons from Apokolips get tired blowing up the trees and try to aim at a running deer. Then Superman appears, blocks off the shot and proceeds to kick their collective asses.
- While not exactly a parody, there is that scene in Marmalade Boy where Miki gets mobbed by tame deer...
- In one episode of Lucky Star, Tsukasa tries hand-feeding a deer, only to have another deer show up. She feeds that deer too. And then a couple more deer walk up to her...and surround her. Uh oh. Then, a huge buck (with a large scar over one eye, no less) walks up and roars, scaring her. The deer chase Tsukasa down, tackling her to get at the food, and she is left covered in deer saliva and droppings. Yeesh.
- This can actually happen quite frequently in Nara, making it a case of Truth in Television.
- Harold and Kumar: Escape from Guantanamo Bay - Makes fun the bambification trope in a very dark way. On the run from an insane, racist Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, the duo finds themselves in the woods in Alabama. They encounter an adorable deer and start petting it... right before it suddenly gets shot in the head, spraying guts and blood on the horrified men, by a sophisticated redneck hunter. He then slits its throat and stuffs the body messily into a a sack. All of it for comedy, of course!
- It's also averted when they note that the deer isn't "like those asshole deer in New Jersey."
- Despite seemingly playing it completely straight, The Ring 2 features a herd of demonically-possessed deer. Yes, it's just as silly as it sounds.
- It's somewhat implied that, since horses were driven mad by Samara's uncontrollable Psychic Powers (and indeed, a horse broke out of its trailer and drowned itself at the mere presence of a Cursed Video victim who had already cured herself,) deer respond to the malevolent influence not by trying to kill themselves, but by killing the offender. The car was almost totaled by their attack.
- Parodied to hell and back in Tommy Boy.
- In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, where Ford Prefect's ability to control his pheromones causes everything to become peaceful, and a deer even walks right up to him. And he breaks its neck.
- The music video for "No One Knows" by Queens of the Stone Age has the band hunted, jacklighted, and stuffed by deer hunters. As in actual deer who are out hunting.
- Somewhat alluded to in the video for Fall Out Boy's "Sugar We're Going Down" (if Faun counts as an extension of Deer).
- The "gentle, angelic woodland critter" cliche gets taken down hard in this [NSFW clip] from Louis C.K.
- Seeing as its heroine is a Wolf-Woman, Freefall naturally took this one on.
- In Bobwhite, Lewis starts to tell about the hunting trip that was his worst Christmas ever, and Ivy accurately predicts that Lewis shot an animal and felt terrible about it afterwards. (When Lewis shoots a deer, his dad even says it's "Just like Bambi's mom!") As it turns out, Lewis has a near-supernatural ability to shoot animals without even trying.
- "Bambi Meets Godzilla".
- "Son of Bambi meets Godzilla". That is all.
- There's Deer's Revenge, also a parody of the Deerhunter series that also swaps the roles of predator and prey.
- Life With Louie has Andy's war story, in which branch of soldiers has been attacked and battered by a herd of deers.
Andy: Sometimes a deer comes to you, and run away. Sometimes deer comes, and doesn't run away. Sometimes deer comes, stares into your eyes and kick you right in the knuckle. So don't tell me about Bambi and don't left his cute eyes fool you. Deers are bastards!?
- In The Simpsons, there are reindeer who start off cute, then (understandably) turn vicious when Homer and company try to hunt them.
- And in another episode, deer growl and show their sharp teeth to Lisa, but when a park ranger arrives they act cute.
- Drawn Together turns Captain Hero loose on nature with semi-automatic weapons. Inevitably, Bambi shows up on the doorstep with his dead mother's body in his... er... arms and tearfully begs Captain Hero to stop. This display moves the housemates to drop their guard, whereupon Bambi lets loose a herd of vengeful deer on them. When the deer attack is routed, Bambi cries out "Come back! I killed my own MOTHER for this!"
- Tex Avery subverted the "fawns are innocent and helpless" trope in some of his early Merrie Melodies, such as having them swig moonshine or talk in a gruff voice when begging for food. And all this years before Disney's Bambi came out!
- On one of Avery's MGM cartoons, "Field and Scream", the protagonist goes hunting for deer. At the end there's a long line of hunters with their trophies strap to their hoods... except for Our Hero, who is strapped to the hood of a deer's car.
- There is a fawn amongst the "Woodland Christmas Critters" in an episode of South Park. The critters are trying to give birth to the anti-Christ.
Older, less Narmful version of this trope
- Princess Mononoke: The forest god initially takes the form of a large male deer... before its head was shot off and it turns into a mass that starts swallowing the entire forest to get its head back.
- Ryu risks his life to save a deer in a later episode of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, and in doing so helps a gruffer than usual Joe remember his own softer side.
- A majestic elk summons the Sprite in the "Firebird Suite" segment of Fantasia/2000.
- Robin of Sherwood features a recurring shaman character who claims to be the forst god Herne; he wears the head of a deer as a cowl.
- Although not as old as some others, the Deer Zord of Power Rangers Wild Force is a good example (by extension, the same applies for its source material, Gaoranger.) He has something of a "peaceful healer" thing going for him. However, on the other hand, he has been shown to take out an Org completely on his own, implying he's one of the more Badass of the Wildzords, and also shown at times to be something of an asshole, refusing to help the rangers until Princess Shayla sang to him.
- The White Stag from the Dragonlance books.
- Which was probably derived from the British legends of the White Stag or White Hart. Follow it through the forest and (if you can keep up) it will lead you to your heart's desire (or occasionally a vision of Christ).
- Aside from the example mentioned briefly above, Harry Potter actually uses this quite well beginning in Harry Potter Prisoner of Azkaban]]. There is a Stag who has a particular significance to Harry. James Potter's Patronus took the form of a stag and Harry's Dementor-expelling Patronus takes this form as well. We'd almost say this counts as an inversion: when the deer shows up, it means the villains are about to get slaughtered. There is also the case of the silver doe in Deathly Hallows.
- In the Warcraft novel Lord of the Clans, Thrall comes upon a deer who isn't afraid of him, specifically because he's so close to nature. He kills it, and thanks its spirit for its sacrifice.
- Similarly, in Rise of the Horde, Thrall's father's first kill is a space deer that separates itself from the rest of its herd. This is foreshadowing of sorts: Durotan is one of the relatively few orcs to resist demonic corruption, and that choice eventually gets him killed.
- Similarly, any story in which deer = food. The Jungle Book, "Wolf's Rain", a quick but nice little scene in the film adaptation of Indian In The Cupboard, etc.
- At the end of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the Pevensie children (now kings and queens) are hunting the White Stag - presumably not to kill it - which will grant wishes.
- It's worth noting that Herne, the god of the hunt, has deer's horns, as according to The Dark Is Rising.
- Defenitely averted with the Perytons, an Always Chaotic Evil race of winged deer (lated adopted by Dungeons and Dragons)
- The demon Furfur is a weird example. In spite of being a demon, he has the form of an angelic white stag, and creates love, but is still a liar and, well a demon.