Disney // 1942 // 70 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // February 28th, 2011
A great love story.
"Man was in the forest."
It's an exciting day in the forest. A new prince has been born; a young deer named Bambi (Donnie Dunagan, Son of Frankenstein). As he moves through childhood, adolescence and eventually into adulthood, Bambi befriends other creates of the forest: the rabbit Thumper (Peter Behn), the skunk Flower (Stan Alexander) and the elderly Friend Owl (Will Wright, All the King's Men). Though most of Bambi's days are filled with new delights, there is also a force of terror lurking in the forest: man. Will Bambi and those he loves survive the arrival of the hunters?
When I was a kid, my next door neighbors were avid hunters. They didn't hunt just for fun; they actually ate every animal they killed. Despite this (and despite the fact that I was certainly no vegetarian), I regarded this behavior as nothing short of horrific villainy. The reason for this inconsistent yet unwavering point of view: Bambi, of course. The film's idyllic portrait of the forest (a place where all animals co-exist harmoniously and where natural beauty is around every corner) was as lovely as its portrait of humanity was harshly condemning. Who can forget that heartbreaking moment in which a frightened young Bambi realizes he's lost his mother to the faceless beasts which have invaded his forest?
Some 69 years after its initial theatrical release, Bambi remains as gorgeous and moving as ever. Its artful elegance has rarely been equaled and has never been duplicated; at times it plays more like a great ballet than a children's cartoon. And yet, part of what makes the film so endlessly moving is the manner in which it so effortlessly fuses the charmingly energetic antics of the anthropomorphic forest creatures with the more classically lovely backdrop of the story.
As Diane Disney Miller notes in her introduction to the film, Bambi contains some memorable lines but actually features very little dialogue. Lengthy stretches of the film are carried entirely (or almost entirely, in some cases) by music and sound design; from the beloved "April shower" to the intense forest fire sequence. The film's running time is quite brief (a mere 70 minutes), but each set piece is given such attention, weight and nuance that the film's efforts of depicting the life journey of the title character never feel short-changed.
Disney had successfully anthropomorphized animals in some earlier features (most notably Dumbo and Pinocchio), but took those efforts to another level in Bambi. While the characters in the film do indeed take on human attributes, the animators work much harder this time to keep the essential nature and movement of the actual animal intact. Consider the amusing yet touching manner in which they capture Bambi's awkward walk during the earlier scenes, or Thumper's frequently twitching nose, or the way the characters use their tails. While these techniques might not seem as groundbreaking today, they still go a long way towards immersing in the film's world.
Disney has put tremendous work into their hi-def releases of classic animated catalogue titles, and Bambi is no exception. This 1080p/full frame transfer is dramatically better-looking than any previous release, offering stunning detail and wiping away any traces of damage, dirt and grime. Unlike many of the other early Disney films, Bambi isn't dominated by vibrant, bold colors. Rather, we have an appropriately lush, soft collection of gentle forest hues; alternately warm and forbidding but always boasting a certain poetic beauty. There are no problems of any sort to report. Once again, Disney delivers a gorgeous-looking track. The disc also sounds even better than I expected it to, with the memorable score sounding crisper and clearer than many other Disney soundtracks of the era (Fantasia comes to mind, in particular). Dialogue is very clean, and the occasionally aggressive sound design is more immersive than you would expect for a film of this age.
The "Diamond Edition" Blu-ray release of Bambi is a bit less loaded than some other films, but still offers plenty of content to keep you busy. The biggest, newest item is "Bambi: Inside Walt's Story Meetings," a feature which recreates brainstorm sessions (based on old transcripts) between Walt Disney and other filmmakers on the story, characters, animation and much more. Playing alongside the film, this feature is quite well-produced and proves a fascinating insight into Disney's process. The "performances" are all quite good and prevent the feature from becoming distractingly awkward (as it might have easily been in lesser hands). The feature gives you the option to access additional conversation sessions, interview clips and even old Mickey Mouse cartoons as you proceed.
You also get two new deleted scenes (in addition to two previously released deleted scenes), a (fortunately) deleted song called "Twitterpated" and oodles of hi-def galleries. "Disney Second Screen" gives attention-deficit viewers the chance to watch the film on their TV screen and computer screen at the same time, allowing them to play games and watch related odds n' ends on one screen while the movie plays on another. The "Disney's Big Book of Knowledge" feature is a kid-centric item offering games, trivia and other activities. The "Disney View" option allows you to fill in the black bars on the sides of the 1.33:1 picture with illustrations from Lisa Keene.
That's all new stuff, but you also get the old DVD bonus features: the very good 52-minute making-of documentary "The Making of Bambi: A Prince is Born," the "Tricks of the Trade" (7 minutes) and "Inside the Disney Archives" (9 minutes) featurettes, the Oscar-winning animated short "The Old Mill" (9 minutes) and a theatrical trailer. Plus, you get a bonus DVD copy of the film.
Simultaneously one of the grimmest and most tender Disney film ever made, Bambi remains an understated classic. Once again, the folks at Disney have turned in a splendid Blu-ray release: it looks amazing, sounds great and offers a very fine supplemental package. This is a must-own release.
Review content copyright © 2011 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 70 Minutes
Release Year: 1942
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* Deleted Scenes
* Deleted Song
* Animated Short
* Disney View
* Image Galleries
* DVD Copy