Judge David Johnson "fauns" over Disney's deer opus.
Our review of Bambi (Blu-Ray), published February 28th, 2011, is also available.
Bambi's a dude?!
Before the name "Bambi" became synonymous with large-breasted blonde bimbos, it was the title of an animated movie about a young deer. Disney has finally released its pop culture masterpiece on DVD, and the special two-disc set is a crowd-pleaser.
Facts of the Case
As far as plots go, Bambi's is one of the more minimalist you'll find. While it's often hailed as a coming-of-age story, I found the narrative to be almost a slice-of-life glimpse into the happenings of the untamed woods.
Our story opens with gaggles of woodland creatures heralding the birth of a brand-new prince of the forest. Chipmunks, rabbits, squirrels, birds, and the like prance over to the baby and his proud mom; it's the almost nauseatingly cute Bambi! Looking over the proceedings is the oldest and wisest member of the woods (trees excluded, I presume), a majestic stag, who happens to be Bambi's father.
As the movie rolls on, we see Bambi growing and learning the ropes of the woods (e.g., make sure the meadow is clear of bloodthirsty humans before frolicking). Bambi and his friends Thumper the rabbit and Flower the skunk enjoy the delights that winter brings (ice sliding) and the wet and wild weather spring ushers in (April thundershowers).
Fun, yes? Well, sorry kiddo, this is Bambi, forever stamped in the public consciousness as caretaker of one the more traumatizing scenes in cinema: the inexplicit death of Bambi's mom by a hunter's hand (BLAMbi?). So now Bambi and his stud dad reunite. Skipping the "coming" portion and going directly to "of age," Bambi returns to the forest, grown up, sporting some sweet antlers, and stricken with a mean case of deer-on-deer heat.
But forming a healthy relationship with a female deer will prove to be one of the lesser challenges of Bambi's young adult life, when the forest is suddenly threatened and he finds himself facing off once more against his bipedal, gun-toting archnemeses.
For me, the allure of Bambi is not its story. If anything, Bambi laid the groundwork for the much better coming-of-age tale that was The Lion King. The reason Bambi is a masterpiece is its execution.This is an animated film of stunning artistic merit and sweeping—if a bit dated—music. I was consistently impressed not with the hard-hitting storylines of Bambi learning to walk on ice or cowering in a thunderstorm, but with the amazing landscapes, the vivid detail, and the obvious manpower that went into creating these seventy minutes of forest intrigue.
Bambi is, of course, old school. The animators employed drawing tactics that elevate nearly every moment of the film to frame-worthy pieces of art suitable for a museum display. In the featurette about remastering the film, the animators leaf through some of the prints and remark on the inspiring talent found there. For example, look at the illustrations of the meadow. Drawn and painted in an Impressionist style, the grass swirls and blends with itself into a rolling green hue. Or take the opening sequence, where the camera pans through the woods, effectively creating the feeling of 3D through the use of some novel filming tricks. Bolstering these visuals is the orchestral score, which has been made to match the actions on screen, from the dramatic (the herd of deer bounding through the grass) to the intimate (Bambi taking his first steps). The power of the film's execution, I believe, owes to the combination of the music and the animation. Bambi is a symphony of superb art and music.
Bambi is more a painting than a story, and when the thematic elements do make an appearance (mom's mortality being the most renowned of these) they pack that much more of a punch. There is no major conflict until the last ten minutes of the film; the previous hour is solely a portrait of the woods. In fact, what I felt to be the most potentially interesting piece of story—Bambi's time with his father—was completely glossed over. One moment the little motherless deer is walking off with his dad, the next he's back, half a hoof into adulthood. (Apparently, the upcoming sequel will scrutinize this lost part of the young deer's life.) The thematic elements definitely make this a Romantic's movie. The purity of the woods, the transcendental goodness that can be found among the animals and their interactions, the ravaging impact that humanity can have on this pristine wilderness—Wordsworth and the boys would be proud, not to mention your garden-variety eco-wackos.
This two-disc set from Disney is fantastic. The job the studio did on the transfer is superb, especially when it's compared to the look of the original, decaying prints. The colors are vibrant, from top to bottom: bright, green foliage, great water effects, woodland creatures that leap off the screen. The film is presented in its original 1.33:1 fullscreen aspect ratio. Sound has been remixed into a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix, which, for this movie, is a necessity. The monaural sound would have been too shallow to encompass all the ambiance of the woods.
The bonus materials are copious and interesting. The coolest feature is the reenactment of Walt Disney's story meetings, which had been transcribed during the original filmmaking process. These dramatic readings are overlaid on top of the movie, so from Walt and company's own words you can learn how the film's ideas came about. Great, revealing stuff. The runner-up is an exhaustive behind-the-scenes documentary, which looks at the art, music, voice talent, and history of the film. Interviews with original filmmakers, as well as current Disney folks, bolster the loads of archival footage.
Here are the rest of the extras:
• A detailed look at the painstaking process of restoring the
That's a lot of Bambi bang for your buck!
The Rebuttal Witnesses
A few things I learned from Bambi:
1. Hunters aggressively target chipmunks.
Disney has treated its forest saga with incredible respect. The film looks better than it ever has, the score spreads its wings in an all-new mix, and the extras are extensive, original, and very well done. Plus, Patrick Stewart is your virtual Bambi guide! An excellent release.
Not guilty. Venison for everyone!
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Scales of Justice
• Inside Walt's Story Meetings
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