Great Walt Disney films – regardless of how much one may love or grow weary of their corporate dominance – have so far proven timeless. Bambi was made in 1942 – nearly seventy years ago – and there’s nothing about it that makes it feel like a film of that era other than the craft of cell animation. The film plays to an audience in a way that hasn’t aged in ways that even films like Casablanca or To Be or Not To Be cannot. Because all of its main characters are woodland animals there’s no antiquated technology and there’s no sense of trends of the time. The film has no musical numbers; the narrative is timeless. Bambi is a male deer who starts the film as a newborn, and the film charts his path to adulthood. Our review of Bambi on Blu-ray follows after the jump.
If Bambi makes one misstep – all things – it’s that Bambi is a prince, and will eventually become a king deer. We may now mark this as part of a Joseph Campbellian journey, but it’s such a weird detail that has so little to do with anything that happens in the film that I don’t get it. Likely it was in the source material, but perhaps Walt Disney and company wanted us to think this was a special deer. Which is contrast to the film’s great strength in that the appeal of Bambi is universal.
The film begins with his birth, and it moves through his period of awkward movement. He then befriends other animals in the forest – especially Thumper the rabbit and Flower the skunk. They play, though Bambi is very awkward. He’s warned about the open meadow, which is a fun place to hang out – but also a location that attracts hunters. The film then segues to winter-time, where almost all the animals are hibernating, but Bambi gets to play with Thumper on the ice in a magical sequence.
When everything finally starts to thaw, the most traumatic cinematic event for many children’s lives happens: Bambi’s mother is shot. Bambi is saved by his mostly absent father, and then the film cuts to him as an adolescent where the local owl tells him and his friends about getting “twitterpated” – which is the desire to mate. The boys brag that they won’t fall victim, but love is in the air. Bambi must fend off another suitor to get his girl, and though Bambi wins, their neighborhood catches fire and hunters send their dogs after all the woodland creatures.
Told over the circle of life, with the film ending with the cycle begun anew, there are no wasted gestures in the film. Bambi is 70 minutes long, and the animation in the film – done with watercolor backgrounds – is possibly the finest achievement of animation in cinema. Every single background and plate is gorgeous, and everything that’s on screen is jaw-droppingly beautiful. Perhaps it’s the benefits of the Blu-ray transfer, but the detail and the work that went into this film is immaculate. And there is a level of purity but knowing to the film that is unparalleled. This isn’t a cutesy film, it’s a film with some cute characters like Thumper – but the primal nature imagery is such that the film is charming and funny without ever feeling like it’s talking down. Watching it now, there’s something very Zen about the movie.
Bambi is unquestionably a masterpiece, though it’s approach may be surprisingly rough in terms of the violence (though Bambi’s mother’s death is off screen) and that the film is very pro-nature, anti-hunter – which I don’t think has attracted the N.R.A. or someone like Sarah Palin to complain, but the film is inherently empathetic to animals. I would argue that empathy is what makes it so effective, and what has made it stand the test of time.
Disney’s Blu-ray presents the film in its original aspect ratio (1.33:1) and in 7.1 DTS-HD HR surround, along with the film’s original soundtrack in a restored 2.0 Mono track. The film can be watched with black bars on the left and right, or in “Disneyview mode” which acts as matching curtains instead of those black bars. It can also be watched with the “Inside Walt’s Meetings – Enhanced mode” which walks through the making of the film with stills and voice actors walking through the creation of the film. The film can also be watched in “Second Screen mode” which will sync up the Blu-ray watching experience with your laptop, and offers stills and animated addendums and games. The presentation of this film lives up to the “Diamond Edition” moniker. This is a gem, and the sort of title that sells you on the greatness of Blu-ray.
The Supplements kick off with two deleted scenes: “Two Leaves” (3 min.) and “Bambi Stuck on a Reed” (2 min.), and one deleted song: “Twitterpated” (2 min.). Then there’s a “Bambi interactive gallery” that offers images from Character Design, Backgrounds, Production Pictures, Storyboards, and Visual Development. For kids there’s a game called “Disney’s Big Book of Knowledge” that tells the viewer about nature and offers little information-based games. This the new content for this Blu-ray.
It appears that all classic DVD supplements have been ported over as well. Such starts off with two additional deleted scenes: “Winter Grass” (1 min.) and “Bambi’s First Snow”(3 min.), and it’s followed by the making-of: “A Prince is Born” (54 min.). It talks to historians and animators (like John Lasseter and Andreas Deja) about the film it’s development and lasting impact. This is followed by “Tricks of the Trade” (7 min.) that offers behind the scenes information from Disney himself (done for his television show). Then comes “Inside the Disney Archives” (9 min.), which takes Deja to where Disney stores all their notes and original drawings. The animated short “The Old Mill” (9 min.) and the film’s original theatrical trailer round out the supplements. It’s a must have.