Movie and DVD Review: Bambi

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After somehow managing to avoid seeing Bambi on the silver screen—a nature movie with all those trees and birds was a turnoff to a kid who favored movies with planes, skyscrapers and people—the animated feature’s premiere on DVD finally brought Walt Disney’s favorite forest to my undivided attention and, like that first dewy morning at summer camp, the reward was worth the wait. Bambi really is wonderful.

Using animation as a tool for recreating reality, Mr. Disney’s insistence that animal drawings be both realistic and stylized is brilliant. Beginning with Bambi’s birth, taking the audience through the death of Bambi’s innocence, the adaptation of Felix Salten’s novel applies animal anatomy to the art of animation and the result, directed by David Hand, is amazing.

The newborn fawn fixes his wide-eyed gaze upon the woods around him and finds an admiring gathering of furry and feathered inhabitants. The unsteady Bambi stumbles and stammers his way through the forest, finding his way—and his sense of himself—with guidance from scene-stealing Thumper, a guileless bunny with an affinity for the baby deer. As Bambi discovers nature—including his nemesis, man—he learns about concepts, girls, and how to get through winter without sliding across the ice.

Watching Bambi leap, bound and explore the deep, green forest with youthful abandon, accompanied by cheerful choruses, fluttering birds and running creeks—without being bothered by animated characters yapping incessantly with bad jokes—is a welcome contrast to today’s culture.

The plot is plain—Bambi is born, Bambi is taught, Bambi is twitterpated, as the old Owl explains—and this is clearly one of Walt Disney’s early efforts to translate a popular story into his brand of motion pictures. Bambi’s coming of age is told with vibrant colors, melodic music, distinct characters, and the notion that life, however hard, is the standard of value.

Quietly, beautifully, and slowly—above the din of loud, dumb modern movies—Bambi’s maturity is symbolized in a single teardrop. Bambi, his friends, and their adventures, facing man and a wild inferno engulfing the forest, are meticulously animated. What happens is depicted as a matter of fact; less a circle than a straight line in the life of a young buck.

Disney’s digital restoration is flawless. The 2-disc DVD set features enhanced picture and sound quality, games, exercises, and archival segments. None disappoints, though there were technical glitches in the disc reviewed. Among the highlights is a full-length feature, Inside Walt’s Story Meetings, which provides a rare glimpse of Walt Disney, one of America’s greatest creators, at work.

Other selling points are an animated short, The Old Mill (1937), and Tricks of the Trade, which provides an excerpt from an episode of Mr. Disney’s groundbreaking Disneyland television program—the forerunner to the long-running Wonderful World of Disney—in which he explains the technology of his company’s multiplane camera, used for Bambi, which created the illusion of three dimensions. Two never-before-seen deleted sequences are also included.

Sneak peeks at the straight-to-home-entertainment sequel, Bambi and the Great Prince of the Forest, with the father’s voice by actor Patrick Stewart, are inviting, though it looks as if it might work better on the big screen. A time capsule for 1942 is a fine idea but the modern era’s moral relativism does creep in, with the narrator making reference to Soviet dictator Josef Stalin as “the leader of the U.S.S.R.” —never mind that he was a communist who enslaved an entire country and wiped out more people than Hitler.

And the generous interview excerpts from those who had a hand in making and drawing Bambi—whose comments are purposeful—are marred by names and titles that last no longer than Thumper’s tail, so watch with the finger poised on the pause button to keep track of who’s talking during the documentary portion. But these are minor criticisms of a marvelous movie’s glorious treatment, which preserves Bambi’s great, big, wonderful forest for Tomorrow.

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