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Bambi: Platinum Edition DVD Review

Bambi (1942) movie poster Bambi

Theatrical Release: August 13, 1942 / Running Time: 70 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: David Hand

Voice Cast: Donnie Dunagan (Young Bambi), Peter Behn (Young Thumper), Stan Alexander (Young Flower), Paula Winslowe (Bambi's Mother), Cammie King (Young Faline), Hardie Albright (Adolescent Bambi), Tim Davis (Adult Thumper, Adolescent Flower), John Sutherland (Adult Bambi), Sam Edwards (Adult Thumper), Sterling Holloway (Adult Flower), Ann Gillis (Adult Faline), Fred Shields (Great Prince of the Forest), Will Wright (Friend Owl), Bobby Stewart (Baby Bambi), Margaret Lee (Mrs. Rabbit), Mary Lansing (Aunt Ena, Mrs. Possum), Thelma Boardman (Mrs. Quail)

Songs: "Love is a Song", "Let's Sing a Gay Little Spring Song", "Little April Shower", "Looking for Romance (I Bring You a Song)"

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Page 1: Disc 1 - The Movie, Video and Audio, Bonus Features
Page 2: Disc 2 - Bonus Features, Menus & Packaging, Closing Thoughts

Most fans of animation and cinema know that Walt Disney's first feature film was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. What they may not know, is that before Snow White hit theaters and completely proved skeptics wrong, Walt and his studio were already beginning to plan a second film. The film was Bambi, adapted from Felix Salten's novel. Bambi would get sidetracked though, as Disney explored the medium with a dark Italian fairy tale (Pinocchio), a union of classical music with non-narrative artwork (Fantasia), and a story about an elephant with overly large ears (Dumbo). Shortly after Dumbo's release in the fall of 1941, America became involved in World War II. The Disney studio's attentions would switch to foreign policy and military propaganda. Out were the big-budget artistic gambles, in would be far cheaper anthologies of animated shorts.

But before that atmosphere would change the face of Disney animation, there was Bambi, released to theaters in August of 1942, with the United States military planning air attacks in Europe. Bambi represents the final chapter of the "Early Disney" period, as the studio's fifth entirely-animated feature film and the last such single-narrative project of the decade.
Like the four released before it, Bambi is a film which pushes animation forward. In many ways, Bambi is a creative apex for the studio, with its unprecedented realism in the depiction of its animal subjects and forest setting. This, combined with impressionistic backgrounds and ample use of the multi-plane camera to convey depth, resulted in visuals and a sense of "environment" in a way that Disney and the few animated features from other studios had never before.

Bambi's technical prowess and visual richness, though, do not take center stage. That is because Bambi's coming-of-age story is particularly potent and remains so more than six decades later. The film tells about Bambi, a deer who happens to be the young prince of the forest but seems ordinary in every way. The opening sequence depicts the various animal inhabitants of the woods learning of the deer's birth, and all proceed to see the newborn faun. In time, Bambi will prove himself good-hearted and brave. But at his infancy, he's merely innocent and emerging in a world that's both simple and complex.

The newborn deer takes his first steps. Bambi calls the skunk "Flower" and the name sticks.

Bambi's development isn't just given a lot of time in the film. It is the film. Instead of devoting a lot of time to plot points and exposition, Bambi revels in its central character's growth. This is life's most basic journey, one that all take. We see and appreciate the journey, as Bambi takes his first steps, makes his first friend, and utters his first word ("bird"). That first friend is Thumper, a rabbit who has earned his name for his propensity towards thumping his foot. Thumper is a silly little guy, and an immediately likable sidekick. Sometimes, Thumper says the wrong things, and when this happens, his mother asks him to repeat a lesson that has been previously instilled and currently forgotten.

Like Thumper, Bambi learns from his mother and his father is for the most part absent. He later understands that the highly revered Great Prince of the Forest, a deer who has lived twice as long as any other, is his father. But in his youth, Bambi's world consists primarily of his mother, Thumper, and a friendly skunk who assumes the name Flower when Bambi mistakenly identifies him as that. Bambi's mother teaches him about the meadow (a place that's wonderful but can be dangerous) and she's there to explain things when Bambi discovers both girls (a giggly female deer named Faline) and snow for the first time.

Slightly more than halfway into the film, there comes a moment as dramatic and devastating as any in a Disney film. While the scene might have surprised early audiences not familiar with Salten's book, it has left such an impression on children and parents over the years that it can hardly be unexpected even for those who haven't seen Bambi. While grazing in the meadows with her son, Mother hears danger off in the distance. The danger is Man, hunting in the area. We recognize this because the deer faced the same predicament just a bit earlier and because Frank Churchill's eery, repetitive crescendo of score has returned. Against expectations, Bambi's mother is shot and killed off-screen.

Thumper's family says hello to the new prince. Bambi discovers a female for the first time.

Bambi's world is rocked, and so is the viewer who has developed a similar attachment to the maternal deer. Bambi's cries for his mother get louder and increase in worry, but there is no response to reassure him. Snow falls, and our protagonist has lost the one individual who was always there for him from his birth and through the changing seasons.
The voice that responds to Bambi's bellows belongs to the Great Prince, and his few words offer little consolation. This unthinkable act makes a logical conclusion for the childhood segments of the film; Bambi is no longer a child.

We cut to sometime later (this gap will apparently be filled, necessarily or not, by the upcoming direct-to-video feature Bambi and the Great Prince of the Forest), and even with the pause that preceded it, the jump to "Let's Sing a Gay Little Spring Song" (which is every bit as merry as its name implies) feels abrupt. A change in voice and appearance alerts us that adolescence is upon the title character and his friends Thumper and Flower. The season of new life has inspired feelings of romance, which Friend Owl explains to the central trio in his unique way. Bambi, Thumper, and Flower all vow not to get "twitterpated." Of course, immediately after their declarations, each finds a member of the fairer sex to make them fall in love.

The film establishes Bambi as an adult by his newfound relationship with Faline and his assertion of bravery. While Bambi has grown into a large and powerful stag, the film's integral journey of maturation never ends. Each scene throughout represents some stage in Bambi's learning process. After a menacing forest fire and some brushes with one of the few instances of unfriendly animals in the movie (some fierce dogs), the closing sequences underline the universality of Bambi's story, by taking us back to the beginning with a new scene of birth.

Bambi's close encounter of the snow kind. Bambi with his monosyllabic old man.

Bambi is a wonderful film. It is compact, affecting, and more relevant than most of the Disney studio's animated output. While fantasy lends itself to some magical moments of cinema and an exploration of the imagination, there's something to be said for the unabashed realism that marks this story. To declare that Bambi is entirely different from other Disney films would not be entirely true. The film contains cute animals, children (in animal form), comedy, music, and adventure, all of which are staples of the Disney canon and mostly present in films from Walt's era. But this picture stands out for its unique take on life and character development.

Modern audiences may be more familiar with The Lion King, the extremely popular and excellent film which itself represents a final chapter of the New Disney Renaissance. Bambi was undoubtedly a heavy influence on that film, a fact which doesn't go unnoticed from the makers of Lion King in the documentary on Disc 2. In fact, Bambi lays a blueprint for the "circle of life" structure and story of that more contemporary/postmodern production. Though not a single man or woman appears onscreen in either one of the two films, they are among the most human of Disney animation. They're also among the best, by most standards.

Bambi is light on dialogue. (One supplement claims only around one thousand words are spoken.) Instead, it succeeds in being in tune with life. This trait is present in its beautiful observations of nature, in its evocative score, and above all, in its enduring story of a deer's maturation amidst a world where the seasons change and return.

Buy Bambi: Platinum Edition from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio (Fullscreen)
Dolby Digital 5.1 Enhanced Home Theater Mix (English),
Dolby Digital Mono (English),
Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned
Release Date: March 1, 2005
Two Single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9)
THX-Certified with Optimizer tests
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99

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VIDEO and AUDIO

Bambi was originally filmed and exhibited in the Academy aspect ratio, and it is therefore correctly presented in a 1.33:1 "fullscreen" transfer. The film has been drastically and digitally remastered and one could certainly tell this, even if there wasn't a Disc 2 bonus feature on the subject. You'd be hard-pressed to find a flaw in the picture, and harder pressed to locate an imperfection that doesn't match the original film.

Fortunately, all of that work hasn't changed the beautiful artwork. While I don't know Bambi well enough to point out any anomalies,
I didn't notice anything that didn't look like it could have been as it was back in 1942. Backgrounds hold up nicely, with no visible artifacting or banding. Edge ringing seems almost nonexistent. Colors had to be redone, so these may not be totally faithful to the original palettes, but the film's unique, masterful forest-ful of browns and greens does not appear to have been lost or altered.

The extensive digital work has not robbed the film of its original look either. It still looks like a Disney animated film from the early 1940s, rather than appearing artificially clean and sharp. The picture remains a bit of grain, which keeps it, as it should, true to its roots. The long wait for Bambi to come to DVD has resulted in the best-looking presentation of any of the earliest Disney films, a transfer that's far better than Dumbo and even more pleasing than the well-remastered picture of Fantasia and Snow White.

Mother and child go for a walk. Bambi's walking on clouds the first time he sees Faline after getting his hormonal telegram.

There are two English language options with which to watch the film. The default selection is a brand new Dolby Digital 5.1 "Disney Enhanced Home Theater Mix", making Bambi the fourth DVD to offer this. You shouldn't expect anything like the other DVDs with this remix, though, since this is working from a monaural track. While this 5.1 remix expands the soundfield, it's limited in what it can achieve without betraying the original design. There isn't a great deal of channel separation, so what you get is the music coming out of all the speakers, and dialogue crisply sent from the center channel. Certain elements of Frank Churchill's often haunting score are divided among the speakers (so that, for instance, the choral and instrumental parts each are distinct).

Some may consider it blasphemy to depart from the original sound mix, but as one of two options, the 5.1 remix seems to do no harm, only good. Plus, I couldn't recognize any tinkering with the sound design in the sense of amplifying or retooling effects. Volume level on the remix was consistent, and there was an appropriate amount of bass to heighten drama. Overall, this new audio presentation showcases more thought and care than a simple broad mono, and while it obviously doesn't provide a dynamic experience like the DEHT tracks on Aladdin and The Lion King, it also doesn't butcher the work of the original sound designers.

Purists will be glad to know that a Dolby Digital Mono track is also offered. This provides the single-channel experience like Bambi would have carried in its original theatrical release. Proper care has gone into this track as well, so that you're not simply getting the same mono track as the old laserdisc. Spanish and French dubs are also provided in non-DEHT Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks.

Three minor points are worth mentioning. The opening studio logo is the blue Walt Disney Pictures castle logo, which made its first appearance in the '80s. This replaces something that would have said "Buena Vista Pictures" from the 1950s on, which itself replaced the original RKO Radio logo. All the other credits screens (including the opening "Walt Disney Presents") remain intact. These screens are very mildly windowboxed on the two sides, which is in contrast to the more substantial windowboxing on all four sides they contained on previous home video releases. Lastly, some new "Restoration Credits" have been added at the end of the film, which do slightly take away from the power of the final shot immediately ending things. Then again, they fit better here than elsewhere, and modern audiences certainly have come to expect credits after their films.

In this portion of "Inside Walt's Story Meetings", concept art of Bambi's various expressions acts as backdrop to a scene between him and Thumper. Concept art of the possums is compared to the final scene in the film. The story sketches for grown-up Bambi's re-introduction to Friend Owl, with the scene played in front.

DISC 1 BONUS FEATURES

"Inside Walt's Story Meetings" is a unique new bonus feature which is presented in lieu of an audio commentary. You still get nearly the entire film onscreen for the 70-minute duration of the extra, but it is accompanied by concept art and production documents from time-to-time. The audio is a re-enactment of the creative meetings that Walt and his filmmakers held throughout the production of Bambi. Those conferences were thoroughly transcribed, and they now come to life in the readings.
The comments just about always pertain to what's on screen, and the feature enables you to appreciate all that went into Bambi, and how much of Walt and company's visions over the years made it into the final film exactly as discussed.

In this supplement, the video of Bambi is edited to piece together related artwork and clips from other films, employing the occasional split-screen and more often picture-in-picture tactics. It's a really great feature, that's about as close as you might get to having a crew audio commentary. Only, it's better since it's compiled from meeting comments and not a formally arranged session of praise-dropping. It's far more exciting than an audio commentary too; clearly a lot of effort went into constructing this.

The discussions here touch a variety of topics, covering just about all the different parts of the film. There are comments on specific gags, the kids who will voice the characters, intentions of scenes, and establishing personalities and plot. We see how Walt's other projects (shorts and feature films) offer inspiration for Bambi in developing ideas or certain things to focus on. This supplement only gets slightly redundant as the conversations are visualized nearly verbatim in the film. For the most part, it's interesting to listen in on the creative process that gives us the enduring images of Bambi.

The actor who emulates Walt's voice does a pretty decent job. That one makes up the bulk of comments, and it is clearly distinguished from the other speakers, who are identified with names on screen sometimes and not the most apparent when they're not. The feature is bookended by video clips of host/actor Patrick Stewart introducing the piece and signing off.

Disc 1 also houses the THX Optimizer tests for perfecting your audio and video settings. The only other bonus feature on the disc is a "Disc 2 Preview." This is a 55-second montage which edits together footage from the supplements on the bonus disc, effectively accompanied by selections of score, not narration.

Disc 1 of Bambi starts up with trailers for Cinderella, Chicken Little, Bambi and the Great Prince of the Forest, and Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch. The Sneak Peeks menu contains additional previews for the Growing Up with Winnie the Pooh line, the second wave of Disney's Princess DVDs, the new Studio Ghibli sets, and the JoJo's Circus discs coming this spring.

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Related Reviews:
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Diamond Edition) Pinocchio (Platinum Edition) Fantasia & Fantasia 2000 (The Fantasia Anthology)
Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities Saludos Amigos & The Three Caballeros: Classic Caballeros Collection
Dumbo (Big Top Edition) Bambi II Bambi II Soundtrack: A Collection of Songs From Both Bambi Movies (CD)
Renaissance Platinum Editions: The Lion King Aladdin The Little Mermaid Beauty and the Beast
1950s & 1960s Platinum Editions: Lady and the Tramp Peter Pan Cinderella Sleeping Beauty
The Fox and the Hound (25th Anniversary Edition) The Incredibles Pocahontas (10th Anniversary Edition)

Related Pages:
Interview with Don Dunagan, the original voice of Young Bambi
Bambi in UltimateDisney.com's Top Animated Classics Countdown

Page 1: Disc 1 - The Movie, Video and Audio, Bonus Features
Page 2: Disc 2 - Bonus Features, Menus & Packaging, Closing Thoughts

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Reviewed February 21, 2005.