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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

A story sketch from the deleted scene "Bambi's First Snow." Count the rabbits in "Twigonometry", one of 7 games that make up "The Forest Adventure." Match the snowflakes in the sixth of seven "Forest Adventure" activities.

DISC 2 BONUS FEATURES

Disc 2 is separated into three categories: Deleted Scenes, Games & Activities, and Backstage Disney, the bulk and real draw of bonus material.

In Deleted Scenes, there are two sequences which edit together recently-discovered storyboards with new readings of dialogue, excerpts of score, and some sound effects. The two discarded sections, "Winter Grass" (0:37) and "Bambi's First Snow" (2:30), are introduced by Disney animator Andreas Deja (0:30) and presented in reverse order. While one can appreciate the effort to recreate scenes that could have been, don't expect something like "The Silly Song" from Snow White.
There's really limited artwork, and only the scene introducing Bambi to snow offers some substance. (It's an alternative to a sequence that's actually in the film.) Over the years, there have been stories of some pretty interesting scenes that supposedly were deleted from Bambi; the two that are reconstructed are far less fascinating.

Games & Activities houses five features geared towards children and those up for some interactive or educational fun.

The Forest Adventure game is really seven simple games in one, presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The games are arranged, like the movie, around the seasons of the year. Like other Platinum Edition games, there's a use of three-dimensional computer animation. But unlike those other games, these seem content to entertain only youngsters, as they're very basic and at times clearly educational. Some of the activities offer multiple levels, with a little variation and increased difficulty. (You may note that the games on the disc have different names than what's in the booklet. Plus, one of the games has been left off the disc altogether, it seems, as the booklet mentions a "Blooming Flowers" game that would have made 8 altogether.)

Under Spring, we find April Showers, a memory challenge in which you echo the pattern of falling water drops. Next, in Summer, there is "Twigonometry" where you count the number of rabbits (Thumper's siblings) who hop across a path and "Nature Knowledge" in which you answer questions about different elements of the forest. (A knowledge of the film helps.)

Autumn's first game is called "Acorn Catch", and like it sounds, you catch acorns falling into a log. I still can't figure out what exactly is going on, what you're supposed to do, and what the number means at the end of each trial. Unfortunately, when this is the case, you'll have to simply choose games individually from the Game Index. There's no opportunity to skip any particular game.

There's another "Nature Knowledge" to provide additional trivia questions, this time in an autumn environment. Then, we come to winter, where the first game involves finding the matching snowflake from four choices. The final activity is a slide-off between Bambi and Thumper, which can be played with one or two player.

The games are mostly narrated by the actor who tries to sound like Friend Owl. While there are a number of them, none of them really offer the entertainment value of Disney's best set-top games, and none of them are particularly inspired in design.

DisneyPedia: Bambi's Forest Friends Disney's Storytime: Thumper Goes Exploring Fall (or 'Autumn', if you wish) is depicted in the Virtual Forest.

"DisneyPedia: Bambi's Forest Friends" (4:10) is a featurette which reveals some facts about fawns, rabbits, skunks, and owls, devoting about a minute to each. It's geared towards children, but there are some things that everyone could learn from it. It makes good use of clips from the film, which supplement its nature footage.

Next is the personality profile quiz "What's Your Season?", which isn't as interesting as it may sound. You answer a series of five simple questions, and then the quiz takes a huge leap in logic and tells you which one of the four seasons that your personality most matches. Like, if you want to give Flower red flowers, that's supposed to mean you're a spring person. You don't get all of the same questions if you play again. I took the quiz three different times and was assigned three different seasons.

"Disney's Storytime: Thumper Goes Exploring" is just like any of Disney's old read-alongs. This one tells of Thumper's day of adventure. You can choose to read the story on your own, or have it read to you by the narrator, who makes an effort to sound like Owl and adds some asides.

"Virtual Forest" is a very simple, but pretty neat feature in which an animated tableau of forest life depicts the changing of the seasons. The sound effects make fine use of the 5.1 speaker setup, from fall's rustling leaves to winter's windy snow, from birds chirping amidst new life to a potent spring thunderstorm. This creation only runs 3 minutes and then it loops and does it all over again, and while it's really no more than a screensaver, this time-compressed environment won me over.

In "The Making of Bambi", Don Hahn lends a modern perspective as producer of Disney animated films, including "The Lion King." A still of Walt Disney during the production of "Bambi" seen in the making-of documentary. Tyrus Wong, who was upgraded from in-betweener to background artist, recalls working on the film.

Now, we come to Backstage Disney, the real highlight of any Disney DVD's bonus material. (This fact seems to be underscored by the emphatic, dramatic score selection which accompanies this menu.)

The most substantial feature on the section and the disc is "The Making of Bambi: A Prince is Born." This can be viewed as six featurettes on different topics or as one documentary running over 53 minutes. It works fairly well as the latter, since the clearly-defined categories never feel too confining or specific. The first part deals with story, discussing some things that never made it into the film and devoting a bit of time to parallels with The Lion King.
(Bambi was "the original Circle of Life", you see!) Lion King producer Don Hahn and animator Andreas Deja discuss their influences and we see some scene comparisons as well. This section also underscores the one scene that is probably best remembered from the film - Bambi's mother's death, and there's a bit of psychology thrown in from some accredited speakers.

The second portion deals with animation, something that Bambi advanced in a great way. The documentary notes the realism and naturalism achieved in the film's setting, and points out how far Disney had come from the more cartoony animals seen five years earlier in Snow White. Deja and other artists provide an insider's perspective on what makes Bambi work so well visually. We also hear about what went into delivering such spectacular images; animators were trained in classes to understand animal anatomy, while to give them their human qualities, they studied babies.

The third section covers the voices from the film, and three original young cast members offer reflections: Peter C. Behn (Flower), Donald R. Dunagan (Bambi), and Cammie King Conlon (Feline). It's fascinating to hear their reflections on making the film more than six decades ago, and interesting to see the different ways they've treated their status, from embracing it (Behn) to hiding it for years while in the Marines (Dunagan).

Next, the beautiful backgrounds of the film are documented. Here, we hear the story of Tyrus Wong from Mr. Wong himself: he was a young in-between animator trying to support his wife who was suddenly promoted to background artist when he showed some concept art to a superior. The impressionistic, Chinese-influenced scenery is discussed in detail, in terms of Walt's desire to convey the "plausible impossible" in which realism (the forest setting, for instance) and fantasy (animals talking) work together hand-in-hand.

Frank Churchill's affecting score is given its own section, which isn't the strongest, since there seems to be little to talk about. But the last segment, "Back to the Beginning", is one of the best, detailing the production history. This portion interestingly covers how a book by an Austrian insurance agent by the name of Felix Salten became a Disney film twenty years later. It also discusses the Disney strike of 1941, as well as the studio's financial difficulties. The descriptions are so vivid you can practically see Walt selling Bambi to the bank. In the closing moments, everyone throws on the superlatives, as you might expect, and rightfully so.

"The Making of Bambi" isn't the most consistently entertaining piece, but it is enlightening and an appropriately thorough retrospective. The documentary benefits from its healthy offering of participants, of which there are over two dozen. Among the highlights are older interview clips with animators Ollie Johnston, Marc Davis, Eric Larson, Milt Kahl, and Frank Thomas. Animation historian Charles Solomon and film historian John Culhane contribute a lot to discussion, and not all of it is speculation. In addition, newly-recorded footage offers insight from Bambi's story developer Mel Shaw and longtime Disney story man Joe Grant. In addition to the aforementioned Hahn and Deja, a bit of modern animation perspective is thrown in from Pixar's super genius John Lasseter, animator/director Aaron Blaise (Brother Bear), and art director Cristy Maltese.

Patrick Stewart introduces the featurette "Restoring Bambi" - it's one of three places he shows up on the DVD. A scene from the upcoming 'mid-quel' "Bambi and the Great Prince", as seen in "The Legacy Continues" preview featurette. Popular movies of 1942 are mentioned in "Disney Time Capsule."

"Restoring Bambi" (5:55) is a featurette on the extensive work done to make the film look good. It's hosted by Patrick Stewart whose dramatic delivery sets the tone as something significant. Substantial efforts were made to restore Bambi to "its original brilliance" from the decomposing nitrate print preserved at the Library of Congress. The piece covers Lowry Digital's fine-tuning process as well as the efforts to get colors right.

"The Legacy Continues" (4:45) takes a look at Bambi and the Great Prince of the Forest, Disney's direct-to-video sequel which is in production and due in stores spring 2006. This featurette seeks to justify such a seemingly wrong project (a sequel made more than six decades later) as being in tune with Walt's notes and the spirit of the original, but it probably won't crush the doubts you may have. We get some clips from the film (most of which are seen in its Sneak Peek on Disc 1), as well as some interview clips from the likes of Patrick Stewart (who is voicing the Great Prince), animator Andreas Deja, director Brian Pimental, animation director Alexs Stadermann, and producer Jim Ballantine.

"Disney Time Capsule" (4:35) seeks to provide context for Bambi by exploring the year it was released. Some of it touches upon what was going on with Disney as his studio began producing military-themed shorts and cartoon emblems for World War II. But its interest is in American culture at large, as it dispenses facts about the cost of living, fashion, and sports. It covers what activities, plays and movies were big in 1942, and wraps up with a slideshow of famous personalities who were born that year. Of course, the release of Bambi is briefly mentioned in glowing terms as well. From the design of the featurette, it would seem to be something that Disney intends to employ on more DVDs in the future, and with the next two Platinum Editions featuring movies from the '50s, I think that's a safe bet we'll see more of it. While it's brief and a bit shallow, its context is welcome.

The Character Design gallery for Bambi. A conceptual sketch of Flower. Nice looking concept art depicts Bambi in autumn scenery.

"The Art of Bambi" is where you'll find the galleries. You can browse the galleries on your own or you can view the art as a slideshow with or without "docent audio." (The educational sound clips accompany only an abbreviated form of the art galleries.)
In total, the artwork is separated into eleven different headings and is arranged in a much more straightforward way than the early Platinums' 3-dimensional "virtual galleries." The thumbnails don't do much good, since they're cropped to the point where you're seeing just a piece of the full art, but selecting any of them allows you to view it larger and you can then navigate through the full-sized images for each page.

The amount of artwork presented feels lighter than others, but that could be due to the age of the film. "Concept Art" (52 stills) holds some of the simplest and most evocative images. "Story Sketches" (37 stills) reveals the planning out of scenes much the way that storyboards are used today. There's an impressive level of detail in these, and a dash of color here and there too. "Color Keys and Backgrounds" are lumped together (35 stills); the former were used to establish the visual tone of the film and aren't particularly exciting, but the latter are pretty and easy to admire.

Five posters are just a small sampling of what there's been for Bambi, but that's all that is presented in the "Posters" gallery; two are from the original release, one from the 1988 theatrical reissue, and the other two from Holland and Mexico.

The "Character Design" offers individual galleries for Bambi (24 stills), Bambi's Mother and Father (9 stills), Flower (6), Friend Owl (15), Thumper (8), and Faline (5). From other bonus features, one suspects there may have been more to designing these characters, but what's here is interesting.

The final gallery, "Production Stills", is composed of 18 black-and-white photographs, which feature Walt and his animators at work, plus a couple depicting a theater decorated to exhibit Bambi.

The first listing on Page 2 of Backstage Disney is for "Tricks of the Trade", a 7-minute, 17-second excerpt from a February 1957 episode of Walt's Disneyland television program. The colorized sequence illustrates the usefulness of the multi-plane camera with footage of the recording of a Mickey Mouse cartoon. This highly informative piece succeeds with visual examples and Walt's charismatic explanations. Its inclusion is appropriate since the last few minutes deal with the opening of Bambi's wide use of the technique. But this is far from the first time we're seeing it on DVD; the episode appears in full on the out-of-print Walt Disney Treasure Behind the Scenes at the Disney Studio and in excerpts of differing lengths on Mickey Mouse in Living Color: Volume 2 and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Take a journey with Andreas Deja "Inside the Disney Archives." The Oscar-winning 1937 short "The Old Mill." The title screen from "Bambi"'s original theatrical trailer.

In "Inside the Disney Archives" (8:40), longtime Disney animator Andreas Deja (the artist behind Jafar and Scar, among others) takes us into the studio's Animation Research Library. There, he meets up with various researchers who show him some Bambi artwork from the vaults. With Doug, he takes a look at some story sketches for sequences that ultimately didn't make it into the film.
Then, he goes into a reading room and meets up with Vivian, who shows him visual development art and some character sketches. Next, he looks at some background plates with Ann. His journey ends with animation of Bambi that was cut. Along the way, Deja hypothesizes and explains some of what he's seeing. Overall, it's a very neat feature which makes one all the more eager to don a pair of white gloves and check out Disney's archives.

Next we get the 1937 Silly Symphony animated short "The Old Mill" (9 minutes). Why is this included, you may ask? Well, as the opening screen of notes explains, this cartoon was an important forerunner to Bambi, as it used several of the same subjects and techniques. It's noteworthy for being the first Disney production to make use of the patented multi-plane camera procedure to convey depth. Its depiction of realistic animals and experiments with elements of nature and weather provided successful tests for what would be achieved five years later in feature-length format. The short, which boasts a pretty clean and solid print, showcases frogs, crickets, reeds and others being musical on a windy night at a country windmill that turns into a thunderstorm. "The Old Mill" received the Academy Award for Best Animated Short, becoming the 6th winner in that category, all six being Disney cartoons.

The last listing on Disc 2 is for the Original Theatrical Trailer, something that was once the most basic DVD extra and now we're lucky to get at all. This 1942 trailer (2:11) is a good one, and it illustrates how the film was initially promoted to audiences. Naturally, it would have been interesting to see trailers from Bambi's various theatrical re-releases over the years, but one is infinitely better than none.

Disc 1's Main Menu Disc 2's Main Menu

MENUS and PACKAGING

All of the 4x3 menus make good use of Bambi's artistic style and backgrounds from the film are widely displayed. When animated, the menus remain elegant and subtle, and almost all of the selection screens are accompanied by portions of the film's score. An "Index" offered on each Disc serves almost no purpose, except that there's no animation or music to it. The selections on it match the regular menu selections exactly.

Bambi is housed in cardboard slipcover which opens like a book to provide some additional artwork and bonus features information. It's missing the normal velcro buttons to keep closed, and the sticky stuff doesn't always work so well. The slipcover's cover art extends to the spine, and so with a tree and some of Bambi's ear, it doesn't match the other single-colored spines of Disney's animated classics on DVD. Inside the slipcover is a standard-width black keepcase with those pesky side snaps to keep thieves out.

Inside the case, you'll find the Spring 2005 issue of Disney DVD Insider, a snazzy new case-sized publication. At 24 pages, it's somewhat like Disney Magazine with an emphasis on DVD releases. Chicken Little is on the cover and there are two pages devoted to this film. There are also some creative ideas for "Disney Movie Night", a recipe, and promotional previews for several upcoming Disney DVDs. A Lilo & Stitch comic, a trivia challenge, some special offers, and a guide to Easter Eggs on Disney DVD round out this fluffy, but fun little magazine. As the studio no longer publishes those seasonal catalogues of all their DVDs, this is a neat replacement and should be right up the alley of people who visit this site. The only problem is that a good amount of the release date information is dated or inaccurate. But hey, that's what UltimateDisney.com's for, right?

The "DVD Guide" booklet is an impressive 10 pages. The last page as usual provides information on the Platinum line, including the revelation that Lady and the Tramp will definitely be re-released to DVD on March 2006. Four pages provide an overview of the bonus features, and there's also a layout of extras, a list of scene selections, and a page on the all-new digital restoration.

Also inside the case is an unexpectedly light 8-page coupon booklet which doesn't really offer the "Thumperiffic Savings" it promises. It has a $2 coupon for the Pooh Disney Learning Adventures DVDs and some information on Bambi II.

The stag doth stand proud. Bambi and a "bird".

CLOSING THOUGHTS

As the fifth entry in the line, Bambi is a bit lighter in the way of content that previous Platinum Editions. That is in part due to the film's age and limited number of surviving cast and crew. Nonetheless, Bambi is an important and excellent film, one which represents the final chapter of the brilliant "Early Disney" period and which pushed animation forward with its innovative design and beautiful art.

Aside from historical significance and artistic achievement, Bambi also happens to be one terrific story.
The passing of sixty-three years has not rendered its unrelenting coming-of-age tale any less potent than it's ever been. Quite different in look and tone from other films from Walt's time, Bambi succeeds with a realism, sincerity, and wisdom in contrast to fairy tales and stark fantasy.

Picture and sound offer pretty much the highest quality they can, and this is certainly the most vibrant and vital that Bambi has been experienced on home video. The two standout bonus features are "Inside Walt's Story Meetings" on Disc 1, and Disc 2's "The Making of Bambi." These terrific supplements serve to recreate the film's production and acknowledge its legacy, respectively, and both offer plenty of insight. The "Games & Activities" section of Disc 2 is mostly a miss, with "DisneyPedia" and "Virtual Forest" being the only light entertainment worth checking out or returning to. In addition to the solid making-of documentary, "Backstage Disney" provides some quality featurettes on the film's restoration, the year 1942, and Disney's Archives. A classic, influential Disney short, a fair amount of production art, and a recycled piece on the multi-plane camera round out the slim, but satisfying offerings.

Overall, there's no reason for any Disney fan to contemplate not getting Bambi: Platinum Edition. This milestone in animation and storytelling has been anticipated on DVD for years. And it will no doubt disappear like the other Platinum Editions have. Do not hesitate to add this set to your collection. It goes right after Dumbo, and you'll then have (or should have, by now) Walt Disney's five earliest and perhaps best (or at least, most ambitious) animated films.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Related Interview:
Don Dunagan (voice of Bambi) talks with UltimateDisney.com

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)

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.