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Bambi II DVD Review

Buy Bambi II from Amazon.com Bambi II
Movie & DVD Details

Director: Brian Pimental

Voice Cast: Patrick Stewart (The Great Prince), Alexander Gould (Bambi), Keith Ferguson (Friend Owl), Brendon Baerg (Thumper), Nickey Jones (Flower), Andrea Bowen (Faline), Anthony Ghannam (Ronno), Makenna Cowgill, Emma Rose Lima, Ariel Winter (Thumper's Sisters), Brian Pimental (Groundhog, Porcupine), Carolyn Hennesy (Bambi's Mother), Cree Summer (Mena)

Songs: "Love is a Song", "There is Life", "Let's Sing a Gay Little Spring Song", "First Sign of Spring", "Through Your Eyes", "The Healing of a Heart"

Running Time: 72 Minutes / Rating: G
1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
DTS 5.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned

DVD Release Date: February 7, 2006
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Black Keepcase with Embossed, Holographic Cardboard Slipcover

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In cinema, there is generally a window of at most ten years in which a satisfying sequel can be made to a popular film. If any more time than that passes, the odds are against you. Sometimes, if the tardy sequel adapts to the times and changes focus well enough, things can turn out okay (see The Hustler and The Color of Money, as well as, to some degree, the first two The Parent Trap movies, both pairs separated by 25 years). More often, though, what you end up with is some feeble attempt to recapture the glory of a past era (see The Godfather, Part III or Chinatown sequel The Two Jakes, each arriving after a 16-year lull).

Sixty-four years have passed since Bambi opened in theaters, bringing change to just about everything about animated filmmaking. As far as I can tell, this is the largest gap between a movie and its sequel in motion picture history. That makes Bambi, Thumper, Flower, Friend Owl, Faline, and the Great Prince the longest-dormant film characters to be reawakened. Disney has been creating direct-to-video sequels for twelve years, so the fact that we are now getting Bambi II isn't quite as surprising as it could have been. Still, Bambi is the oldest narrative film in the studio's canon to be tapped for a follow-up, and as one of Walt's earliest and most revered masterpieces, Disney should brace themselves for some high expectations and tough critics. If the studio can be so bold as to plaster the title Bambi II on a holographic slipcover holding a
movie that only is getting theatrical release overseas, then they have to accept the double-edged reality of the situation. On the one hand, they get to market their film on the strengths of a widely-adored and indelibly-remembered classic. On the other, they have to live up to that classic, which, based on the unsteady but improving track record of DisneyToon Studios (the place that churns out these animated sequels), would seem to set them up for certain disappointment.

That Bambi II doesn't leave you ripping out your hair and shouting bad words can qualify it as a success to some degree. The movie's biggest problem seems to be that it is Bambi II and therefore it must aspire to the high artistic levels of the final chapter in Walt's most productive and enduring period of cartoon features. Though the filmmakers do seem to have been conscious of this fact and have made considerable efforts to serve their hefty goal, the simplicity and potency of Bambi has unsurprisingly not been recaptured here.

"Bambi II" was originally titled "Bambi and the Great Prince of the Forest", a more accurate title. Is that really Bambi's Mother calling him?

Bambi II is actually a "midquel", which means its action takes place within the chronology of the first film, in a period we did not previously observe. This movie picks up right after Bambi's mother has been shot, which if you remember the first film vividly, did indeed leave a gap that could have been filled before abruptly jumping ahead to the following spring when Bambi and his friends have matured. Starting here makes sense, as there seems to be more storytelling potential in Bambi's coming-of-age than in picking up where Bambi left off. Conveniently enough, it also gives us the more marketable and more identifiable incarnations of the cast. (And really, how many sets of pajamas do you see featuring Adult Bambi?)

The motherless young fawn will need another doe to help raise him, but the Great Prince of the Forest learns that Friend Owl won't be able to find a surrogate mother until spring, leaving the reticent royal to watch over his offspring for the remainder of the winter. This strained father/son relationship lays the groundwork for the film and sequences like one early on where the un-fun dad interrupts Bambi's maternal reminiscences to dispatch such advice as "leave the past in the past."

Things proceed in an episodic fashion just as they did in the original film. When Bambi isn't fumbling to please his father and the Great Prince isn't at a loss to understand his son, the young fawn finds himself in the forest accompanied by plenty of familiar old faces. There are Bambi's two best friends, the innocently mischievous bunny rabbit Thumper and the shy skunk Flower, as well as Faline, the only female fawn around who, of course, serves as thoughtful romantic interest to our young hero. Whereas in the last outing, the scenes involving these characters triggered such discoveries as speech, mobility, friendship, and love, the adventures here are far less epic. The gang gathers around a burrow and turns to a groundhog to gauge when spring will arrive. (Yes, woodland creatures apparently celebrate Groundhog Day too.) They try to overcome a pesky porcupine blocking a log bridge. And they meet a brazen new deer named Ronno, a villain more formulaic (and visible) than Man who has named his budding antlers.

So the big question on everybody's lips - their chapped lips - is does Phil feel lucky? The Great Prince wonders "Are you gonna go my way?"

By and large, Bambi II feels like a retread without the emotional strength or obviously the originality. Just about everything from the first film resurfaces here, even if it doesn't really fit. In place of creativity, further elements are borrowed from The Lion King, a film derivative in structure of Bambi.
You can be certain that Thumper gets to cite his father's advice and throw in a little subversion. Likewise, you can bet that Bambi's mother makes a haloed appearance at some point. Attempts at modern humor mostly falter, but at least they do not belie the setting by turning the film into something un-Bambi-like.

The two dramatic goals of this story are for Bambi to summon bravery and to connect with his father. Both are treated casually until the end in favor of individual set pieces. Bambi is widely noted as a film with universal appeal and one which adults may even be more apt to appreciate than (potentially frightened) young viewers. As is usual for a DisneyToon Studios sequel, Bambi II aims lower, primarily seeking to please kids who might not yet be old enough to handle the DVD remote control on their own. (Thank you, FastPlay!) The difference in tone is not as drastic as, say, Tarzan versus Tarzan II, and open-minded adults may indeed find some things to like, if out of nothing more than its callbacks to its predecessor. But whereas Bambi may have been overly cute in places, Bambi II seems cute for cuteness's sake and accordingly, it does not convey things as well, for those either in or out of its target demographic.

This sequel scores a few points for one mildly clever/harrowing sequence in its first half and a few jokes which are funnier if you know the original well. Bambi's shortage of words has given in to an abundance of dialogue here, ensuring that there are few blanks left for audiences to fill in. The voice cast does not necessarily demand more lines, either. Patrick Stewart's performance as the Great Prince is very one-note, a note which wavers between grouchiness and pomposity, fairly consistent to the hardly-seen character in the original film. Brendon Baerg, who can receive some slack for being about five when the voice was recorded, does make Thumper annoying at times, as opposed to his previous air of aw-shucks cuteness. In the title role, Alexander Gould performs admirably enough, inserting youthful curiosity into this role much as he did for his previous voicing of Finding Nemo's Nemo.

A crotchety porcupine is one of Bambi's most formidable obstacles. "Bambi II"'s colorful climax somehow seems familiar.

The original Bambi advanced animation to an unprecedented degree of realism. The same cannot be said for Bambi II. The animation style of the original is not emulated particularly well, despite that apparently being the goal. The visuals depicting the forest settings are convincing and quite impressive, much in the vein of the original's look. Character animation, fine though it may be, is clearly on a direct-to-video feature budget. The prevailing sterile look clashes with the undoubtedly man-made and yet more realistic animation of the original film. Computer-generated imagery (CGI) has been liberally implemented to aid the traditionally animated world of Bambi II; in most instances, this stands out to some degree. One exception is in the antlers of the Great Prince, which were apparently a great challenge to the makers of the original Bambi, but are blended seamlessly with the rest of the world here.

On its own merits, Bambi II isn't a bad movie, but it feels wrong on many levels. The production fails to blaze enough new trails to make it seem a necessary project. It forgets the role that nature played -- as a character, more than mere setting -- in the original, and instead provides an impractical coming-of-age story. The plot may appeal to children, especially those who have lost a mother, but it doesn't feel more fulfilling than other lacking young protagonist tales that DisneyToon Studios has given us in the past year like Pooh's Heffalump Movie and Tarzan II. Even if this chapter in Bambi's life seems to fit chronologically, consideration of the subsequent periods seen in Bambi reveal inconsistencies. Have Bambi and The Great Prince both forgotten everything they learned from this outing, as encapsulated in the obligatory bonding montage? Finally, it's pretty disappointing when you can find more genuine emotion in Lilo & Stitch 2 than in Bambi's traditionally haunting world.

Bambi and his old man observe the forest. Who needs the horrors of mankind when you have an kid with 'tude and named antler buds.

VIDEO and AUDIO

For its numerous faults as a piece of cinema, Bambi II does not disappoint in the DVD technical arenas. Presented, like all of today's DisneyToon Studios creations are, in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, the film boasts immaculate picture quality. As already stated in the movie portion, the sterile computer-aided visuals cannot compare with the more aesthetically pleasing (and realistic) look of the original film.

Bambi & Bambi II Posters & Photos:



More Bambi and Bambi II Memorabilia
But taken at face value, they are dutifully presented on disc with hardly a flaw. Well, some color banding on the Great Prince's body was noticed on a couple of occasions, but I'm skeptical to think faulty mastering could be blamed for this phenomenon. Otherwise, colors are lush (a little darker than Bambi's), bright, and pleasing. Edge enhancement is minimally found via scrutiny, while sharpness is just right and the element is expectedly pristine.

Those with capabilities and care should opt for the DTS soundtrack, which deserves praise for its superb sound design. This active and potent soundtrack does put you in the middle of Bambi's forest, with fine use of all the channels. Whether it's a rainstorm late in the movie, a hunter's appearance early on, or simply daytime in the forest, the movie always conveys its environments in a dramatically stellar fashion with regards to sound. Bruce Broughton's score employs some of the original film's music; there is a recurring instrumental theme of "Love is a Song." While it's not as disarming as the predecessor's music, it serves the story well. The same cannot be said for the country-flavored pop tunes which appear twice during the movie and twice during the end credits. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track offered is plenty effective too; it comes in at a lower volume than the DTS alternative, but delivers much of the same potency.

Director Brian Pimental and producer Jim Ballantine talk about their work in the boldly-titled featurette "The Legacy Continues." With brilliant nuggets like this, "Bambi's Trivia Tracks" guarantees a unique repeat viewing opportunity. One of the many places you can look for Thumper in "Thumper's Hurry and Scurry."

BONUS FEATURES

Though its title is questionable and it runs only 8 minutes and 15 seconds, the making-of featurette "The Legacy Continues" is about as satisfying a look at production as one could hope for on a direct-to-video Disney sequel,
which doesn't say too much. The focus of this piece falls mostly on Bambi II's animation and voice cast. To serve the former, we see animation consultant Andreas Deja and company observing deer up close outdoors and someone using a mouse to "hand-paint" the digital backgrounds. As for the latter, we hear from Patrick Stewart (whose British accent again suggests a legitimacy to this project), director Brian Pimental (who also voiced two supporting characters), and most frequently, young cast members Brendon Baerg (Thumper) and Alexander Gould (Bambi, though more notably, Nemo). "Legacy" contains more than a couple of moments that may bewilder/frustrate/unintentionally amuse, but it probably makes a wise decision by not lingering on the idea that this movie is in the spirit and style of the original.

Next is "Bambi's Trivia Tracks", a feature-length pop-up subtitle which offers facts on Bambi II's production, the real animals in the cast, story elements, and such. The tidbits flow at a pretty steady rate, revealing writing and performing credits for songs, techniques that went into the animation, and plenty more. Though they are strategically positioned to complement not overshadow the on-screen action, they are far from perfect in this regard. The track attempts to be amusing at times, and even if it won't have you bursting into laughter, it's far from dry and certainly does make the prospect of a repeat viewing more appealing and rewarding.

"Thumper's Hurry and Scurry" is a basic tot-oriented game in which the viewer ("being" Thumper's sisters) try to find the bouncy rabbit by moving around the forest and "looking" behind rocks, trees, and such. With about three spots to search per scene and four directions to move from each scene, the number of hiding places seems limitless, which can quickly drive the young player mad. There is also the option to have two players, one hider and one seeker, but this is no substitute for the real "Hide and Seek" which will get you exercise, fresh air, and fun beyond pressing your DVD remote's arrow buttons.

"Disney Sketch Pad" (3:42) finds Deja at his home studio, briefly talking about animation and then taking the viewer step-by-step through drawing Thumper. While it's clearly geared towards ambitious kids, it's always fairly interesting to see a professional artist at work. The final extra, the DVD's lone DVD-ROM component, ties into this. Placing the disc inside a computer's DVD-ROM drive brings up a menu with three options: "Play Video" (I'm assuming this cues the already-seen Deja segment, but it wouldn't load for me), "Step-By-Step Instructions" which colorfully demonstrates each stage of a Thumper drawing, and "Printable Instructions" which provides basically the same thing (without excessive color to drain your ink cartridge) in a tidy, 10-page PDF document so that you don't have to sit at the computer while doodling.

You can draw Thumper with the help of veteran Disney animator Andreas Deja. Forget Deja and do it by reading with the DVD-ROM component of "Disney Sketch Pad." With "Bambi II", you'll get one of two menu schemes at random. Thumper appears in this spring version of the Main Menu.

MENUS and PACKAGING

Like most recent Disney DVDs, the disc opens with promos
for Lady and the Tramp: Platinum Edition and The Disney Channel Movie Surfers' inside looks at The Wild and The Shaggy Dog, while a brand new preview for Brother Bear 2 follows. As this DVD is "enhanced with Disney's FastPlay" like all direct-to-video sequels nowadays are, you will be treated to a second set of sneak peeks after the movie if you do not choose to leave the FastPlay loop. Those additional promos, which are, as usual, accessible from a dedicated menu, provide a first glimpse at this summer's sixth Air Bud movie AirBuddies, as well as returning trailers for The Fox and the Hound 2, Pooh's Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin, Leroy & Stitch, and "JoJo's Circus" on Playhouse Disney.

The 16x9-enhanced Main Menu opens with a video clip of the groundhog emerging from his burrow. Cleverly enough, if the furry guy sees his shadow and retreats, you move on to an environment where snow falls Thumper hops up all over the place (presumably hiding from his sisters). If not, then you get the spring-themed menus, where green figures prominently but Thumper still turns up (as do Bambi and a butterfly) around the main selection screen. Outside of a single brief transition (which is either snowy or springy, based on what theme you get), no other animation is to be found in the menus, but each is accompanied by appropriate imagery and instrumentation from this sequel. While the menus are not particularly inspired, the random assignment and unannounced two sets of screens (a Disney first, I believe) surely deserve kudos, though I wonder if many will notice and appreciate it.

Another recent direct-to-video sequel tradition upheld is the cardboard slipcover, which here replicates the case artwork with one minor change, while adding a fourth side and a gaping cutout allowing the UPC to show through. As unnecessary as this extra cardboard may be, it adds an eye-catching touch of green-based holography to the front and back covers. There's not much worth noting inside the keepcase: an 8-page booklet promotes Bambi and Bambi II-related merchandise (ranging from Random House books to pricey USPS wares) and offers a $3 coupon for Bambi (which you should already have if you're browsing these inserts!), a 4-page booklet boasting a discounted subscription to Disney's Family Fun magazine, and, finally, a two-sided insert lists the 16 scene selection titles and provides overview of the five included bonus features.

Bambi turns to his two faithful friends. Big rings and little rings: The Great Prince and Bambi walk through water.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

If artistry is to be among the goals of a DisneyToon Studios direct-to-video production, then Bambi II illustrates how some movies in Disney's canon are simply too sacred to merit a worthy follow-up. Surely, many will buy this DVD and enjoy it, but those truly fond of Bambi are apt to consider this an unnecessary and unfulfilling cash-in on the original's popularity, which is in every way inferior to its predecessor. There is no doubt about it that Bambi II would be easier to swallow if it wasn't called Bambi II and if it posed our introductions to these characters. But it would still not be a great movie and in order for this to be an original creation, one of the finest animated masterpieces of all time would have to be erased from the record. Instead, this sequel offers, at best, callbacks to the original's wit and wisdom plus less extraordinary activities for its beloved characters.

As their visuals and sophistication in storytelling continue to be furthered, DisneyToon Studios would do well to explore original subjects instead of merely retreading old, highly-esteemed ground. Sure, such an original project would be tougher to market and perhaps less likely to sell well, but what self-respecting animation house can be willing to settle for uninventive filmmaking purely for the sake of profit? One possible explanation for diminishing sales numbers on recent DTV projects might be attributed to a public that isn't mindless and demands more to its animated movies than twist-premised tales and tot-pandering. Of course, a majority of last year's bulky DTV slate offered considerably better viewing than the early works that turned the operation into one of the Mouse's most profitable divisions, but that's where this hypothesis falls apart, aside from the backup explanation that many customers may have abandoned the class altogether due to its past missteps.

As a DVD, Bambi II delivers top-notch picture and sound that can certainly lead to the emission of "oohs" and "aahs." Its extras are as sparse as any direct-to-video creation of the past year and are clearly tailored to younger viewers, but the Trivia Tracks feature at least provides an interesting second viewing and the featurette offers a glimpse into the misguided creation process.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com

As part of an aggressive hit-and-run sales tactic, Bambi II DVDs were only be produced for 70 days. On Tuesday, April 18th, 2006, it headed back into Disney's proverbial vault and once stores run out of copies, you'll be forced to...look on Amazon Marketplace, eBay, and such. So if you're planning on buying it new without any reservations, you may not want to hesitate.

Related Reviews:
Bambi (1942) Lilo & Stitch 2 (2005) Tarzan II (2005) Mulan II (2005) Brother Bear 2 (2006)
Cinderella III: A Twist in Time (2007) Kronk's New Groove (2005) The Lion King 1 1/2 (2004)
Finding Nemo (2003) Pooh's Heffalump Halloween Movie (2005) The Lion King II: Simba's Pride (1998)
The Three Musketeers (2004) Winnie the Pooh: Springtime with Roo (2004) Pinocchio (1940)
The Return of Jafar (1994) & Aladdin and the King of Thieves (1996) (Aladdin II & III Collection)
Timeless Tales: Volume Three Funny Factory With Mickey Sing Along Songs: The Bare Necessities
Desperate Housewives: The Complete First Season (2004-05) Desperate Housewives: The Complete Second Season (2005-06)

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Reviewed January 26, 2006.