Walt Disney opened the vein of fear that drives children and adults alike with his animated classic films. Disney understood, like the Grimms before him, that the same fears are at the heart of what motivate children as they do adults. In the uncertain and haunted world of the 40's where war and loss hung like a specter stalking every aspect of American life, Disney mined that vein of fear, loss and death and turned it on its head recognizing that the optimism and can-do attitude of the American dream could triumph but not undo the nightmares of the past. That's why Walt's films continue to resonate today even with fancy computer animated effects and larger than life villains. He knew that the worst monsters could be our next door neighbors. Disney adapted a modern sensibility to the same fears that the Grimms paraded in their tales.
That's why "Bambi" despite its pacing from a slower, less attention challenged era still has power and poignancy. As a kid everything you need to know about life can be learned from a Walt Disney film. The loss of innocence, the cruelty of others, the compassion of friends and the big "D" all crop up in every Disney film. It's ironic because Disney's films, unlike other animators of the time, weren't afraid to tackle the very things that both scared and delighted kids. The two big themes that figure in Disney films rear their heads in "Bambi" when death and the cruel world outside try to erase Bambi's innocence from existence. We're immediately thrown into Bambi's world and his life with his mom. When Bambi's mom is killed he becomes an orphan adopted by his new found friends Thumper and Flower. Kids will love the interaction between these characters. While the film's pacing may be a tad slow for children below the age of six used to the rapid fire editing of "Aladdin" and more recent Disney classics, the colorful landscape and the delightful characters will keep most children entranced.
Featuring a terrific restoration, "Bambi" has never looked better on DVD. Like many films of the era "Bambi" was shot on nitrate stock which disintegrates fairly rapidly over time so the miracle here is that it looks as good as it does (due to careful care) and the magic of digital technology. The images sparkle with a crystal clear image almost too perfect. The rich color, deep dark blacks and detail in the images are truly astonishing. The remastered sound makes fairly good use of the 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround medium as well. Given that the original film's soundtrack was mono, the surround speakers are used surprisingly well. You'll have to reset your expectations though as this 60 year old film wasn't designed with any of our home theater equipment in mind.
"Bambi" has a forest full of extras in this two disc set. The most important extras on the first DVD is the comparison between the finished film along side images from story meetings, script notes, surviving production drawings and other items that give you a sense of the preparation that went into making this animated classic. We get to see the amazing restoration process for the film itself from the cleaning of the original nitrate negative (stored at the Library of Congress) to the expansion of the original soundtrack for home theater equipment and movie theater exhibition. There's also the classic award winning animated short "The Old Mill". Again, many of Disney's cartoons from the 30's and 40's don't have the manic energy we've come to expect in our post-Looney Tunes/Animanics world but the quieter, slower qualities are actually appealing after one too many frantic animated adventure. "Tricks of the Trade" was originally shot for the Disney's TV show in the 50's and takes us behind-the-scenes allowing us to see the difficult and time consuming process of making animated feature films before the advent of computers. "The Art of Bambi" allows us in the Disney archive to see the surviving preproduction artwork, design elements and storyboards. "Disney Time Capsule" provides viewers with a glimpse into the world that spawned "Bambi". "The Forest Adventure Game" will be entertaining for most children over the age of six as it may take a bit too much skill for anyone below that age to master. There's also two surviving deleted scenes (which is a surprise given the age of the film but Disney is nothing if not methodical). We learn a bit about America during World War II and the type of society that America was creating for itself. "Bambi's Forest Friends" focuses on how deer live in the wild. We also get the original theatrical trailer (which provides an interesting contrast to the restored film). Most of these extras will be of interest more to the adults that grew up watching "Bambi" in theaters, on TV and early home video.
An engaging film from another era that still has tremendous power and is entertaining, "Bambi" has never looked this spry before. I imagine that this DVD looks better than the original release did in the 1940's as resolution and theater standards were quite different then.
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