Before The Lion King, Bambi was Disney’s story of the circle of life. Disney has finally released Bambi on DVD in glorious restored Technicolor with a package of extra features intended to please audiences of all ages. The movie itself is a mixed bag — the shifts in tone between cuteness and tragedy are awkward at times. Still, it’s hard not to be a little charmed by the woodland creatures and their gorgeous, forest home.
The Deer King
- The Making of Bambi
- Restoring Bambi
- Disney Time Capsule: 1942 The Year of Bambi
- The Art of Bambi
- Tricks of the Trade excerpt
- Inside Walt's Story Meetings
- The Old Mill animated short
- Games and Activities
- Bambi's Forest Friends
- Deleted Scenes
Bambi, quite simply, is the story of the first two years in the life of a deer, from his first, awkward steps, to adulthood and responsibility. Bambi and his friends live in an idealized forest of misty glades, waterfalls and a profusion of flowers. It’s a place where the wise old owl lives peacefully with chipmunks and squirrels.
The setting and animals easily draw the audience in. It’s all very, very cute, but the process of growing up gives the story some substance. Just when we’re feeling comfortable with this nice little story, the filmmakers stir things up. Bambi loses his mother to Man, the movie’s only predator. The Man-caused peril continues in the movie’s second half, giving Bambi the survival skills he will need to take the place of his father, The Great Prince of the Forest.
Peaks and Valleys
At times, the filmmakers try too hard to balance the peaks and valleys. Consider the moments after mother dies: young Bambi sheds a tear and walks off into thickening snowfall with his father, the movie then cuts to a bright spring scene with chirping birds and a peppy song on the soundtrack. It’s a jarring transition. I didn’t want to dwell on the sadness, but I wasn’t quite ready to be jerked back into cheerfulness either.
Give the animators credit for maintaining the movie’s look. The impressionistic, painted backgrounds mesh well with the more cartoonish elements in the foreground. The movie does a good job in matching the shifting visual and emotional tones. When Bambi frolics with his girlfriend, the forest turns into a cloudscape. In a clash with a romantic rival, the figures become black with hints of color around the edges – a dramatic portrait of raging hormones. These may not be the most subtle visual devices, but they are effective.
As with other DVDs of Disney classics, there is a wide range of features on this two-disc set. Disc Two has a Games and Activities section for kids. Other features go into a detailed examination of the creative and technical processes behind the film. As usual the self-promotion is relentless.
A behind-the-scenes featurette on Disc Two has no shortage of interviewees who are happy to talk about why they love the movie. The celebratory tone continues in Restoring Bambi, a five-minute short, about the restoration of the film from the original nitrate negative stored at the Library of Congress. Some split screen comparisons show the difference between the original negative and the new print, but there’s very little information about how the actual restoration was done. It’s no coincidence that this feature is hosted by Patrick Stewart, who provides the voice of Bambi’s father in an upcoming straight-to-video sequel.
Bambi: Inside Walt’s Story Meetings, on Disc One, has actors reading transcripts of story meetings between Walt Disney and the filmmakers. This recording is played over the entire movie, much like an audio commentary track. Photos, sketches and images from other Disney films are also added to give a more complete look at making of the film.
Covering the technical aspects is a segment from The Wonderful World of Disney television show about the multiplane camera, which was used to shoot Bambi. This camera, which was first developed by Disney studios, has several planes on which different elements of the image can be placed. This allows scenes to have a greater depth. Also on this disc is The Old Mill, a 1937 short that was the first film to use this camera.
Picture and Sound
The picture is great, no doubt aided by the digital restoration of the film. For sound, viewers can choose between Disney’s Enhanced Home Theater Mix or a restored theatrical mono soundtrack. Both sounded quite good. Viewers accustomed to stereo will probably prefer that option. French and Spanish surround sound are also available.