Bambi is a film with a big reputation. And some of these reputations are completely contradictory. For many it is a traumatizing film of their childhood. Too dark, intense, real and scary and one they never liked as much as the more non-threatening disney movies (ie the ones where mom doesn't die). For many others it is the worst of Disney, the companies most kiddy friendly film since it is nothing but talking animals. I've often heard that Bambi has created more vegetarians than any other film. I've also often heard scorn heaped upon it for romanticizing dumb animals and making hunting villainous. It's a rare thing for someone to actually approach the film Bambi without agenda.
Bambi was supposed to be a lot more intense. The film was in production for longer than any other Disney production up until that time. It began production shortly after Walt began production on Snow White (1935 or thereabouts) but wound up being not his second or third film, but his fourth. And even then the film was severely truncated. When the war broke out in Europe and cut Walt's knees off in terms of turning a profit (most of Disney's profit came from international/european market) he had to slash Bambi's budget and ambitions. And what had been a nearly two hour length film became an 80 minute film. The biggest cut of all was the death of Thumper in the forest fire. And the forest fire sequence itself was cut down to half of what it was slated to be.
Still, even without these sequences, Bambi remains one of Walt's most astonishing films. Animators that look critically at the film are flabbergasted at the caliber of the achievement. the naturalism and movements of the animals are spot on, the amount of character work in any of the characters is beyond gorgeous and the backgrounds are so detailed, perfect and complete that The disney company used them over and over again in their sixties and seventies films such as Sword and the Stone and Robin Hood (and no one critically noticed, though many in house old hand animators were furious at the repurposing). I even used the tracking shot of a stream during the opening, "april showers" in a music video esque montage short film I made in college. The response was to ask, where'd I shoot that gorgeous forest footage. When I said it was animated and from Bambi people were flabbergasted. Taken out of context the image quality of this film is as superb as it comes.
Yet despite all that, or perhaps because of it, people never notice how good it is. So technically I love this film, and I also think that storywise it's one of Disney's strongest. Additionally it's also better, as a story, than the original novel. Although the novel was more realist in its approach to forest life, the film perfectly distills the themes, story and emotional impact of the book and improves upon them. The film also adds more anthropomorphic qualities to the characters, but in many ways this use of animation adds depth to the characters, it gives them quirks and an accessible quality that makes them more significant to us than the way it plays out in the book. Depth, perhaps, is the wrong word, though. Iconicism is perhaps a better word, but it's not a flattening iconicism, because you're getting more, just one that is slightly exaggerated for emphasis, much in the manner of the best animation. Disney creates iconography wholecloth, and he's possibly one of the most prolific progenitors of iconography of the last 100 years or so, and pretty much no one is nearly as good at it as he was. That's his trademark stamp, and it reaches across all the media he produced over his career, film, television, print, radio and into virtually every genre--and Bambi is one of the best representations of his style and storytelling at the very peak of his achievements. Bambi is a film that is very much worthy of a revisit by everyone.
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