Disney’s ‘Bambi’ remains a stunning animation classic

Disney's classic 'Bambi' gets the DVD treatment
Disney’s classic ‘Bambi’ gets the DVD treatment

I believe the last time I had seen Bambi, I was five years old and saw it during a re-release or special screening. It was probably the first time I had seen the movie, as well. So, when I was sent the upcoming special edition DVD — which is set to hit stores on Tuesday — it was as if I was seeing the film for the first time.

First and foremost, I’ve repeatedly been impressed with the DVDs Disney has put out of its most treasured classics. They really are shining examples of how films should be released (and I’m not just saying that because I get advanced peaks at these DVDs). And this “platinum edition” of Bambi is probably the single best release of a classic Disney film yet.

I’m not just talking about the restoration, which is quite impressive. The vibrant colors and crisp images are simply stunning. Even the audio get the red carpet treatment, with a brand new 5.1 mix. I attended a presentation a few weeks back that detailed how much work the folks at Disney put into restoring Bambi, and while the few scenes they highlighted were great, watching the entire feature really allows you to see just how much the film has prospered from its makeover.

The preservation of classic films is probably the most important thing Hollywood and its machinations need to concern themselves with these days, and I must applaud Disney’s work here.

Bambi was not only a success with fans, but an important step forward in animation. The artwork was greatly improved over anything that Disney had produced before, with more realistic movement and characters that ushered in a new era.

The movie itself is pretty simplistic, with only a few scenes with any dialogue. It’s a combination of many of the styles of shorts that Disney had produced before, with scenes that utilized music to traditional character interaction and story.

At the beginning, Bambi is born, and introduced to the other creatures in the forest. As he grows we meet the cuddily critters that would become his friends, such as Thumper the rabbit and Flower the skunk. As Bambi learns about the forest, mostly through the teachings of his mother, he discovers the dangers of man.

Tragically, his mother is killed by hunters, and he is raised by his father. Fast forward to a young adult Bambi, he returns to the forest of his youth and is reintroduced to his friends. He soon finds a mate, and survives a deadly forest fire to start a family of his own.

The concept of the “circle of life” that was so integral to Disney’s The Lion King started with Bambi. In fact, The Lion King was pitched as Bambi in Africa. And while the story isn’t nearly as complex, it’s pretty easy to see how this animated classic became such a hit. It’s sweet, touching, sad and hopeful. It not only spans the emotional spectrum, but does so with such precision.

Although the restored version of Bambi is the main feature of this DVD, what I found to be the most interesting was the extra, “Bambi: Inside Walt’s Story Meetings”. This is probably the closest you’ll get to an audio commentary of a classic film as you’re likely to hear.

According to Disney, this feature was created using recently discovered transcripts of Walt Disney’s story meetings regarding Bambi. They are word-for-word notes of what was said and who was there. The feature casts actors in the roles of the different speakers and the audio plays over a collection of clips from the movie, as well as storyboard drawings and other artwork from the film’s production.

Listening to Walt and the other animators and creators talk about the story, how it was created and its characters, is really pretty interesting. Watching a collection of talking heads discuss how the film was produced is always fun, I suppose, but to hear Walt’s ideas and feelings about the film from the man himself is really fascinating.

Generally, audio commentaries are my favorite feature on any DVD, and in this case this is about the best you’ll likely get. Although not a traditional commentary, it serves the same purpose.

The other behind-the-scenes docs are pretty good, as well. One thing I thought was a short and clever piece was the “Disney Time Capsule: 1942, the Year of Bambi”, which briefly examines what was going on in the United States when the film was released. It helps provide a little more context so viewers can better understand and appreciate the movie itself.

Two deleted scenes can also be found here, but I’m not sure they are all that interesting. And while the games and activities bits are cute, I honestly don’t get why games need to be included on a DVD. But not being a kid, I suppose that feature isn’t really targeted at me.

Overall, this is probably one of the best DVD releases I’ve seen in quite some time for a classic film.

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