Precisely developed, painstakingly drawn and still gorgeous, “Bambi,” previously unavailable on DVD, remains as meaningful and masterful as ever. Walt Disney’s most daring work (at the time), for its portrayal of death, it holds up gracefully as classic artwork while still delivering an emotional punch. The remixed sound enables Frank Churchill Edward Plumb’s music to glide, and the frame-by-frame restoration allows the colors to breathe again, as if it were released merely a decade ago — or even more recently.
But it was 1942, and it became one of the highest grossing films that year (it has since made $102 million domestically).
From the first forest frame onward, pic, directed by David Hand, has a pastoral and symphonic feel enriched by the characters’ voices, wonderfully rendered change of seasons and thorough attention to nature’s nuances. Two key moments reveal the importance of remastering: a snowstorm halfway in made even more fluttery and feathery and the penultimate scene’s raging fire, ever more passionate and indicative of the studio’s thereafter fascination with heroism in the face of peril.
On the bells-and-whistles front, it’s a hoot to hear from the grown-up men who voiced Bambi (Donald Dunagan) and Thumper (Peter Behn). Indicative of the times, only 100 people auditioned for some of the bigger roles — surely if a casting call were held today, thousands of kids and their showbiz moms would go nuts.
Also nicely executed is a feature titled the Art of Bambi, which includes a quickie trip through sketches, concept drawings and marketing posters. What doesn’t quite work is a cheesy (and long) Patrick Stewart-led feature on Walt’s story meetings and staff discussions recreated from the production’s archive notes.
Watching “Bambi” and, for that matter, anything from Disney’s aging animated library today is crucial. View any other cel title from TV or movies today and everything already looks crude and/or dated. Popular kiddie fare like “SpongeBob SquarePants,” basic anime and relatively fresh toon entries “Atlantis” and “Anastasia” shrink in comparison to the overall spirit and sweetness that early Disney pics represent. And while the CGI revolution has generated stashes of cash, the emotional connection is rarely as strong.
It all smacks of so long ago, which is exactly the point: Watching Disney classics and learning about their journey to screen is as vital a part of cinema history as any exercise today. And it’s an essential reminder to any animator who dreams of becoming a bigshot — don’t forget to study the classics.