Expect boffo biz for “Bambi II,” even though the made-for-vid sequel is conspicuously short on the visual splendor and gentle enchantment that have made the original 1942 animated feature such an enduring classic. New pic is bound to please the target aud of tykes who want to spend additional time with the beloved toon characters. Kid-centric appeal and iconographic brand name should be enough to generate record sales to parents seeking squeaky-clean entertainment for their young offspring. Action may intensify as potential buyers learn Disney will enforce a sales moratorium on “Bambi II” 70 days after its Feb. 7 street date.
Yet another product of the Mouse Factory’s DisneyToons Studios, the lightly amusing but unremarkable sequel kicked off a limited theatrical run Feb. 1 in key overseas markets, beginning with France, Germany and Benelux countries. But “Bambi II” appears much better suited for home-screen consumption, given the stark contrast between the still-stunning 1942 original — arguably the very best of its kind ever shepherded by Uncle Walt himself — and the follow-up which has the brightly bland look common to Disney’s second-tier vidpic sequels.
Plotwise, new toon isn’t so much a follow-up as an add-on. Working from a story by Jeanne Rosenberg and helmer Brian Pimental, scripter Alicia Kirk begins with the dramatic highpoint of the ’42 classic — the jolting off-screen death of young Bambi’s mother — and details misadventures that could have earned the vidpic an alternative title: “Bambi: The Lost Years.”
The Great Prince (voiced by Patrick Stewart), Bambi’s father, initially chafes at the burden of bringing up his son. He doesn’t feel it’s proper that his royal duties include being a nurturing parent. Indeed, as far as he’s concerned, Bambi (an effective Alexander Gould) would be better off in the care of a foster doe — because, hey, raising children is a woman’s job, right?
Gradually, however, the Great Prince warms to the idea of personally teaching the callow fawn how take command, “feel the forest” and behave like a true heir apparent. Bambi eagerly strives to follow in his father’s hoofprints, even as he struggles to overcome timidity, clumsiness — and the occasional flash of paralyzing panic. (Insert joke about “deer in the headlights” here.)
But it’s hard for a dear deer like Bambi to transform himself into a truly princely figure. And it’s even harder when his best efforts are cruelly jeered by Ronno (Anthony Ghannam), a belligerent fawn who talks trash: “Bambi? Isn’t that a girl’s name?”
Thumper (Brendon Baerg), a playful rabbit, and Flower (Nicky Jones), a dreamy skunk, are among the familiar characters making welcome returns. (Bambi’s late mom, voiced by Carolyn Hennesy, appears in fantasy sequence to offer advice that sounds suspiciously like “The Circle of Life” from “The Lion King.”) Except for Bambi himself, however, the most appealing character on view is the Great Prince, who’s given much more to do here than in the original. Stewart’s ace vocal performance neatly balances gravitas and melancholy, paternal love and demanding authority.
Unlike the first “Bambi,” a model of leisurely classicism, “Bambi II” strives for a brisker pace and, occasionally, a more contemporary rambunctiousness. Pre-schoolers may giggle, but their parents may be miffed when vidpic intros flatulence jokes involving Flower.
Soundtrack includes original tunes pleasingly performed by country music stars Martina McBride (“Show Me How the World Looks Through Your Eyes”) and Alison Krauss (“There Is Life”).