Platinum Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Director:  David Hand
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Mono
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Walt Disney
Features:  See Review
Length:  70 Minutes
Release Date:  March 1, 2005

"What happened, Mother?  Why did we all run?"

"Man...was in the forest."

Film ***

I suppose one of the legacies of Bambi is that it frequently serves as a young child's first introduction to death.  Whether or not Walt had that in mind when he made the picture I can't say.  What I can say is that I remember the night my own mother passed away...my father came to my room to break the news to me.  As I lay sadly in bed, I couldn't help but remember the voice of the Great Prince of the forest:

"Your mother can't be with you anymore."

I can't even say whether it's too much or too soon for a young child to comprehend such things, especially offered up in the format of an animated cartoon.  But I guess the point is that from the time I first saw Bambi, a part of me was aware that someday, even though it was a long ways away, I too would know the loss of a parent as part of the great mysterious progress of life.

Yet I don't mean to begin this review in such a heavy handed fashion.  Bambi is, first and foremost, a delightfully colorful and artistically rich animated film, made in an era where artists still put pencil to paper.  The detail in every glorious scene is unimaginably painstaking, and every imaginative touch was lovingly crafted by hand.  Truth be told, it's one of Disney's lightest offerings ever in terms of story and character.  But none of his films were as deeply beautiful to look at.

The story opens in spring, when the young deer prince Bambi is born.  We see the magic of new life through his tender first steps, his first feeble words, and his playful experiences with his new friends, including Thumper the rabbit and Flower the skunk.  And we also learn that life in the forest isn't all beauty and joy, particularly when Bambi's mother speaks the passage quoted above...a phrase that still gives audiences chills to this day.  But we learn it even more in the wintertime, when Bambi's mother is taken from him by a hunter.  The scene where his father breaks the news is one of the most lyrically sad in the history of motion pictures.

But death is hardly the end of the story...though for me, not much that follows that stark scene is memorable.  The grown-up versions of Bambi, Thumper and Flower aren't particularly memorable, despite the exciting forest fire finale (and what a fire...the whole forest seems to go up faster than you can say "controlled burn"!).  I suppose there's a circle of life lesson to be learned from the film, but it was stated more eloquently, if not as artistically, fifty years later with The Lion King.

Still, Walt's vision of a colorful and richly detailed forest story was enough of an achievement to make Bambi the highest grossing film of the 1940s, as well as an instant classic and perennial fan favorite.  I only hope today's youth weaned on the limitless visual splendor of computer animated movies will be able to appreciate what animation once was, and how much work went into crafting a picture like Bambi, and most of all, how glorious the results are even after more than six decades.

BONUS TRIVIA:  Cammie King Conlon, who was the voice of the young Faline, was also Bonnie Blue Butler in Gone With the Wind.  She still jokes to this day that her career peaked at age 5!

Video ****

What a revelation...I dare say this movie hasn't looked so good since it first graced the screen!  Disney did a thorough job of restoring and transferring this classic for digital media.  The colors are so vibrant they practically leap off the screen at you.  The detail level, as mentioned, is quite formidable, and not one iota of it is lost in this presentation.  Images are sharp and crisp throughout, and I really couldn't find any telltale signs that would give away the movie's age.  Simply breathtaking.

Audio ***

As with previous Platinum Edition DVD releases, Disney has presented Bambi with an enhanced home theatre mix that will get the most out of your sound system.  Unlike some of the more chronologically recent films, though, this started with a mono soundtrack, so the sound technicians didn't overdo it.  The audio is clean and clear and very dynamic, with the .1 channel giving potency to the sound effects.  The rear stage is used for minimal bits of ambience, but there's no overkill here.  The original score sounds full and rich, almost like a live orchestra in your living room.  For purists, a restored version of the original mono soundtrack is also included.

Features ***1/2

This two disc set boasts a bevy of extras...Disc One features a rather unique one; a re-creation of the original story meetings conducted by Walt and his staff!  Voiceovers bring the text to life, and we see on screen what the artists are discussing so we can actually witness the evolution of the movie over its six year period of gestation.

Disc Two features 8 new games for the kids, including a forest adventure, trivia, and memory test.  A "DisneyPedia" takes a look at the real life versions of Bambi and his friends.  "Thumper Goes Exploring" is a Disney Storytime extra you can read to yourself or along with Friend Owl.  There's also a 1942 time capsule, a terrific 53 minute making-of documentary, a sneak peek at the sequel Bambi And the Great Prince of the Forest (okay, I gotta ask...is a sequel really necessary?), plus two deleted scenes (storyboards with new voiceovers).  The virtual forest isn't much...just an active still shot.

Rounding out is the original trailer (which focuses entirely on the ADULT Bambi...what marketing genius made that decision?), a "Tricks of the Trade" excerpt from 1957 where Walt discusses the multi-plane camera, the Oscar winning short "The Old Mill", and a look through the Disney archives and the art of the movie.

BONUS NOTE:  Many of the extras are hosted by Patrick Stewart.


Bambi showed the world just how beautiful an art animation could be, and the passage of time hasn't eroded its ability to inspire awe.  The sheer visual delight of the artistry is more than enough to make up for the banal storyline and cute but flat characters.

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