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Review - Walt Disney's Bambi (DVD-2005)
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Bambi (DVD- 2005)

Disney Home Video

Reviewed by Dennis Kwiatkowski

When filmmaker Stanley Kubrick died, Steven Spielberg said of his work: To see a Kubrick film is to commit to its becoming a part of your life forever. Indeed, many of Spielberg’s own films and those of his friend George Lucas (such as the Star Wars films) have also become embedded indelibly in the American culture. And certainly, the animated films of Walt Disney, whose film Bambi is the subject of our review here, provide cultural examples of artistic icons passed on from generation to generation.

With each subsequent theatrical or special home-video re-release of a Disney classic, I find myself admiring anew, the artistic achievements of the films, even when they were not originally among my personal favorites.

Just issued on DVD for the first time is Bambi, said to be Walt Disney’s own personal favorite of all his films. Released in 1942, Bambi took five years to make. The film tells a pastoral nature story detailing the life of a forest deer. Bambi pushed the envelope of animation art to new levels. Some feel it is Disney’s crowning achievement in realistic delineation of detail. It is pretty much universally admired for its gentleness, loveliness, stylization, understatement and atmosphere, though some complained it was too serious while others found it too cuddly. But there is no denying the film’s emotional power.

It still stands as one of the greatest children’s films having brought, as even historian David Thompson notes, delight and consolation to millions.

Bambi is somewhat unique among Disney’s films. Containing a scarcity of dialogue, it is more an evocation of mood than story, as it depicts a cycle of nature. Indeed, its pastel background art and painstaking detail are reminiscent of Disney’s great Fantasia, an impression that is reinforced by the wall-to-wall music score’s echoes of Stravinsky and Ravel.

And one aspect of Bambi that cannot go unmentioned is the scene-stealing character of Thumper, the rabbit whose vocal characterization is perfectly captured by the voice of Peter Behn. It is impossible to not notice parallels with the later Disney film, The Lion King, whose ‘circle of life’ concept is an intentional tribute to Bambi.

The special two-disc Platinum Edition of Bambi contains an astonishing and treasurable set of extras. These include two deleted scenes, a re-enactment of the fascinating original story meeting sessions, a excellent making-of documentary, a fascinating look at the restoration of sound and picture, a special visit to the Disney archives, details of the multi-plane camera process, games, artwork and much more.

The pristine digital picture restoration, by Lowry Digital is stunning. Further polishing comes from the Disney Enhanced Home Theater sound-mix process which brings unprecedented impact to the soundtrack and music score. The combined sound and picture result is sensational—an achievement of which Disney would have been proud.

Historian David Thompson once referred to Walt Disney as an un-holy mix of artist and businessman and as one of the great American subjects (a statement that has been applied by others to Spielberg and Lucas as well). That debate will continue to go on as Disney’s artistic legacy, and that of the cinema itself, continues to be assessed. Indeed, both the marketing and presentation of Disney’s theatrical and home video releases have been notable, sometimes controversial, models of commerce, skill and, yes, masterful showmanship.

The DVD release of Walt Disney’s Bambi is no exception, and, as the VideoHound Guide has noted, Bambi, like Fantasia before it, proves that Disney animation, was, and still is, the best to be found.

2005 Dennis Kwiatkowski/ Celluloid Dreams

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