Bambi (1942)

"You didn't hop far enough." Test animation of this scene was reportedly enough to convince Walt to make the film.

“Hiya, Bambi. Watch what I can do!” Thumper’s excited boast as he launches himself across the frozen pond might as well have come from Walt himself in reference to the calibre of animation his fifth feature film achieved. The film is, quite simply, an artistic masterpiece.

I’ve said it before: Animation and high definition were made for each other. Thanks to a stocking stuffer this Christmas, we were lucky enough to watch this film on Blu-Ray. And if you didn’t know any better, you’d swear the film came out yesterday. The animation and attention to detail is just exquisite.

Indeed, Walt was obsessed with accuracy when it came to animating Bambi. He was determined his animators capture the movements of deer and other forest animals with as much realism as possible, while adding vaguely human facial expressions to show emotions. Disney bought the rights to the film in 1937, intending it to be the studio’s second animated feature. The animation challenges proved too ambitious at the time and animators were soon pulled off the project in favour of the studio’s other projects, including Fantasia. By 1939, production resumed in earnest, but animation difficulties drew out the production process by several years.

Walt went to great lengths to ensure his animators maintained accuracy in their drawings. He invited Italian-American painter Rico LeBrun to the studio to teach his animators about realism. He sent his animators to the Los Angeles Zoo to study animal movement. And a small zoo was established at the studio so animators could study the animals up close — two fawns were even sent from Maine to the studio for the animators to study. Though it cost time and money, the gamble paid off and the realism in the animators’ work is really something to watch, even 70 years later. (Its lifetime gross of over $100-million is certainly proof of that.) A lot of the secondary animal animation was even reused many times throughout the coming decades.

The story is simple, like most of Disney’s. It’s based on the 1923 Austrian novel Bambi, A Life in the Woods by Felix Salten, which chronicles the life of a young deer who loses his mother and the lessons he learns from his father. It was translated and republished in North America in 1928.

In a lot of ways, Bambi has the look and feel of a ballet. The story is infused with music — each character, event, season has a distinct sound. Movement is punctuated with melody (just think “drip, drip, drop little April showers“). And even the dangers of the forest are amplified by song. The presence of hunters, signified by a three progressive of deep notes, is enough to make the viewer experience anxiety over what seems a very real danger to our woodland friends. And man doesn’t even once appear on screen. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards — all of which were sound- or music-related.

The feat was repeated years later, and a note shorter, as Richard Dreyfuss hunted a man-eating shark in Jaws. But in 1988, as Bambi once again graced North American theatres, Man frightened a four-year-old Will enough that he made his parents leave the cinema when Bambi’s mother was killed.

(Reportedly, “Man is in the forest” was code around the Disney studios that indicated Walt was nearby.)

Besides all of the film’s artistic achievements, the story has an incredibly endearing element to it as well. It’s about childhood, life lessons, the power of family and the journey of growing up. Many of those seeming cliches we heard countless times as children are re-enforced (mainly through the character of Thumper, whose father has apparently and repeatedly told him to eat his vegetables and that if he couldn’t say anything nice to not say anything at all). But Bambi learns lessons as well. Most importantly, his mother teaches him to be aware of dangers he may encounter when he tries to run out on the meadow without realizing the potential that come along with it.

Public reception of the film was predictably high as the fantasy shook movie-goers from the tension of a country at war. But the New York Times review questioned Walt’s attention to animation and said that while children would “no doubt they even will forgive Mr. Disney for putting false eyelashes on his enticing female bunnies,” he could not accept that a waterfall without ripples is a far cry from the real thing. The reviewer longed for cartoon fantasy and argued that if he had wanted a realistic deer, Disney should have simply shot the film in live-action.

More contemporary audiences, though, have learned to appreciate the artistic craft of the animators as well as the story-tellers. Bambi will always remain one of my favourite Disney films. It’s visually stunning and its story tugs at your heartstrings in all the right places. Walt did a lot of things right with this one.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

8 thoughts on “Bambi (1942)

  1. […] nicknamed “Bambi in Africa,” and, if you can recall all the way back to our February post about that film, it’s not hard to figure out why. Animators travelled to Kenya to study animal interaction […]

  2. […] evil, diamond-hungry Madame Medusa. The tale is a return to the heartstring-pulling dramas, like Bambi and Dumbo, that gave the studio its […]

  3. […] Snake in The Jungle Book, the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, the adult version of Flower in Bambi and was the Stork in Dumbo all the way back in 1941. He took a few smaller roles after The Many […]

  4. […] voice of Kaa the Snake in 1967′s The Jungle Book, was the stork in Dumbo and adult Flower in Bambi, and would frequently voice Winnie the Pooh. Kathryn Beaumont, who voiced Alice, later returned to […]

  5. […] to fit their own definition of family entertainment (Ariel lives at the end of The Little Mermaid; Bambi’s species was changed from a roe deer to a white-tailed deer), making this plot point all the more […]

  6. Ryan W Isenor says:

    The attention to detail in Bambi, reminds me of the lions brought in to help the team at work on “The Lion King”. Indeed, I feel that Bambi set a precedent, whereby if Walt wanted something done right, he provided every means necessary to do so. I’m reminded of the team working on Sleeping Beauty and the countless hours of live-footage that was used to animate the dragon battle, the forest ballet, etc.

    Side notes: The comment about “four-year-old Will” put a huge smile on my face and it goes without saying that to view Bambi on Blu-Ray was an experience that left my chin on the floor.

    Just picked up Lady and the Tramp Diamond Edition today. So pumped!

    • Danielle Webb says:

      We’ll definitely be making some comparisons when we get to The Lion King. After all, it was nicknamed in studio as “Bambi in Africa!”

      I’m pretty excited to pick up Lady and the Tramp sometime soon. I’m really dreading any of the upcoming films we can’t watch on Blu-ray after Dumbo and Bambi were so visually stunning!

      • Ryan W Isenor says:

        On the plus side, The Aristocats, The Rescuers/Rescuers Down Under (Dual-pack) and Pocahontas all release this summer, hopefully in time for their respective tributes? 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: