I’m proud to say that my first movie theater experience was seeing Bambi during its re-release in 1988. At roughly three years old, I don’t remember any of it. These are facts of my life that my mother has told me: We went to see Bambi with my aunt and grandma, then I experienced ice cream. I believe the theater made a more profound mark than the frozen treat.
These days, I’ve allowed Bambi to grace my budding blu-ray collection. The investment made perfect sense considering how much I love the sweet little film and how I hope to expose future generations to it at an early enough age. I was lucky enough to be perfectly age appropriate for its re-release, but this blu-ray seems like a good backup plan.
Bambi is much different than most films. The plot is simply organic, just as the forest setting. It is springtime, a young prince, Bambi, is born and all the forest creatures celebrate his arrival. He grows and learns about his world from his mother and young friends, including a rabbit named Thumper and a skunk who bashfully accepts the name Flower. Seasons change and the lives of the animals with them.
The one evil in the forest seems to be Man, who turn the peaceful meadow, the social spot for deer, into their hunting zone. Their threat is clearly established well before the ultimate childhood tragedy occurs. Man is also responsible for the climatic forest fire, which enrages the inner Girl Scout in me to this day.
In a documentary about Disney’s relationship with Salvador Dali, A Date With Destino, I remember one moment they mentioned Bambi. It was a second hand story, told by John Culhane, an animation historian; “He said, you know, grandpa Taylor’s barn burned down in Marceline when I was about five or six, and I thought the whole world was on fire. I put that in Bambi.” It works, the fire not only feels like it is everywhere, but its destructive power is a very scary moment in the film.
One thing I noticed more on the Blu-ray more than any other time I had seen the film, which includes countless rewinds of a VHS tape, is the art styles used in the background settings. The soft look of the forest was inspired by the work of Chinese artist Tyrus Wong, who became one of the lead background artists for the film. Colors are light and airy, the brushstrokes are beautifully organic. For people used to the crisp and stoic feel of today’s CGI, Bambi may be a very eyeopening experience.
In moments of danger, the artistic styles drastically change. Colors become much more dramatic, emphasising contrast and high hues. When Bambi fights to defend his mate, Faline, the soft natural backgrounds are completely gone. The images of the two deer dueling, antlers clashing, are boiled down to simple shapes against a dark background with highlights of color. The scene feels very primitive and exciting and the images leave a clear impression in our minds.
The one thing that draws people to Bambi is how cute the animals are. It’s unanimous, they’re adorable. The best part is that the memorable characteristics are not just given to the main three critters, but to every creature we see. There is the mouse who reaches up ever so gently to grab a drop of dew to wash his face. The mother quail followed by a single file line of her babies. The two baby birds who fight over food in the nest to be outsmarted by their third sibling. The entire forest is buzzing with unique and memorable animals.
While Bambi was nominated for three Academy Awards (Best Original Song, Best Music and Best Sound Recording), this animated features just didn’t seem like Best Picture material. In 1942, films of romance, drama and that big war going on overshadowed the achievements Disney’s little film about a deer had made. However, today Bambi is an essential childhood favorite and few adults have even heard of Mrs. Miniver.
“Man is in the forest.”