[Originally published April 3, 2006]
I’ve been waiting for a chance to get a word in about this direct to video release from Disney. It received mixed reviews among my personal friends, and I didn’t see a lot of professional commentary (not unusual for a video only release.)
The original 1942 film Bambi is very special to many of us. The lush quality of the artwork, the depth of the scenery, the huge manual effort that went into the production, all are awe-inspiring when considered in retrospect. My father was an avid Disney fan, and at one time aspired to be a Disney animator. I believe he may have been capable of it, too, but life being what it is other things (including the war) got in the way and he never made it to Los Angeles. I’m not quite old enough to remember the original release of the film, but my parents did take me to see it at the local theater in the mid-1950s. I was probably five or six years old, and got so caught up in the emotion of the story that I had to be carried weeping from the theatre before it was over. (Furry, even then, you see.) Oddly enough, I already knew the story. My mom read to us at bedtime, and books like Felix Salten’s Bambi and Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty were very familiar. Still, the impact of the hunter killing Bambi’s mother and leaving him an orphan, visualized on the screen, was too much for me to bear.
The original film left out a great chunk of explanation, though. What happened then? How did Bambi, still just a fawn, survive? At the very end we knew that he grew to be a handsome young buck, but the intervening time was omitted. This release fills in some of those details. When I heard it was to be done, I wondered if modern production values could possibly live up to the detailed efforts of half a century ago. Happily, the answer to that question is a resounding “Yes!”
The Disney crew has been floundering somewhat in recent years, producing quantity rather than quality. Their waffling between traditional techniques, the CGI methods of Pixar, and various hybrid approaches is symptomatic of their lack of focus. Too much concern for profit and not enough for art, I would say. Nonetheless, some recent works have been of very high quality in my opinion. I very much appreciated Treasure Planet for instance, and will certainly have something to say about Brother Bear even though I think the latter was rushed and released in a not quite finished state. In the case of Bambi II though, the production crew clearly had an understanding and appreciation of the original, and made significant efforts to keep an almost seamless connection. Sure, there are some details that will upset the perfectionist (How many sisters did Thumper have?) but the crucial elements are there and the look and feel of the original is maintained.
Could this film stand on its own? I think not. It was released to video only because it doesn’t have the standing of a full theatrical original. But it is important to those of us who loved the original film and it is a happy resolution to a nasty emotional wound left open and unhealed for 64 years. Patrick Stewart, one of the great stage and voice talents of our time, is perfect as Bambi’s father, the great stag. The story line fits neatly into that “missing two years” at the end of the original film, and could almost be spliced right in. And I, for one, am at least finally relieved of a pain I almost forgot I was carrying with me. I only wish my father had lived to see it. We learn how Bambi’s father stepped in to oversee his care “temporarily” (never mind that real whitetails don’t do such things) and then tried to place him with a foster mother. Bambi rejects that, understandably, but finally manages to earn his father’s approval.
I won’t offer any more spoilers, but will just say that if you liked the original, you shouldn’t hesitate to see this sequel. And if you never saw the original, you should see it first. It was recently re-released in a shiny new DVD package of its own.
Bambi II (Bambi and the Great Prince)
DVD: available through April 17, 2006, $29.99 list