Director: David D. Hand
Screenplay: Perce Pearce and Larry Morey and George Stallings & Melvin Shaw & Carl Fallberg & Chuck Couch & Ralph Wright (from a story by Felx Salten)
Stars: Hardie Albrigh (Adolescent Bambi), Stan Alexander (Young Flower), Peter Behn (Young Thumper), Thelma Boardman (Mrs. Quail / Pheasant), Tim Davis (Adult Thumper / Adolescent Flower), Donnie Dunagan (Young Bambi), Sam Edwards (Adult Thumper), Ann Gillis (Adult Faline), Sterling Holloway (Adult Flower), Cammie King Conlon (Young Faline), Mary Lansing (Aunt Ena / Mrs. Possum), Margaret Lee (Thumper’s Mother), Fred Shields (Great Prince of the Forest), Bobby Stewart (Baby Bambi), John Sutherland (Adult Bambi), Paula Winslowe (Bambi’s Mother / Pheasant), Will Wright (Friend Owl)
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 1942
Country: U.S.
Bambi Blu-ray

In From Walt to Woodstock: How Disney Created the Counterculture, author Douglas Brode offers up a compelling and completely original take on the classic works of Walt Disney, arguing that, rather than contributing primarily to the commoditization and conglomeration of culture, Disney’s most profound legacy was shaping the ideologies of the Baby Boomers born in the 1940s into the counterculture of the 1960s. Although frequently viewed now as naïve or (worse) reactionary, many of Disney’s animated films are actually rife with the kinds of ideas that would fuel the Age of Aquarius—everything from the beauties of multiculturalism, to the crucial importance of individuality.

And there is probably no better example than Bambi, Disney’s fifth animated feature. Released during the summer of 1942, just after the United States had entered World War II and Disney had turned almost exclusively to war-time filmmaking (it was the only studio to be designated as a war production plant by the government), Bambi is the animated film as pastoral poem, as beautiful a depiction of the natural world as one could imagine. Bear in mind, of course, that Bambi is not necessarily an accurate depiction of nature, but rather a carefully inscribed portrait of nature idealized—largely free of conflict, violence, and brutality, except when, in the film’s jarring turn of phrase, “Man has entered the forest.”

In terms of shaping the counterculture of the 1960s, there is no prewar film that more succinctly capitalizes on the perceived divide between humankind and nature, with the latter portrayed as an unspoiled, Eden-like paradise and the former as a threatening, unseen, but always felt force of destruction. There was much discussion amongst the film’s story artists and screenwriters regarding how the human characters would be portrayed, and their ultimate decision to keep them entirely off screen was a brilliant choice. Much like the shark in Spielberg’s Jaws (1975), the hunters who enter the forest are more effective as an unseen presence, lurking just outside the film’s frame, yet profoundly affecting everything within it. By remaining unseen, they become abstract—not individual characters, but rather a roving, haunting symbol of humankind’s darker impulses, which makes their hand in killing Bambi’s mother (another off-screen event whose emotional impact left an entire generation of children in shock) all the more distressing.

In this regard, it is tempting to see Bambi as profoundly anti-human, as it seems to suggest that there is no sense of decency in the human race: We kill and burn, and that is all. Yet, to see the film in such a light is to misunderstand the manner in which it borrows the best of human nature and anthropomorphically inscribes it in the animal characters. That is why it was so crucial that the animators find new means of depicting animal movement and behavior that is completely natural and realistic (Walt had a virtual zoo installed at the studio so his artists could observe the animals they would be drawing), but also endowed with recognizable human qualities.

It is that mixture of the human and the animal that makes Bambi so memorable and so historically meaningful. Animators had certainly presented anthropomorphized animals on screen before (just the previous year Disney had given us Jiminy Cricket, a grasshopper playing the role of the human conscience, in Pinocchio), but never before had they endeavored to so fully merge human and animal characteristics, such that the animals remain true to their nature, yet are also somehow us. The titular fawn in Bambi, who begins as an awkward newborn (voiced by Donnie Dunagan and Hardie Albrigh) and eventually grows up to be a strong buck (voiced by John Sutherland), is an idealized vision of human development, nurtured by both a caring mother (Paula Winslowe) and a community of critters who work together despite the fact that, in reality, many of them would be preying on each other. Most memorable, of course, is Bambi’s friend Thumper (voiced as a child by Peter Behn), a young rabbit who has the uniquely childish virtue of always speaking his mind, much to his mother’s chagrin. It is no wonder that children love Thumper so much because he represents the freedom of youth, when we are not so constrained by societal politeness and the necessities of decorum. One can draw a direct line from Thumper’s outspokenness to the counterculture’s, as each made a habit of calling out the obvious that everyone else wanted to ignore.

Narratively speaking, Bambi is delightfully simple; it is less of a story than it is a series of pastoral setpieces, barely strung together by Bambi’s development and maturity. The simplicity of the story encourages you to lose yourself in the imagery, which evokes an Impressionist painting come to life. The Disney artists created a new visual look for Bambi by giving us meticulously drawn and detailed images in the foreground that stand out against the increasingly abstract backgrounds. Sharp borders and clear delineations give way to broad brushstrokes that suggest more than they portray. It was a new technique, heightened by the further development and sophistication of the multi-plane camera, which creates impressively three-dimensional environments for the animal cast. It would be almost another decade before Disney would again attempt something so ambitious, making Bambi a crucial endpoint of the first few years of feature-length animation. It was a time when anything was possible, a sentiment that those young Baby Boomer children who basked in the film’s glow at their local movie houses clearly took to heart.

Bambi Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD

Aspect Ratio1.33:1
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround
  • English Dolby Digital 2.0 monaural
  • French Dolby Digital 2.0 monaural
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 monaural
  • SubtitlesEnglish, French, Spanish
  • “The Bambi Effect” featurette
  • “Studio Stories: Bambi” featurette
  • Deleted scenes: “Bambi’s Ice and Snow” and “The Grasshopper”
  • “Bambi Fawn Facts”
  • “Africa Before Dark” Oswald the Lucky Rabbit short
  • “Celebrating Tyrus Wong” featurette
  • “Inside Walt’s Story Meetings: Enhanced Edition” interactive viewing experience
  • Deleted scenes
  • “Twitterpated” deleted song
  • Stills galleries
  • “Disney’s Big Book of Knowledge: Bambi Edition” interactive educational gaming experience
  • “The Golden Age”
  • The Making of Bambi: A Prince is Born documentary
  • “Tricks of the Trade” excerpt from the 1957 Disneyland TV show
  • “Inside the Disney Archives”
  • The Old Mill 1937 animated short film.
  • “DisneyPedia: Bambi’s Forest Friends”
  • DistributorWalt Disney Pictures Home Entertainment
    Release DateJune 6, 2017

    The new Signature Edition is Bambi’s second release on Blu-ray, and it appears to use the same high-definition transfer as the 2010 Diamond Edition Blu-ray. And, really, why not? As Disney has done with all of their classic films on Blu-Ray, the transfer is simply outstanding. The richness of the colors, the depth of the detail, and the all-around cleanness of the image make you feel like you’re watching a brand-new 35mm print struck from the original camera negative. Again, the disc gives you the option of watching Bambi in the “Disney View” mode, which fills the black bars to the right and left of the film with beautiful artwork (although, truth be told, I can’t imagine actually wanting to watch the film in this manner, as having imagery on the sides competing for your attention detracts from the experience for me). The original monaural soundtrack has been remixed into lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround, which benefits the film primarily during the fiery climax. Otherwise, the soundtrack is fairly subdued, with the surround channels being used primarily for gentle ambient noises to emphasize the depth of the forest. Purists will appreciate the inclusion of a restored monaural track, as well.

    In terms of supplements, there is a decent amount of new stuff here, although Disney has been good enough to retain all the previous material, as well. New to this edition are several featurettes, including “Studio Stories: Bambi” (5 min.), which combines clips from the film, rough animation, and behind-the-scenes footage with an archival recording of Walt Disney discussing the film in 1956; “The Bambi Effect” (3 min.), a featurette about the film’s animation technique of mixing realistic characters with more abstract backgrounds; and “Bambi Fawn Facts” (3.5 min.), an educational featurette about the various animals in the film. There are also two scenes that were deleted at the early conceptual stage—“Bambi’s Ice and Snow” (which appeared on previous releases as “Bambi’s First Snow,” but is presented in higher resolution here) and “The Grasshopper”—both of which are introduced by story artist Floyd Norman. There is also a previously lost 6-minute Oswald the Lucky Rabbit short titled Africa Before Dark, which was recently discovered in the Austrian Film Museum and has been restored and given a new musical score, and a 9-minute digital-only featurette titled “Celebrating Tyrus Wong,” which looks at the life and work of the film’s Chinese-born lead artist.

    In addition to the new supplements, the Signature Edition Blu-ray also includes the supplements from previous DVD releases (which were covered copiously at the time and won’t be rehashed here) and the 2010 Blu-ray. From the earlier Blu-ray we have “Inside Walt’s Story Meetings,” an absolutely fascinating interactive experience that allows you to listen to re-enactments of the Bambi preproduction story meetings taken directly from the transcripts. It’s a rare opportunity to experience the film’s developmental process as Walt Disney and his team of writers and animators grappled with how to best tell the story. In addition to the voice re-enactments, the experience also offers opportunities to branch off into brief featurettes and other supplements that elaborate on that part of the film (including the classic animated short The Old Windmill, which featured the first use of the multiplane camera). There are also two storyboards for scenes that were never animated, a deleted song called “Twitterpated,” and an extensive collection of stills galleries that chart the design process for the film’s characters and locations. Younger viewers will enjoy “Disney’s Big Book of Knowledge: Bambi Edition,” which is an interactive, customizable educational gaming experience that uses the film as a learning tool.

    Copyright © 2017 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © Walt Disney Pictures Home Entertainment

    Overall Rating: (4)

    James Kendrick

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