Everyone’s favorite twink fawn Bambi (backed by his posse—the eager jackrabbit Thumper and the ridiculously femmy skunk Flower) was the star of the last film in Walt Disney’s first cycle of fully animated features. A mid-war hiatus (during which hundreds of short subjects were cranked out like so many good, clean, vapid artillery shells) lasted until Cinderella in 1950, but even without the line of demarcation between the Depression years and the McCarthy era, Bambi would still serve countless term papers well by functioning as a pivotal point in Disney’s idealistic suburban expansion upon the razed territory of Fairy Tale Land. Unlike almost every one of the Disney films that preceded it (true “classics” all), Bambi is a parable without any real moral at its center. (When the AFI casually listed “Man” as one of their favorite movie villains a few years back, the absurd deadpan of the label brought the film’s simple take on nature’s lifecycle into uncomplimentary focus.) Dumbo may be even more incidental and low-stakes at a plot level, but damned if Ben Sharpsteen doesn’t stage the poor baby elephant’s visit to his shackled and jailed mother as though it were the cartoon approximation of A Tale of Two Cities’ Lucie sobbing “weep for it, weep for it.” Even worse, aside from the admittedly impressive work by Disney’s team of animators to accurately simulate the maladroit gait and ludicrously reversed joints of deer, is Bambi‘s lack of ambition. Fantasia is clearly guilty of literalizing classical music through corny evolution panoramas and swampy art deco pastorals, but you’ve got to admire the ridiculous hubris behind the attempt. It’s a paint-box Intolerance: The Portmanteau Musical Remix to the mere A Corner in Wheat Meadow in question here. The tale is in a forest without a trace of dirt, and that means neither soil nor buckwildery. Indeed, it sometimes appears as though Thumper is raising his oar-like hind foot to reveal its snow-white antisepticism (“Look, Ma! No fungus and no moss-syphilis!”). The Whitmanesque sampling of sugar-glazed skies, butter-crème flower-petals, and jawbreaker-eyed woodland eunuchs all serve a common purpose: to defer to Disney’s idealized primer on instinctual reproduction without sexuality, or, as the “wise” owl calls it, “twitterpat”: another chalk mark in the column of infantilism. In other words, Bambi the neuter (a male character who has unsurprisingly inspired precisely no proud parents to name their male children after him) is merely the most prominent example of Walt Disney explaining to kids “you and me baby ain’t nothing but mammals, so do it like they don’t on the Disney Channel.” Ask anyone past 20 years of age what they remember about Bambi, and they’ll probably only be able to pull up the moment that his mother is shot by Man. It’s no surprise that the film’s only enduring legacy hinges on the psychological destruction of, as Madonna put it, “where life begins.”
I must admit, even while I was cringing at the pastels and occasional backlit neons (during Bambi's solitary moment of manhood: fighting another buck for the right to not fuck his doe-friend), I had to admit that the digital restoration of the film looked flawless. Vibrant colors and a transfer so sparkling you can practically see the granite flecks in the drawings' outlines and the shifting plates of the film's glass Multi-Plane animation techniques, Bambi's painstaking labor shines through, perhaps emphasizing what a piffle it all amounts to and why I blanched at the waste of resources. The forced 5.1 audio remix, as far as I can tell, has a lot less of the "spinning speakers" nonsense that marred their Fantasia disc, but I'd still recommend the unfettered monaural track.or, if you'd like, the French or Spanish alternate soundtracks. (Did anyone else's high school Spanish teacher used to "treat" their classes with the Spanish-dubbed Disney tapes? Were they also anyone else's least-favorite days in class?)
Pretty impressive. Disney kept his vaults well-stocked with priceless archival material, and I'm not just talking about his cryogenically frozen head. First off is a feature-length audio-visual "commentary" of the type that only Disney Studios could come up with: a pseudo-experiment that attempts to imagine what would happen if you took the story editors' correspondence with animation directors and other consultants (including Sharpsteen) during the making of the film and re-imagined it as a conversation between the whole lot as they hunch down in front of a Telecine running a rough cut of the film (with floating frames of sketches for the "unfinished" scenes) from front to tail. Bizarre, right? You have no idea. With all the notes read by voice actors (complete with unrehearsed group laughter!), the track comes off as the pre-history of DVD commentary. The only question is: Is Disney going to slap a patent on the format? The faux-commentary isn't the only feature that brings a historical context to the film. Also included is a chintzy "Disney Time Capsule" that runs down 1942's major events in an audio-visual montage that brings to mind those cheap booklet birthday cards that are specified to your year of birth. ("When you were born, you could buy a car for 82 cents you old fucking geezer.") Rounding out the trifecta of textbookworm extras is a more orthodox collective hour of "making of" clips, the "making of" presumably referring to the interview subjects' attempts to install Bambi into the canon of mankind's greatest innovations. There are art galleries, a featurette demonstrating the film's restoration for the DVD release (which looks suspiciously more like Photoshopping and less like physical film restoration to me, but whatever), an excerpt from Walt Disney Presents showing the Multi-Plane system, a whole host of insultingly easy kids' games, the Oscar-winning 1937 short "The Old Mill," a personality inventory that tells you what season you embody (I'm "Fall," and I'm told that people admire how I handle myself under pressure: "fall people make dependable and sensitive friends"), and a tour of the Disney archives hosted by a dude I swear I just saw battling chronic denial upon being sacked in Dan Lund's spectacularly trenchant short documentary Dream On Silly Dreamer, which details the sudden and ruthless elimination of the animation department of Disney Studios two years ago. Sort of puts a little sting in all that promotional detritus hyping the impending sequel Bambi and the Great Prince of the Forest, undoubtedly one of the first features the studio farmed out to third-world animation sweatshops or the small bunch of domestic computer geeks after the epic departmental downsize.
Bambi's friend Thumper teaches him how to flip a bird but leaves his poor apprentice high and dry when it comes to the art of fucking like a bunny.