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Toon Talk: Bambi Platinum Edition DVD
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Disney Film & Video Reviews by Kirby C. Holt
Deer as Folk
When Disney first started releasing their animated features on home video, they were unanimously coined "Masterpiecesâ€?. And while this certainly applied toward some (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Fantasia), lumping such titles as The Aristocats and The Black Cauldron in with the bona fide classics certainly made one question the exact meaning of the word "masterpieceâ€?.
But one film can, inarguably, be deemed a true masterpiece: 1942's Bambi. As daring and innovative as Pinocchio was two years prior, Disney's adaptation of the Felix Salten novel ranks as not only one of the finest animated films ever made, but one of the best movies about nature as well. All the more impressive was the fact that it was created within the first decade of feature animation, and is still as effective and entertaining as it was over sixty years ago.
Finally available on DVD, in a gorgeous, meticulously restored print that is but the centerpiece of a richly appointed two-disc Platinum Edition, one can rediscover the magical majesty of Bambi, from its bold use of colors to establish mood to its pioneering use of music (the first film to extensively use off-camera singers, for example) to possibly the best use of personality animation in the creation of characters, necessitated by the minimal dialogue used to enhance the reality of the story.
It is that story, as told almost strictly through the artwork and music, which is the most vivid aspect of the film. Basically plotless when you think about it (it is just about a baby deer growing up in a forest), its simplicity allowed the filmmakers to touch on grander themes, such as survival and our own place, as human beings, in nature. The infamous sequence where hunters kill Bambi's mother is still incredibly powerful; one can just imagine the impact it had back in 1942, when audiences only expected their cartoons to make them laugh. (So culturally significant was this moment of the film that, in 2003, the American Film Institute named "Man in Bambiâ€? as one of the greatest villains in movie history.)
One cannot deny the artistic importance of Bambi; after all, its heavy influence can be seen in everything from The Lion King to Brother Bear. This DVD presentation steps up to the plate as well, offering a richly historically look at the film, beginning with Disc 1's sole bonus feature, Inside Walt's Story Meetings. A unique and fascinating alternative to the often staid audio commentaries of late, this feature takes the original story meeting transcripts from Bambi's pre-production (which have been stored all these years in the Disney Studio Archives) and recreates them, using voice actors as Walt and his staff, to remarkable effect. As the actors speak, you'll see scenes from the movie, just like with an audio commentary, but taken a step further, as concept art, character sketches and behind-the-scene footage and photographs are integrated in as well, creating a more effective visual experience. As could be expected, you are in the moment of creation of all the aspects of the film, from character development to references to past works both obvious (Snow White, Pinocchio) to not so obvious (Pluto and Silly Symphony shorts). And, in addition to an abundant use of the word "swellâ€?, you'll hear this quote from story director Perce Pearce, which perfectly captures the essence of Bambi: "We must capture the spirit of reality interpreted in fantasyâ€?.