Walt Disney said of 'Bambi': "[it is] the best picture I have ever made, and the best ever to come out of Holywood". To which I reply: "Oh, come on, Walt!" Not to say that 'Bambi' is a bad film (it isn't), but I have to admit I find it to be somewhat overrated by a lot of Disney enthusiasts.
The main reason for the over-appreciation of the movie, I think, is the harrowing moment in which Bambi's mom is murdered by a character labeled as "man" when he was named one of AFI's greatest villains of all time. The scene in question, is indeed, a moment that has scarred the childhood of too many moviegoers and because of that has installed the movie in the public consciousness that has elevated it into one of the best of Disney's catalogue. Ask anyone what they remember of the film and they will talk about Bambi becoming an orphan.
That pivotal death is the most remembered moment because of how surprising it could seem to someone who watches the movie without knowing that plot point (at this day and age it means practically nobody, but think back to the audiences of 1942). More than the first half of the film is spent watching little Bambi grow up in the forest beside his momma and bunny friend Thumper. If you think Disney film's are too cute to swallow, you (although wrong about your judgement of the studio) should avoid Bambi. The cute factor is amped up to eleven throughout most of the film. This will either make you cringe being unable to stand it or fall for the little deer just for the sake of how adorable he is. We then get shocked when the mother is mercilessly murdered.
My problem with Bambi relies partly on this point. The main storyline is about the little toddler having to grow up in a world that isn't fair while learning his place in the grand scheme of things. This whole transformation and understanding comes too late in the film, feeling weirdly disjointed and making Bambi's an unsatisfying journey. Because the first half of the film is so cutesy and friendly, there is genuine shock by the major plot point, but once the mother is gone everything continues in a weird episodic way I'm not quite sure what Bambi's ark is and I can't say I know much about his character. It's a pity and a disappointment after the strong parental relationships at the center of 'Pinocchio' and 'Dumbo'.
It is, however, a gorgeous movie. Unlike 'Dumbo', which was a somewhat rushed production that resulted in great but also very cartoony animation; Disney's animators spent a lot of time studying deer in order to make Bambi's movements as realistic as possible, and they nailed it. The superb character animation adds to the visually striking look of the film: Disney returns to the multiplane cameras used in Pinocchio and has the backgrounds painted with oil paintings instead of watercolors, making this one of the best looking films in his career.
I may have come off too hard on poor 'Bambi'. It is, after all, an entertaining enough and certainly beautiful movie (I think I'm repeating myself, but it is really good-looking film). The cute characters and fanciful sequences will work very good with kids who are old enough to tolerate the death at the center of the story. It deserves to hold its head high as a better part of the Disney classics, it just doesn't live up to the standards set out by Snow White, Dumbo, and especially Pinocchio.
*As of the date of publication, the whole movie is available on Youtube.*
Next Time: The Disney Canon is going to take a break. We will be back with 'Saludos Amigos' to kick off the second part of this series (which will probably consist of six parts) on Sunday September 16. On the meantime, why don't you enjoy this clip from Bambi.