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Blu-ray Review: Bambi – Diamond Edition

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Bambi was released in 1941 and is based on the book of the same name by Felix Salten. The film is unique amongst Disney classics in that it uses unknown children for most of the lead voices (as opposed to studio voice actors), and also in its focus on visual storytelling over dialogue. The film is largely regarded as one of Walt Disney’s most beloved animated achievements, and the American Film Institute has rated it as the #3 animated film of all time.

The Movie

Bambi is perhaps best understood in relation to Fantasia, which came out less than two years prior (interrupted by Dumbo and a prolonged labor strike). Both are films that find their voice more with music and visual storytelling than they do with more conventional plot structures. Both contain an experimental artistic vein, and both also draw their inspiration from the natural world. If you watch Bambi expecting something more akin to Snow White or even Pinocchio, you may be surprised at both the sparse use of dialogue and the free-form progression of a story. It’s more centered on unfolding characters and plot through visual means, and yields some of the studio’s most impressive animation. Not only is the artistic style breathtaking, but the technical means they employed continued to grow the craft.

However, the film suffers from its endless establishing scenes. Bambi’s introduction to his new world is “established” for almost the whole first half of the film. The continuous parade of different animals frolicking in their natural world causes the film to simply become visual prozac in sections. At times it feels like a short subject was stretched too far under the guise of visual narrative, when really there are just scenes that simply don’t serve to progress the story at all.

But the development does wrap up admirably, and in the end it’s understandable why they would want to try such an unconventional approach to an animated feature. Bambi truly is an extension of both the silent film era and the experimental visual world that Walt Disney was continually granting his artists. It’s an impressive and daring approach to storytelling that largely works, and in the process yields some of Disney’s most stunning visuals.

Video/Audio

Disney continues their tradition of superb restorations and transfers with Bambi. The detail and richness of the animation is truly beautiful, at all times the print is clean and free of artifacts, and colors are perfectly balanced. This is simply a stunning looking restoration. Everything from the more impressionistic brush-stroke backgrounds to the fine detail of characters is astounding. There is literally nothing negative to find with the visual presentation here.

Likewise, the sound is very impressive. Disney have really found the sweet spot here between a track that is faithful to the original and one that takes advantage of modern sonics. The 7.1 DTS-HD High Resolution Audio track generally feels like an enhanced stereo mix, with the surround channels more often than not used to strengthen the sound more than split it out. The effect is highly pleasing, and generously serves the wonderful soundtrack to the film. Although it might not be the Master Audio encoding some might have hoped for, it’s an excellent audio track nonetheless.

Bonus Material

Although the Diamond Edition of Bambi only yields a single Blu-ray disc, it still manages to collect an impressive amount of extras. To start with, there are four different ways to view the film. The first two should be familiar to those who have viewed previous Blu-ray releases of Disney classics, and consist of the original presentation of the film, or the version that includes the “Disneyview” art wraps on the side to offer a widescreen aspect ratio.

An enhanced viewing option is the “Inside Walt’s Story Meetings” mode (HD). This multi-facet mode mixes a picture-in-picture experience with re-enacted commentary from the original Disney “sweatbox” meetings, as well as archival pictures of those involved with making the film and ample original artwork. In addition, this mode also includes some extra video material that you can activate, which includes everything from a reference Mickey Mouse short to extra mini-documentaries on the artists’ research for drawing the animals. One final option is Disney’s new “Second Screen” mode, which pairs up the movie with either an iPad or computer application that lets you see further bonus material (mostly original art galleries) as the film plays.

More conventional bonus material begins with the “Big Book of Knowledge” (HD) interactive book. This item is definitely geared towards a younger audience, and includes a storybook look at the lives of forest animals, coupled with some simple interactive games using the remote. There are two deleted scenes new to this release – “Two Leaves” (HD, 3:07) and “Bambi Stuck On A Reed” (HD, 1:56) – as well as a deleted song, “Twitterpated” (HD, 1:53). To be honest, none are that compelling and serve more as curiosities. Of more interest are several interactive art galleries, where you can browse through some of the original artwork used on the movie.

Fans of older editions will be glad to know that there is also a section of archival extras. Two deleted scenes – “Winter Grass” (SD, 0:36) and “Bambi’s First Snow” (SD, 2:31) – are included, as well as the original trailer for the film (SD, 2:12). An old Disney short entitled “The Old Mill” (SD, 8:58) is added, and is notable as an earlier use of the multi-plane camera used in Bambi, as well as being a more wordless example of animation that focuses on nature and animal life. The six-part making-of documentary “A Prince Is Born” (SD, 53:12) is the highlight of this section, and offers some excellent background on the film and interviews with some of the voice actors and animators. “Tricks Of The Trade” (SD, 7:18) actually features Walt himself and is a look at how the multi-plane camera system works. And “Inside The Disney Archives” (SD, 8:39) follows one of the Disney animators as he examines some of the original Bambi artwork from the animation vault.

A regular DVD disc is also included with the package.

Conclusion

Bambi is more of an animation masterpiece than it is a masterfully complete film. But oh, what animation it holds! And Disney’s immaculate Blu-ray presentation gives the film an impressive new life. Bonus features are surprisingly deep, although with their share of filler. But overall, fans of the film should be thrilled with this release, and animation fans in general should revisit this newly restored classic.

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