Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Review: Bambi, or, The Circle of Life pt. 1

After the relative success of Dumbo, Disney decided to stick with cute animals with 1943's Bambi and, in the process, broke the hearts of several generations of children.

Based on the novel Bambi, A Life in the Woods by Austrian Felix Salten, Disney began work on this project after the completion of Snow White. The project was postponed for several reasons; at first, Walt's insistence that the animation be more realistic pushed production back, and then he pulled animators off the project to work on Fantasia. But the project remained in progress from 1938 onward. When Dumbo was completed the studio turned their attention back to Bambi with earnest. Character animators spent days studying live forest animals so they could accurately capture their movements (which slowed the animation process down considerably) while background artists traveled to the forests of Maine and Vermont to help fully realize the setting.

The film was released at a terrible time, though. The European markets were all but closed due to the war, and many viewers were put off by the realistic animation and the depiction of man within the film. This, of course, meant that as far as financially successful films go, only two of the first five Disney Animated Features qualified after their original release. In 1947, Bambi was re-released, and turned a tidy profit. Critics have shown general praise for it, as well. And children everywhere cry about it all the time.

The original book, of course, as more to it than we get in the film, but the differences are actually fairly minor so I won't go into them. Let's just jump right on into the rest of the review.

The visuals in this film are stunning; the multiplane camera work on the backgrounds is astounding while the animals look amazingly realistic when compared to what had been seen in the past. And the story has its cute moments for sure; Bambi learning to walk, to talk, to slide around on ice, exploring the world around him, it's all fun. I can remember as a child watching the "Hey ma! What's all of that white stuff?" scene over and over.

I'm o.k., I'm all write: Charlie Sheen Free Since About Two Seconds Ago

But let me get down to my real gut feeling of this film; there is a sleeper villain nobody ever talks about and it bothers me.

The villain is "Man," I totally get it. Man is in the forest, which makes it dangerous for Bambi and his mother to be on the meadow. Man even (spoiler alert) kills Bambi's mother in the middle of winter, leaving poor Bambi frightened and alone. Man employs these really evil looking dogs to go after the forest animals and then burns the entire forest down. Man is evil.

Actually, let's talk about how effective this villain is. You never see any men. They are represented by the cawing of crows, gunshots, smoke, fire, and a pack of dogs. The dogs are probably the scariest of all; we've spent the entire movie feeling an emotional connection to these incredibly realistic animals and then they're being attacked by dogs, which is an animal we as a species have a generally pleasant feeling about. This is how this film gets you: the forest animals are very accurately detailed with the exception of their eyes. Their eyes are very human looking, all of them. The dogs, on the other hand (which we are used to seeing in animated films as friendly characters with anthropomorphic traits and human-like eyes) have scary, black and white beady animal eyes. It only would have been worse if the eyes had been blood red. The effect you get is that here is graphic animal-on-animal violence, and these dogs have clearly been brainwashed by evil man to do their evil bidding in an evil manner.

There is a great disturbance in the Forest

So we can all agree man creepy, dogs creepier. Good.

The sleeper villain of which I speak is none other than the good Prince of the Forest, AKA Bambi's absentee father. Look, I get that authentically, White Tail Deer bucks do not stick around and help raise the kids. I get it. But he could have at least shown some interest, yeah? He basically watched from on high while Bambi came into the world, then disappeared until one day Bambi saw him on the meadow. He doesn't even know it's his father, he just sees him and everybody else gets silent and reverent. His own mother doesn't even tell him, presumably on the orders of the Prince himself I guess. He didn't want it to be known. And then, when mom gets capped, Dad's all of a sudden got to take charge. And talk about a lack of tact. "Your mother can't be with you anymore," he says. "Come with me." Really? No further explanation. That bodes real well for your parenting skills, buddy. Your child definitely won't turn out to be conflicted or a drug addict or anything.

...good, Charlie Sheen didn't pop up again.

Especially now that I am a father, I have a hard time getting over this whole father-son relationship that happens in this movie. From what we see, they have four interactions; once on the meadow, once when Mom dies, at the very end when the two of them overlook the birth of Bambi's two children, and then once before this when Bambi has been shot. Again, no sympathy, his father just says, "Get up, Bambi." Like, come on dad, I've kind of been shot here? Also, why weren't you there, huh? When I was born? You could have stopped mom from naming me Bambi. Seriously, I feel like the Boy Named Sue here.

I understand that this all has to do with realism; Bucks don't take part in child rearing, that's fine, but you have some creative license here; it's an animated film in which animals speak English. And I mean, across species lines. That's pretty intense stepping outside the reality box. Why can't we have a little more fatherly involvement, hmm?

Also, Disney writers seemed to have forgotten this film existed for a time. What do I mean, you may ask? I'll tell you: this film opens with all the animals in a "kingdom" rushing to see the newborn prince. They get there and pay their respects. The prince then begins having childhood adventures, but before he can grow up and lead a normal royal animal life, he endures the loss of a parent and has to deal with those emotions. He then, in the course of growing up and finding himself, falls in love with a childhood friend, confronts a danger that threatens the very existence of his Kingdom, and then at the end, he takes his rightful place and watches over all the Kingdom's animals pay their respects to his newborn child.

It's the Circle of Life, and it Moves us All.

But that's a review for another day.


Once again, I visited the Wikipedia Entry for this film. And, once again, their reputation isn't always solid as a rock.


mGk said...

Damn you're funny. No, really. That Charlie Sheen bit... laughing my a$$ off. (which is saying something...)

Molly said...

Hmm... I never caught that similarity in the stories (Circle of life thing). Maybe there are a finite number of stories that can be told.... eh?

Becca said...

Have you seen this site yet?


You might appreciate it. : D

Elliot said...

@Becca - Freaking HILARIOUS.

Anonymous said...

At least Disney tried to make up for it in "Bambi 2," with Patrick Stewart playing Bambi's father.