Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Bambi: The Walt Disney Signature Collection Edition Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
Bambi, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year celebrates with a new Walt Disney Signature Edition that includes a variety of new bonus material, including recordings of Walt Disney discussing the challenges and triumphs during the production of Bambi; deleted scenes and characters; stories and effects that Bambi had on the Studio, other films and artists; and much, much more. Additionally, the Digital HD release includes an exclusive, heartfelt feature on the incredible artist, Tyrus Wong, who inspired the film’s soft watercolor backgrounds and beautiful palette.
Film (5 out of 5 stars) 
Bambi is a deceptively simple film both in it’s storytelling and its design. It contains the least amount of dialogue out of all of the Disney movies (including Pixar) which gives it a more naturalistic feel than all of the other Disney efforts. When its impressionistic backgrounds by Chinese animator Tyrus Wong that are dream-like and intangible are combined with realistically drawn animals, the result is a magical nature study.

Bambi is a huge step away from Disney’s previous release of Dumbo and its more realistic approach ended up setting a lasting influence on future movie, even though I really don’t think anyone would make the same choices today because of the trend to add in a ton of pop culture references and songs which in my opinion usually bloats the final product in most cases. However, it must be said that some movies like Fantasia and The Lion King have liberally taken ideas and even sequences from Bambi and updated them for modern tastes to great success. The movie's powerful yet simple plot works wonderfully well with the more realistic approach taken to the movie.

The movie opens with all of the forest creatures excitedly going to meet the new and Prince of the Forest named Bambi, who has just been born. They are amused to see the baby deer try to stand up and walk and one of them, a brash little rabbit named Thumper immediately decides to help Bambi out and they become good friends. They soon meet up with a bashful little skunk hiding in some flowers which makes Bambi call him Flower, much to Thumper’s amusement. It isn’t until his mother takes him to the meadow that Bambi sees another deer. The meadow is a dangerous place as it’s out in the open and it’s our first glimpse into the dangers that these animals face from both other predatory animals but mostly from mankind.

In the meadow, Bambi meets a female doe his age named Faline and is unnerved by her aggressive playfulness. For her part, Faline thinks Bambi is adorable shy and likes teasing and chasing him around. It is also in the meadow that Bambi first sees his absent father who leads the other animals and is constantly on alert to keep them all safe. Sure enough, some hunters come into the meadow and start shooting at the animals and it’s up to Bambi’s father to get them all to safety.

Time passes and seasons change, and with winter comes a shortage of food and the prospects of starvation for the animals. By the time spring arrives, we’ve watched the animals struggle to survive the long winter which only makes future events even more sad when the hungry animals risk venturing back out into the meadow to eat the newly arrived grass. I know most people have either seen this film or have heard about it but since I don’t want to reveal anything to readers that haven’t seen the movie yet so I will just leave it at that.

This is a film that I am convinced has made some people think twice about hunting. For many people it’s hard seeing the animals run in confused terror at the presence of Man, especially after the time we’ve spent watching them grow up and struggle to survive. Mankind isn’t featured in a favorable light at all and is instead shown as a destructive force that brings death and ruin to the animals and the forest alike.
Video (5 out of 5 stars) 
This is the same video presentation as the last Blu-ray release but it still looks amazing. This 1080p transfer (1.35:1) is absolutely gorgeous and looks like a movie that was made last year rather than sixty-eight years ago. Colors are vibrant and pop off the screen especially during the springtime sequences. From the lush forest to the ice covered landscapes during winter, this transfer is simply amazing. Contrast and detail are outstanding and the black levels are so black and deep that you will be amazed. All traces of age have been removed and there’s no sign of the picture being excessively scrubbed with DNR. While watching the special features, there’s a scene of the movie shown to explain the multi-plane process and I was shocked at how different that looked compared to this restored edition. I cannot say enough good things about this restoration.
Audio (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)
This DTS-HD High Resolution 7.1 audio track is also carried over from before but it is a fantastic restoration and I think this is about as good as it’s going to get considering the film’s age. The sound-scape has been widened considerably and some scenes like the spring showers or even the winter’s icy wind will make you feel like you are there. Some of the sound effects show their age but this new track sounds great and the effort that was put into to it really shows. Dialogue is clear and the songs and score by Frank Churchill and Edward Plumb are well balanced with it. Special mention must be said about the awesome choral vocals that accompany the score as they are emphasized for dramatic scenes and swell along with the score across the channels.
Extras (5 out of 5 stars)
This is another top notch effort from Disney to provide us with a ton of extras that will keep viewers busy for a long long time. The Blu-ray has all of the extras as the last Blu-ray release with the exception of these three extras: the Interactive Galleries, Disney Second Screen, and Disney's Big Book of Knowledge. Here’s the list of all of the goodies to be found:

New Blu-ray Extras:
  • Studio Stories: Bambi - An overview of how some sequences were animated by using real animals. We hear some archival sound clips and some behind the scenes footage to help illustrate the point.  
  • Deleted Scenes - In addition to the previously released deleted scenes below, this set includes two new ones: "Bambi's Ice and Snow," and "The Grasshopper." They are introduced by legendary Disney animator Floyd Norman. Be aware that "Bambi's Ice and Snow" was previously released as "Bambi's First Snow" but it has been modified and improved upon for this release. 
  • Oswald the Lucky Rabbit: "Africa Before Dark" - For the super classic Disney fans, here is a  vintage black and white cartoon starring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.
  • The Bambi Effect - A short look at how Bambi affected future films with it's style of realistic animation and its layouts.  
  • Bambi Fawn Facts - Here are some trivia facts about deer, skunks, and rabbits.
Classic Extras:
  • Inside Walt’s Story Meetings – Extended Edition – A multi-tiered, interactive story-telling experience with voice re-enactments of the moments with Walt Disney that led to the creation of this classic film. This is basically a visual commentary track with everyone involved in the movie accounted for. In some ways, this is even better than the traditional commentary track as those are basically people’s recollections from awhile ago, while this track is from transcripts that were captured immediately which gives the viewer a first hand view of the movie coming to life. This track offers a ton of information and insights into the movie and I highly recommend it.
  • Disney View – Instead of the black bars on the side of the picture you can choose to see some additional artwork by Lisa Keene that complements what’s on the screen and provides a 16×9 viewing experience.
  • Deleted song – We get to hear the deleted song about falling in love in the forest called “Twitterpated.” I think they made the right choice for cutting it since it really doesn’t fit in well with the movie.
  • The Making of Bambi: A Prince is Born – A look at the making of Bambi covers the story, the characters, the actors, the art design, the music and the history of Walt Disney’s classic film using behind-the-scenes footage, production stills, animation, artwork and multiple interviews with performers and behind-the-scenes participants. This is a very thorough look at the making of the movie and probably will do the trick for most of the viewers except for hardcore Disney fans like me.
  • Tricks of the Trade (excerpt) – In an episode from the 1957 Disneyland TV show, Walt Disney narrates the story of the multi-plane camera, an animation innovation crucial to the production of Bambi. Not only is this well done and very interesting, but the clip used to show the completed process shows just how amazing the restoration project was compared to the old prints.
  • Inside the Disney Archives – Disney Supervising Animator Andreas Deja guides viewers through Disney’s Animation Research Library, where artwork from past Disney animated feature films is stored, including early story sketches of Bobo the rabbit, (who became Thumper), glass paintings made for the multi-plane camera and more. Another inside look for Disney fans who like me would love to just go through that entire facility to see all of the beautiful original artwork made for the movies. I am glad that Disney cares so much about their heritage to have an archive facility such as this.
  • Deleted Scenes – There are three deleted scenes carried over from the previous release and they are: “Two Leaves” which offers a sobering look at life and death as it pertains to a pair of leaves that are about to fall off a tree in the winter. A lot of time and effort was put into this sequence and it’s a mature look at the nature of loss and acceptance with death. It was very touching but it didn’t belong in this movie but could have worked wonderfully in something like Fantasia. The next deleted scene is called “Bambi Stuck on a Reed” where Bambi gets stuck on a reed that contains a mouse’s nest. Bambi’s efforts to get free provide some humorous bits. This is basically an extended scene from the movie but wasn’t necessary to keep. The last one is called “Winter Grass.” They are all cute and could have easily been included into the finished movie.
  • The Old Mill – Winner of the 1937 Academy Award for Best Short Subject/Cartoon, The Old Mill, including the multi-plane camera, animating realistic animals and experimenting with such natural occurrences such as wind, rain and lightning. This is another short that could have fit right into Fantasia as well and it’s moody and evocative choices in lighting and techniques contributed a lot to Bambi and other productions too. I also saw that it was also effectively included in the World of Color show at Disneyland! 
  • DVD Copy of the film
  • Digital Copy of the film
Digital-Only Extra: 
  • Celebrating Tyrus Wong - In this digital only extra, we learn about artist Tyrus Wong and how his impressionistic style influenced Bambi. We see him working and hist artwork at the Disney Family Museum.
Final Thoughts (5 out of 5 stars)
This is most likely Disney’s most harrowing and unflinching movie that they’ve released. It’s so powerful that it’s made people believe that they saw a death in the film that wasn’t even shown and also inspired a generation of movie-goes and movie directors including such luminaries as Steven Spielberg and Guillermo Del Toro. The movie brilliantly combines realism with a dream like setting and shows how life comes full circle despite tragedy and that nature will always eventually triumph over anything connected to man. This is an outstanding restoration effort and it’s a must have for any collection.

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