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Occasionally a word enters our lexicon when a specific brand or instance becomes so popular, so widely accepted that it becomes used as the all encompassing term. One example comes from a little forest creature whose name now embodies gentle innocence; ‘Bambi’. Of all the characters that have sprung from the vastly creative mind of Walt Disney arguably the one that remains enduringly beloved from one generation to the next is this sweet, wide eyed fawn. This little animal frolicking in the untainted forest has transcended mere paint on a celluloid frame of film to become iconic, a part of humanity. It is one of the most simplistic stories to have made it into the lauded Disney animated canon but contained within that simplicity lies the full range of the human experience from the wonderment of childhood discoveries to the crushing grief of death. In less than an hour and a half this gentle film takes the audience, young and old alike on a journey through the essence of life. Like most of the Disney animated classics this one had been placed in regular rotation; released every few years. Walt Disney was a master of many aspects of entertainment including marketing. Utilizing the premise that a fresh release of a movie enjoyed by the parents can have the same effect on the following generation this movie and its peers have gone past classics to achieve the status of tradition. I remember the look in my daughter’s eyes when my wife and I took her to see this film; most likely it was the same look we had on our faces upon our first time viewing this movie. I am also quite certain that someday my daughter will introduce her own children to this film perpetuating the tradition, extending it to the next generation. For a few years now Disney Studios has been re-mastering their animated canon specifically for high definition presentation of Bu-ray. They seem to be working in chronological order from the oldest on up. Like the previous members of this ‘Diamond Collection’ this two disc set is itself a treasure that the entire family will enjoy many times over.

There is a touch of irony contained within the credits of the film. The author of the novel used as the source material, Felix Salten, was an enthusiastic hunter. His book, ‘Bambi, A Life in the Woods’ was reportedly conceived while on a hunting trip. Many consider this movie the ultimate anti-hunter story when in reality this was never the intention. In a fashion typical for the studio several writers were charged with re-working the novel into a script but a proven Disney veteran was charged with story direction. Perce Pearce had worked on the ‘The Sorcerer's Apprentice’ segment of ‘Fantasia’ and would go on as a regular contributor of a staple of any baby boomer’s Sunday evening; ‘Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color’. While this was one of the first of the Disney tradition of cute talking animals there is barely any dialogue to be found in the movie. One of the greatest strengths of this film is the efficiency of the storytelling. The approach employed so well here is a naturalistic one. While the animals do speak, actually a plot point within the story, most of the exposition comes through movement, color and a pervasive emotional content that pours off the screen. This technique was reinforced by the principle director, James Algar. Along with several of the animators he spent a lot of time in the woodlands observing the interaction of the wildlife with each other and their natural environment. Algar would go on in this direction becoming one of Disney’s most prolific film makers working on the other main area of concentration for Disney’s film; the nature documentary.

Naturally, this film, released in 1956, was long before any graphic automation or generation techniques were even dreamt about. This was also part of Disney’s natural period were great effort was put into making sure the animals were accurately rendered. The artists carefully depicted the fur, musculature and textures to make the woodland creatures vividly pop off the screen. Part of this distinction was the use of oils for the background in lieu of the lighter watercolors frequently used in animation of this period. The story does cover the coming of age of Bambi from new born fawn to a mature buck starting his own family. This allows the film to conclude on the happy note of a young romance blossoming in the woods. This is necessary to help off set the most famous scene where Bambi’s mother gives her life to ensure his safety. The villain here was simply ‘Man’; not any particular person but the concept of a creature existing outside the balance of the forest that kills suddenly. It does seem that Disney had some maternal issues since it was common place for his protagonists to face life without a mother. Bambi was referred to as ‘the new Prince’ of the forest and like the famous Disney princesses had to learn to rule without a feminine influence. Character development is beautifully handled following not only Bambi but his friends as they learn to live as part of their environment. If anything this film is as much of the naturalist movement as ‘Walden Pond’ particularly in the shooting scene. ‘Man’, depicted as a darkness lurking at the edge of perception has been called one of the most memorable villains in cinema even though he is never clearly shown.

· Two never-before-seen deleted scenes

· The deleted song "Twitterpated"

· Voice re-enactments of Walt’s story meetings

· Gallery of design images

· An "interactive educational gaming experience" called the Big Book of Knowledge that teaches about animals and the seasons

· The digital exclusive "The Golden Age"

· The making of

· An excerpt from a 1957 episode of the Disneyland TV show about the multiplane camera

· "Inside the Disney Archives" of the Animation Research Library

· "The Old Mill", a short cartoon that won a 1937 Academy Award and shows use of the multiplane camera and animal animation

Posted 02/20/11

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