When Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was released back in 1937, Walt Disney proved not only that there was vast commercial potential in animation, but that it was also a credible art-form. Disney, the great innovator, toyed with surrealism in Pinocchio and created a sublime blend of music, dance and visual splendour in Fantasia, both released in 1940. With Bambi, Disney observed the quiet balance of the natural world and the troubling emergence of man. While it may contain an ensemble of cutesy talking animals with kids' voices and scenes that will have you saying "awww!" out loud, Bambi is pretty heavy stuff at times.
We begin with the birth of a young prince, the wide-eyed, white- tailed deer Bambi (Donnie Dunagan), and while this opening may ring a bell with anyone who has seen The Lion King (1994) - which is everybody - Bambi is not near-mythical royalty with a destiny laid out for him. He is viewed with extreme curiosity by the other woodland animals, including enthusiastic young rabbit Thumper (Peter Behn), and they giggle as they watch the awkward deer try to stand up. As his protective mother teaches him of the dangers of the forest, his new friends teach him how to leap over fallen trees and ice-skate. Bambi doesn't so much have a plot with a beginning, a middle and an end. Instead, it's simply a portrayal of life, and the discovery, learning and danger we all come to face.
The seasons change along with the film's tone and Bambi's increasing maturity, and the colder it gets, the closer you get to that scene. A few near-misses practically confirm that the doting mother isn't going to be around for long, but the moment still packs a punch even on repeat viewings. Brutally, the incident happens off-camera, and Bambi is informed of her death matter-of-factly by his stoic father. It's an incredibly brave and creative approach, and one that deals with the harshness of real life with incredible maturity. It also sums up Bambi perfectly - observational, unpatronising and thoughtful - but it will certainly warm your heart as well. Disney is frequently criticised for sugar-coating and over-simplifying our world, but I would point anyone in the direction of the corporation's earlier works, particularly Bambi, for elevating animation to a cinematic art-form.
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