Hard to believe that "Bambi" is already 70 years old and yet no other pieces of animation ever came close to it. You can mention "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Lion King", any Disney's acclaimed masterpiece, still, nothing can beat the good old animation drawn by hand and on that level, watching "Bambi" is like admiring the 'Mona Lisa' of Animation. The American Film Institute recognized "Bambi" as number three in its Top Ten Animated films right after "Pinocchio" and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs". I guess, the pioneer deserved the top spot if only because without "Snow White", there wouldn't have been "Bambi".
And the progresses made between the two films are tremendous; look closer to the animal designs, in the former they look like animated creatures from short cartoons, while "Bambi" doesn't focus only on aesthetics but also on scientific exactitude. The film doesn't forget to be simply Animation, but the realism of the landscape, the drawing, everything makes it hard to believe that it was made only five years after "Snow White". "Bambi" is a tribute for the inspiring level of perfectionism that elevated its animated movies at the same level of Hollywood's greatest masterpieces, it's a tribute to Disney's ambitions as a true film-maker, as he never took anything for granted. Every successful film was an encouragement for making a better one and after "Bambi", it was naturally impossible to make something better. It's not surprising that the film closes what we refer now as Disney's Golden Age.
I don't want to make "Bambi" sound only like a technical achievement, after all, even as a kid, my eyes and my heart were grabbed by the story. But now, as a grown-up, more familiar with today's animated films, I see "Bambi" with constant marveled eyes, I can turn off the sound and never cease to be amazed by how it look, or I could close my eyes and simply let myself transported by the music. "Bambi" would never work today, because animated films are marketed for a different audience, eager to see fast-paced action, hilarious sidekicks, lager- than-life villains and catchy songs. These are the must of Animated films and it's interesting to note that "Bambi" handle these elements with a sober maturity that would put most kids to sleep now. I can't believe I'm saying this, me who is 40 years younger than the film.
"Bambi" was made in a time where people had a reason to see movies that was beyond the idea of entertainment. Audiences wanted to be transported in another dimension and to be emotionally engaged, their eyes marveled by a dreamlike world that transcends the banality of their life. Just look at the beginning of "Bambi", certainly the most haunting of all Disney overtures. From the first frames, it feels like a camera is filming a forest, it's a long traveling shot in a foggy, misty, dark setting we would never leave until the end. The audience is respectfully invited to penetrate the world of Bambi, quietly discreetly, until the first animals wake up to see the New Prince, then we follow them with excitement. "Bambi"'s opening sequence echoes the beginning of "The Lion King" in a much more intimate way, and when we discover the newborn Bambi sleeping beneath his Mother, we share the same impression than the animals.
In many ways, "Bambi" reminds of "The Lion King" and vice versa, but while "The Lion King" was a sort of Disney take on typical Shakespearian themes, "Bambi" doesn't embarrass itself with a specific plot, but for me, what has often been pointed out as a flaw happens to be the film's most defining force. "Bambi" doesn't tell a story because "Bambi"s main protagonist is not Bambi, but Time, Time is as present as Man although both can't be seen, and the whole film consist for us to witness the passing of time in Bambi's. Bambi is the central character but not the core of the film, which helped to deal with a story without needing pointless foils. His best friends, Thumper and Flower are real friends not supporting sidekicks. "Bambi" is a movie about time, inviting us to contemplate time's effect on animals, nature. The way each season is portrayed through music and colors is simply magical.
And "Bambi" ends just like it started, it's indeed the 'circle of life' with a scope so large that we can't even talk of a coming-of-age story: from the beginning, Bambi learns how to walk, to talk, he discovers this strange feeling we call love. And the toughest lesson the Prince of the Forest had to face is the one forever engraved in the traumatized minds of generations of children and adults. "Bambi" doesn't have a plot, which makes every piece of action absolutely powerful. After the first entrance of Man that interrupted the deer's ballet, there is one 'bang' that warns us about his presence. And when the Mother, who tutored Bambi for the two thirds of the film, feels Man's presence, she immediately covers her son by running behind him. The last shot of Bambi jumping followed by the fatal sound is one of the most brutal, shocking and admirably powerful displays of violence in a film, and the sadness that comes after the beautiful sacrifice is impossible to describe.
This is the most disturbing death in a Disney film, and probably in any film, a necessary pivotal device in 'coming-of-age' stories but never equaled with this intensity. Disney created a villain even scarier because he was off-screen and his presence only identifiable with an ominous theme, doesn't that ring a bell to you, cinematic fans? Well, I guess no one can review "Bambi" without evoking the most characteristic and memorable part of the film, but needless to say that "Bambi" is more than that, a unique experience to be enjoyed because there would never be another film like it...
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