Since The Walt Disney Company started to started to make direct-to-video sequels to their feature length theatrical releases in 1994 (with the release of "The Return of Jafar", sequel to "Aladdin"), it has earned an infamous bad reputation due to the often low quality of these sequels that seem to be made to capitalize on the original's name only, without really caring for delivering a good story, or good animation; almost as if there was not a real concern about making a good film. To my surprise, "Bambi II", the direct-to-video "sequel" (as it's more like an addendum) to the 1942 classic, is a considerable improvement over the previous series of sequels and it even surpasses most of the current Disney theatrical releases in terms of quality, art, and most importantly, entertainment.
"Bambi II" is about the long unexplored gap of the first "Bambi", covering the events between his mother's death and his growing up to adulthood. Under the care of his reluctant father, the Great Prince (Patrick Stewart), the young saddened deer (voiced by Alexander Gould) must learn to overcome his grief, his fears and to assume his place as heir of the position of Great Prince. However, his father is not too fond of caring for young children, so Bambi's tutelage will prove to be a difficult experience for both. Fortunately, Bambi will find some support from his friends, Thumper (Brendon Baerg) and Flower (Nicky Jones), but he'll also have to meet his soon-to-be rival, the mean deer Ronno (Anthony Ghannam), for the first time.
Making a follow-up for a classic like "Bambi" is not easy, but the fact that the writers (Director Brian Pimental and newcomer Alicia Kirk) decided to explore an entirely "missing chapter" in the life of the young deer instead of making a proper sequel, gave them enough freedom to create a story that not only is fresh and original on its own, it also gives continuity to the original without disrespecting it or blatantly copying it. Using the original film and Felix Salten's novel as inspiration, Pimental and Kirk craft a story about learning to be a father, and overcoming the loss of a dear relative, as well as about growing up and facing the vicissitudes of life.
Brian Pimental (one of the writers of the 90s classics "Beauty and the Beast" and "Aladdin") takes his first chance as director giving life to this story and he doesn't disappoint. With a respectful, almost humble approach to the original film, he manages to capture the essence of "Bambi" and setting up the events that lead to the original's conclusion. Most of the current direct-to-video sequels by Disney have distinguish themselves for a considerably lower quality in the art department, but "Bambi II" is truly an exception, as it seems that the animators really tried to stay true to the first film's style (although of course, there were some modernizations), as even some backgrounds were reused to keep the same art direction.
The young Alexander Gould (Nemo in "Finding Nemo") once again proves that he has an enormous future as an actor (at least for voices) and gives life to Bambi with a natural freshness. Patrick Stewart, who voices the Great Prince, truly gives the feeling of stoicism and coldness the Prince must have, as well as his hidden heart of gold, forced to be hidden by the Prince's duties. Overall, the rest of the cast make a very good work, considering they had to try to emulate the work done almost more than 60 years before. Without modern slang or self-referential phrases, the cast gives an effective (and welcomed) sense of continuity between this film and the first "Bambi".
"Bambi II" will surely please most fans of the original, but while it's an honest attempt to make a respectful and original addition to the main storyline, it becomes a bit too clichéd for moments. The use of a couple of pop ballads may prove damaging on the long road, as while the songs are really good, they take away that atemporal characteristic the first film had and will definitely make the movie outdated a lot sooner than expected. Anyways, when compared to the other sequels Disnaye has been releasing, this flaws are really minor, as "Bambi II" makes a nice addition that at times surpasses the current theatrical released Disney films.
Sure, "Bambi II" is not better than the original, and that's OK because it doesn't try to be better. This modest and humble addendum to the story succeeds in what it's set up to make and delivers good entertainment and brings back good memories of the original. Walt himself would be proud of this sequel to his favorite film. 7/10
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