Long regarded as a classic of animation, it is hard to believe that this title was originally released into cinemas in 1942. Here making its debut onto digital format, Bambi is released as part of Disney's Platinum Edition as a two disc set.
The film probably needs little introduction here. Even those who have not seen the film before (this reviewer shyly raises his hand) will know the basic plot. But just in case......
Bambi is your basic coming of age story. The beginning of the movie is very similar in structure to The Lion King(1994) as various animals of the forest learn of Bambi's birth and make their way to view the newborn baby. The surprising aspect of the film, for those coming to it for the first time, is just how much time is given over to the development and early life of Bambi.
As he grows up, we witness the curiosity and innocence of the young faun. Instead of a plot, and progression through a story, the film takes time to follow the development of Bambi. So we see him take his first steps, speak his first word, make his first friend (the nauseating Thumper), and generally learn to appreciate the forest around him.
The interesting thing about the film is the absence of a male influence on both Thumper and Bambi. Whether it was done to accurately reflect the time in which it was made I do not know, but the male figures in both young animals lives are either non existent or remote, albeit powerful. Bambi's father is the highly revered prince of the forest, who has lived longer than any other animal, but it is quite some way into the movie before Bambi realises this. It is his mother who teaches him, his mother who is his influence.
This does, of course, make the big event of this movie all the more shocking. Whilst in the meadow one day, Bambi's mother recognises a familiar sound. The sound of danger. The sound of man. It is no great spoiler to reveal that she is shot and killed (off screen), and from this moment on, Bambi has become a man.
The film cuts to several years in the future when Bambi and his friends have become adolescents. They fall in love, have to deal with a serious threat (man, who nearly destroys the forest with a fire), and finally the film comes full circle with a new scene of birth.
The film is so similar in structure to The Lion King; it comes as quite a surprise to those who may have seen the modern classic before this older entry into the Disney Canon. Both films start in a very similar way, both protagonists have to deal with a major traumatic event that brings them to adulthood, and both films end with a scene that nicely complements the beginning. However, I cannot escape the feeling that Bambi may not be as relevant to modern audiences as it could have been. I am a big fan of animated films when they are done really well, and certainly have no axe to grind with Disney. However, I did find “Bambi” to be rather too mawkish and overly sentimental for my taste. As a study of a character through animation it is undoubtedly a triumph. But as a film it just doesn't convince me. If you have fond memories of the film, then this new presentation is going to do nothing but improve the experience for you. If you are new to the film, however, it may pay to approach with rather more caution.