I’ve never been a fan of Bambi. There I said it. Despite the artistry involved, the wonderful character designs, and all the effort that went into the film, I don’t think it turned out particularly well. It’s a beauty to look at, but not all that fun to watch. With the release of the new Blu-Ray, I decided to take another look at it.
Watching the film again, after having done quite a bit of research on it, I was more impressed than ever with the animation staff at Disney in the 1930s and 1940s. The work they did on this film is unimaginable. The film went into production in 1936, before Snow White was ever released. It took six years of painstaking work to get just the right look and feel for this film. Every second of that six years shows up on screen for this movie.
The challenge that Walt Disney and his artists overcame in this film was realism. Bambi is a film about a place as much as its characters. The forest is the dominant force in the film, and the contrast between the opposing force of man. When it came time to portray the forest, drawing every branch or every blade of grass was not feasible. Artist Tyrus Wong solved the problem by using his background in Asian art to suggest drawing only the “impression” of the forest. It was an inspired choice that allowed the artists to give the viewer enough visual cues to make them understand that the forest was there, but not draw the eye away from the main characters.
Character design is another huge victory for the Disney artists here. Again faced with the issue of realism, the animation team created a mixture between realistic motion of the animals and facial features that allowed them to act in a way that would be familiar to the audiences. Think of all the Disney films that have followed Bambi that featured animals or other characters in this mold.
While both of those things make for an exceedingly beautiful film, they don’t address my main problem: there’s no story to Bambi. The film is a nice bit of work that shows snapshots of the life cycle of a young deer; however, the audience doesn’t learn much about that deer. How does Bambi feel? What motivates him? None of this is answered in the film.
The crucial scene of the film, when Bambi’s mother dies, packs an emotional punch not many other films can. What disappoints, then, is the fact that this emotional punch does not give us a better understanding of the characters in the film. Their reactions are nowhere to be found. There is no depth to these characters, and that is why they aren’t as popular all these years later.
Mickey Mouse, Snow White, Pinocchio and other characters created before this film don’t suffer from the same issue. They are still wildly popular characters today because the films they appeared in gave us insight into who they are and who they became. Bambi doesn’t show that same character transformation, and the film suffers because of it.