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(1942) **** G
70 min. RKO Radio Pictures. Director: David D. Hand. Cast: Peter Behn, Paula Winslowe, Bobby Stewart, Cammie King, Donnie Dunagan.

/content/films/3970/1.jpgIt would be easy to be cynical about Bambi, the Walt Disney-produced film that launched a thousand anthropomorphic animal movies. But its pre-ironic simplicity has, in many ways, only improved with age. The beauty of the animation seems only more dreamy in contrast to today's razor-edged CGI animation, and the unhurried, minimalist storytelling makes the film seem, more than ever before, like a getaway to nature.

The magic begins with the lush choral vocals of Oscar-nominated “Love Is a Song” (“Love is a song that never ends/Life may be swift and fleeting…”), and we enter the forest on an auspicious day, to cries of “The new prince is born!” Yep, that'd be Bambi, a white-tailed deer. The other animals gather round, including presumably wise "Friend Owl" and young rabbit Thumper, who quickly becomes Bambi's bosom companion. The coming days follow the “kinda wobbly” Bambi’s growth and development, with a learning curve that includes coming to an understanding of the danger of Man (the unseen force that provides most of the film's slim dramatic tension) and the nerve-wracked "joys" of mating (including literally locking horns with a rival suitor to win the heart of fetching fawn Faline).

The story structure is seasonal, and anyone who has seen The Lion King will recognize it owes as much to Bambi as to Hamlet. Bambi is the original anthropomorphized-animal "circle of life" tale, with “The Great Prince of the Forest” standing proudly atop promontories as his offspring learns how to take his place. The approach to animal life barely masks the film's dual intent of serving up an allegory for human nature, with its own remote fathers, clouds of war, romantic pursuits, and family legacies.

Austrian author Felix Salten's original novel rigorously explores the nature of its characters and setting, and Disney's Bambi has been criticized for soft-pedaling its source's environmentalism and unblinking look at the natural laws of the forest. Still, the Disney film is best remembered for the terrorizing reality that faces Bambi's mother—and, by extension, the audience—when Man, bearing arms, comes to the forest. The truth about Santa Claus and the death of Bambi's mother have been twin traumatic rites of passage for American kids. By providing the woodland point-of-view on the terrors of gunshots and hunting dogs and wildfire, Bambi raised the ire of hunters, and the film can easily be claimed by wildlife advocates and vegetarians as a rallying cry.

For all this, the film is more so a sweet-natured nature story, with ridiculously cute characters like Thumper and Bambi's skunk friend, named (awwwww...) Flower. Contributing to the lighter side of the story are more songs, including “Little April Showers,” “Let’s Sing a Gay Little Spring Song” and “Looking for Romance (I Bring You a Song)”. Above all, the gorgeous animation—distinguished by subtle color, striking use of the mutiplane camera, and oil-painted backgrounds—brings Bambi vividly to life.

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Aspect ratios: 1.35:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: DTS-HD High Resolution 7.1, Dolby Digital 2.0

Street date: 3/1/2011

Distributor: Walt Disney Home Entertainment

Disney does it again with its extraordinary Blu-ray + DVD Diamond Edition of Bambi. The subtly cleaned-up picture is breathtaking: still film-like in its evident grain, but yielding more detail than ever before possible on home video. The image excels in its recreation of rich hues, contrast is spot-on, and the picture is never less than clean and clear. An artful 7.1 DTS-HD HR surround mix effectively spreads the soundfield to create a sense of immersion, but Disney thankfully also includes the Restored Original Theatrical Soundtrack as a Dolby Digital 2.0 monaural track. With a total absence of digital artifacting and two great audio options, this A/V presentation of Bambi can't be beat. As usual, this Academy-ration film also comes with a Disney View playback option to replace the black bars on the left and right of the image with specially designed artwork.

The outstanding selection of bonus features begins with a "Disc Introduction by Diane Disney Miller" (1:06, HD), who continues to plug San Francisco's impressive Walt Disney Family Museum.

The Backstage Disney: Diamond Edition section plays host to Bambi: Inside Walt's Story Meetings - Enhanced Edition (HD), a unique historical recreation audio commentary with actors reading excerpts from transcripts of Bambi story sessions. The track is enhanced with archival photographs and developmental artwork, as well as a dozen branched video segments: "Learn More About Walt's Story Meetings," "Hear More About the Chipmunk and Squirrel," the 1941 Mickey Mouse cartoon "Canine Caddy," deleted scene "Bambi Stuck on a Reed," "See How Disney's Animators Prepared for Bambi," "Hear a Personal Story from Walt," "Learn About the Groundbreaking Visual Style of Bambi," deleted scene "Two Leaves," 1935 Mickey Mouse cartoon "On Ice," "Hear How Walt Disney Chose the Animators on Bambi," "Learn More About the Music and Songs of Bambi," "Hear More About Walt Disney's First Female Animator" (Retta Scott), and "Learn About the Lasting Legacy of Bambi."

New to this release is a feature called Disney Second Screen, explained in "What is Disney Second Screen" (0:42, HD). By using a Second Screen website or app on either an iPad or a computer nearby to your TV, you can make the devices communicate for a unique playback experience that yields concept art, interactive image galleries and games. The bugs haven't all been worked out on this feature, in that perfect sync is very hard to achieve; still, credit to Disney for pushing the envelope in terms of state-of-the-art interactivity.

Also in Backstage Disney is direct menu access to the two deleted scenes "Two Leaves" (3:07, HD) and "Bambi Stuck on a Reed" (1:56, HD). Rounding out the section are the buried-treasure deleted song "Twitterpated" (1:53, HD) and Bambi Interactive Galleries, which revolutionizes this type of feature by allowing the viewer to scroll through the images or to create custom montages set to the film's score, as well as offering interactivity like zooming in on or rating images. Sections include Character Design (54 images), Backgrounds (38 images), Production (35 images), Storyboards (75 images), and Visual Development (151 images).

Family Play: Games & Activities offers Disney's Big Book of Knowledge: Bambi Edition (HD), an educational game for kids.

As per tradition, Disney also gathers many of the Classic DVD Bonus Features, including two deleted scenes: "Winter Grass" (0:36, SD) and "Bambi's First Snow" (2:31, SD).

"The Making of Bambi: A Prince is Born" (53:21, SD) covers story, characters, actors, art design, music, and history in the disc's most comprehensive making-of documentary.

"Tricks of the Trade" (7:18, SD) is a February 1957 excerpt from the Disneyland TV series.

"Inside the Disney Archives" (8:39, SD) allows animator Andreas Deja to act as our tour guide.

Last up are the 1937 Silly Symphony animated short "The Old Mill" (8:58, SD) and Bambi's "Original 1942 Theatrical Trailer" (2:12, SD).

All in all, this is an amazing special edition of an enduring film classic, and in a Blu-ray + DVD combo pack, fans should find it irresistible.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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