Following upon Richard’s “Matrix” musings, I’ve just seen Disney’s fabulous restoration of “Bambi” out now on DVD. Rush to snap it up, gang…this one’s a treasure for the ages. Digitally enhanced yet faithful to the soft guache colors of yesteryear, it’s a more magnificent work of art than you remember. And don’t forget to stock up on Kleenex big time – you’ll need it!
While the movie itself is a treasure, I want to call your attention to a section on Disc One called “Inside Walt’s Story Sessions.” Unearthed for the first time since “Bambi’s” beginnings are transcripts of story conferences between Walt Disney and his staff of animators, art directors and music supervisors. Actors are employed to read the transcripts in a naturalistic way as we go through the classic film, scene by scene, listening to the development process in Walt’s and his artists’ own words. It’s a fascinating portrait of teamwork, a meeting of minds, hearts and spirits. More, it is a window into an innocent and poetic mindset of the past, before the word “edgy” was ever coined in Hollywood.
I listened with particular interest to discussions of the musical themes used throughout the film – music so powerful that it stands in place of dialogue and sound effects. Watch “Bambi” yourself and tell me if “Man’s Theme,” as it builds, is not at least as terrifying as the menacing shark motif in “Jaws.” There’s a relationship there. Also, Disney’s extensive use of a human choir is less corny and more of a revelation than you’d expect. The same vocal qualities that evoke lonely winds blowing over the moors in the Lawrence Olivier version of “Wuthering Heights” are both hair-raising and heartbreaking when used in “Bambi’s” most dramatic scenes.
This immensely influential cartoon we all grew up with has often been ridiculed as precious and dripping with sentiment. But I think Walt’s own, unrehearsed words provide special insight. He and his staff never set out to tell a cute, compromised story. Their intention was to bring the audience into the minds and souls of the characters, animals though they be. They thought constantly of what the audience would best be able to relate to…where to hit ’em hard and where to give ’em a rest. They intended for the film to be a spiritual experience without beating anyone over the head. And they had a helluva lot of fun doing it!
Treat yourselves. See “Bambi” tonight and be transported to realms of watercolor lushness. Lord knows it implanted love for the Forest and its inhabitants in the heart of the eight year old that still lives in me. It’s more than held up over the years. It’s so fresh and achingly pure you almost won’t believe people’s heads, at one time, were ever in such a place.