Wednesday, January 20, 2010
#5: Bambi (1942)
After cutting it short with the last picture, Disney pulls out the big guns with 'Bambi,' which I'd say is their most visually ambitious to that point. Extensive field research on the structure and movement of animals on the part of the animators really shows; the character animation in this movie is phenomenal, and so absolutely true to life. I grew up in a state overrun by deer, so I've seen 'em move around and live it up in my backyard, and 'Bambi's got those movements down. Walt strove for a more realistic design in both the characters and the environment, and it's got to be their most technically ambitious film yet, and it shows.
All the woodland critters are all aflutter about the birth of the new 'prince,' a little fawn named Bambi. Bambi starts to grow and learn about the forest from his mother, and the other creatures like Thumper the ever-amused rabbit and Flower, the bashful skunk. Of course, man is occasionally afoot in the woods so everyone needs to stay extra cautious... but too bad Bambi's mom gets capped off after a sudden ambush. Time rolls on as Bambi grows to an adult, fights for a mate, and escapes with the other critters from a raging forest fire caused by man. We really do screw everything up, don't we?
First up, let me say... the cuteness meter is pinned for just about the first thirty minutes of the film. Which is basically half the movie. The cute designs, the cute voices, the beautiful design of the forest... everything about it is absolutely adorable. But as "Disneyfied" as some of the characters are, they are animated exquisitely. There are a few moments where for the sake of a joke they're more caricatured, like where Thumper rolls on the floor laughing (ROFL!), but the animals move like real animals. It's incredible, there's such attention to detail, observation and weight, and I can pick out so many scenes where this is especially prevalent. Some of the best examples are when young Bambi is struggling to walk, or slipping on ice. The way his little stick legs are animated, and how he falls under them, is amazing. Then as an adult when he's prancing around with his gal pal: equally as fantastic. It's some of the most amazing animation I've seen thus far, if not the most.
There are a few other scenes that are more dramatized and stylistic, like when the deer are running from the hunters the first time around. It's all frenzied and done in solid colors, which I thought was neat and fit the panic of the scene. Also especially effective is that man, the biggest threat in the film, is never shown on screen, just the sound of gunshots, and a brief scenes where their ravenous dogs go wild on Bambi. Incredible how he fights off all six at once, and never appears to get bitten once, despite the dogs' incredibly prevalent sharp chompers. There's also Bambi's brawl with a wannabe suitor for his doe, as seen above, a heavily shadowed and impassioned fight that's really well done. Lots of drama, lots of action, good stuff.
As for the movie on the whole, it really does illustrate the life of Bambi in its tone: as a child, everything is bright and full of child-like innocence, but as more shit starts hitting the fan, things turn dour and Bambi must learn to be a man. Er, deer... man. There's really a dramatic tonal shift towards the last third of the film, and strangely, it's not really when Bambi's mom gets killed. That may be the strangest part of the movie: the scene isn't nearly as heart wrenching or drawn out as I thought it would be, and it is immediately followed by what might be the happiest, most upbeat scene I've seen of any movie ever about how joyful the forest is about springtime. I hadn't even started to mourn yet, and I'm getting happy music!
Verdict? Absolutely astonishing. The animal animation alone is worth the price of admission. This movie has been heralded as a milestone for Disney, and one of their all-time best films, and I truly see what they mean. The visuals are so impactive and the animation so stellar, this one's an absolute must-see. And it's also cute. Did I mention that?