A cinematic look at the history of motion pictures, viewing and studying the films chronologically based on release in order to best understand how each where impacted by their times and in turn impacted the world. In observation we can detect how each motion picture added to medium and helped cinema evolve and impact the world as an art, form of entertainment, and capsule of history.
Disney animation in the 1930s and into the early 1940s made
a name for itself with high quality material with well-rounded characters,
artistic drawing styles, innovative animation effects, and various retellings
of fairytales. Bambi, Walt Disney’s
fifth full length animated feature, has all of the above with the exception
being its focus on lifelike animals and the feature’s lack of a fairytale
story. Despite the absence of this very Disney-like characteristic Bambi is an astonishing piece of
animated cinematic art. The film makes major strides forward towards blurring
the lines between fanciful drawings and add reality, literally breathing life
into inanimate drawing on celluloid. It is a motion picture that takes you
through a screen and into a forest where one may believe animals share all the
same human emotions we do.
Bambi is an
animated coming of age tale on one young deer who with the help of his forest friends
and family, through trials and tribulations, learns the ways of life in the
forest and matures in a world where nature’s greatest enemy is man. Born a fawn
prince Bambi is introduced to the ways of the forest by his mother and a group
of new friends including an energetic rabbit named Thumper, a bashful skunk
named Flower, and a female fawn named Faline. AT a very important age of within
his innocence Bambi loses his mother to unseen human predators and matures
under the guidance of his father, the “Great Prince of the Forest.” Years pass
and the woodland friends grow up, blossoming into maturity as Bambi falls in
love with Faline. A wildfire caused by the carelessness of man nearly destroys
the forest and for a time separates Bambi from Faline. However, with the
rejuvenation of Spring Bambi and Faline becomes parents to twin fawns and the
cycle of living continues on in the forest.
The film is a stunning beautiful feature, but if you are
looking for pixies, fairies, magic, comical characters or dancing
anthropomorphic creatures you may be let down. This hand drawn animated picture
mimics real life nature unlike any other cartoon had ever done before. It does
so while at the same time giving you animals talk and play while sharing a deeply
human story that audiences can relate to. Sadly due to a lack of fantasy Disney
was so known for during that time the film met a privation of initial success.
Walt Disney originally purchased the movie rights to the
book “Bambi, A Life in the Woods” in 1937 while in the middle of production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and
intended to make the story into his second full length animated feature. Due to
Walt’s determination as a perfectionist he wanted the animal characters to
evoke a much more lifelike shape and movement than what his artiest had
achieved in his short subjects or Snow
White. This perfectionism of artistic quality and the reworking of the
story into the screen version Walt wanted would take more effort by his artists
and production of the picture would be pushed back from Disney’s second featured
targeted for 1938 to his fifth released in 1942.
To achieve the realism Disney had his artists study anatomy
of wildlife, including several visits to the Los Angeles Zoo, and even had numerous
live animals being brought in as live models to the studio for the artists to
observe their characteristics and gestures. The result of these study sessions was
unlike any animals characters in any other cartoon. With layers of colors,
accurate bodily structure, and tireless painstaking work Disney’s Bambi characters almost make you forget
you are watching drawings on paper.
Bambi with Thumper and Flower
To further add to the artistic realism of the picture is
ironically the impressionistic background art of the film’s art director Tyrus
Wong. As a Chinese born artist Wong was heavily inspired by the art of his
homeland where details fade into loose impression of the overall surroundings.
Instead of each leaf standing out, the tree or shrub would be displayed as an
overall object of colors that fade in and out of each other, still allowing one
to very much feel the tree is real even though it is a splash of color, not
realizing that there are no deep details, much like a water painting.
On top of the skill of the artists comes the talented work
of the animation effects department at Walt Disney Studios. The effects artists
utilized the multi-plane camera and ripple glass to add dimensionality and
water like effects to what in reality are simply flat drawings. With these
tricks of the trade Disney further blurred that line of make believe and
reality as viewers embrace these images as living, breathing things.
The utilization of music too plays a huge role in the
presentation of the picture. Frank Churchill and Edward H Plumb’s Academy Award
nominated score is used in a very similar way as the great arrangements in Fantasia. The music and imagery play
along with one another to create emotions and add to the enjoyment of each
other, making the whole production more valuable them the sum of its parts. For
example is the “April Showers” segment as the music plays to the imagery of the
rain falling. At first raindrops hit notes as each drop strikes a leaf, and
then as the downpour commences it turns into a soft symphony, almost like a
lullaby. Later on in the feature the harsh orchestra plays as the sound effects
for the ragging forest fire. Great swells in the music represent the flames,
while symbols are at times utilized as thunder. Disney’s use of music was
unparalleled with any other studio at that time; however Disney was looked upon
as a studio for kid’s movies, and aspects such as these were commonly overlook
by serious audiences and critics.
Despite the common view that Disney only made movies for
children is misleading and Bambi is a
fine example to manifest just how. Bambi
may deal with cute animals, but it shares the hardship of tragic loss and death
as Bambi’s own mother is slain by hunters. It is a deeply emotion point in the
picture, meant to evoke the same strong feeling Disney was attempting to stir
in audiences during the death squence of Snow White in his first feature. The
very artistic way in which the scene plays out has Bambi’s mother death off
screen, but leaves an indelible mark on the hearts of audiences so much that
many relive the moment in their minds as if the death happens on screen,
manifesting how powerful the mind is over actual imagery. Beyond this even the
great villain of man is never to have appeared on screen either, a fact many
may misconceive when recalling the picture in their minds.
The film is not without its lighter moments as Bambi and his
friends learn new things about the world and themselves. One of the more
amusing scenes is when the adolescent Bambi , Thumper, and Flower are being
told how their attention will turn to the opposite sex. The animals appear
older with the awkwardness any adolescent male would be familiar with. Thumper
is even wearing whiskers that evoke a poor teenager like mustache if you take a
closer look at this scene. It is humorous watch how this animated feature is
sharing the idea that hormones affect someone when they mature, changing how they
react to even their closest friends. It is an innocently entertaining way to
share this small piece of the coming of age story.
Man is in the woods.
Due to all the hard work and tweaking it took for Walt
Disney to get this feature to look the way he wanted it to the picture would be
postponed longer than expected. When the film was released in the summer of
1942 audiences were used to the fantasy of Snow
White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio,
or the whimsy of Dumbo. This
realistic movie about animals was not what Disney’s core audience necessarily
wanted as critics gave general mixed to negative reviews on the feature. Furthermore,
hunting enthusiasts found the idea of men sporting in the woods as the villain as
being an appalling aspect to the plot of the feature. Through it all the
picture would be honored for its quality filming as it was nominated for Best
Sound, Best Song, and Best Music at that year’s Academy Awards.
With a hefty price tag the film failed to make its money
back in its initial run due to the loss of overseas markets. With World War II
raging and the military making use of the Disney studio lot for anti-air spotting
and propaganda cartoon production, Bambi
marked the end of Disney’s first great age of feature animation. Great losses financially
and in work force due to the war effort and frustration from a labor strike, Disney
found his studio in a state of desperation simply to cover his debts. This
forced Walt and his studio to resort to the low paying government commissioned
work and their less expensive shorts and package pictures to help bring in
enough money to keep the studio afloat financially, as well as keeping his
artists in practice for possible future features. Due to this very depressing
time after Bambi Walt would lose
interest in his animated features, despite revitalization in animated features beginning
in 1950 these future Disney features would lack the grand detail his earlier projects.
It was an end of an era for Walt Disney animation.
Through re-releases Bambi
would eventually become a widely embraced Disney animated classic bringing in
millions in revenue for the studio. Film historians have come to praise the
feature as one of the finest hand draw animated features of all time especially
for its great achievement in animated effects and realism. In 2008 the American
Film Institute named it the third greatest American agminated of all time and
in 2011 it was named to the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress,
home to most of the country’s great cinematic treasures.
Bambi may not be
as memorable as Snow White, Cinderella, or Mickey Mouse, but it has
left a dramatic mark on the American cinema and culture of the 20th
century. Many may not name it as their personal favorite animated feature, but
upon viewing the movie it is clear that it is one of the most carefully
constructed feature length cartoons ever assembled. It is piece of cinematic
art that should be respected for the determination of its architect and the
skill of his talented artists.