Monday, October 5, 2015

Bambi (1942)

Supervising Director: David Hand


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.

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