Saturday, February 7, 2015

Disney's Bambi: Second thoughts

Man I find it hard to keep on top of the second thoughts. I mean, I've got all the notes and stuff written up for them, it's just finding the time and then not spending it on another movie or on homework or anyway. Here now, with some thoughts. Which are second. About Bambi. I did a thing this time, and - well I'll talk about it after the break.

So on my list of all time favorite movies, this one will be in a completely different book. It's not a... I was going to say it's not a bad movie, but it doesn't really fit on the whole spectrum of good and bad movies at all. It's not much of anything, when you look at it objectively.

Right before I forget: I did a thing. I had Roomie track down the script of the movie, like the actual transcript. Then we cut out the song lyrics. Then I used a line counter to count the lines in the movie. Without the songs, there are 363 lines in the movie. Dumbo, which is I think we solved it at something like 6-8 minutes shorter, had about twice that. So this isn't a lot of talking.

Now for the really fun part: 14 of those are just greetings to Bambi from randoms. "Good morning, young prince" and that sort. We're down to 349. Seven more are "wake up." 342. Next I knocked out all the one-word lines, from "Bambi!" "Mother!" to "Thumper..." to "...BIRD!" and we're down to 290. Five more are "get up" and if I went hunting repeats... well, you see my point. Some of these have breaks in the middle, too, so they were actually individual lines of dialogue, which brings the number down even more. There's just not a lot of writing to this movie.

The animation is just fantastic; a couple of dull moments with backdrops, but I mean... I just watched Cinderella, and even though they accomplish incredible things in that movie, everything in this one was so clean and defined and stylized with a definite kind of generic Disney cuteness that's far more polished than even in Snow White. I said that Dumbo was cut from the same cloth as Pinocchio, and on an artistic level I can't throw that at this movie.

On a character level, of course, I can. If anything, Pinocchio is a more interesting character. If Jiminy Cricket was a sort of (horribly woefully inept) superego and Timothy Mouse was an id with purpose, Thumper is as close to Bambi's ego as anything. Bambi klutzes around, which is charming for a little bit until you realize he's not really going to go anywhere with it. He's alternately follower and dippy curious cat and yet there's never any sense of personality behind the simple child of him. Which may contribute to his appeal - he's a small child, in every way. On the other hand, it doesn't give him anything to do but follow answers, either in the form of a leader or in the form of looking for someone to take his questions.

The characters generally are extremely lacking. Faline's whole character is "she flirts with Bambi because she is the love interest." That's it. (Thank you Rachel for the name). The Great Prince is there to Look Impressive, Lead Bambi and that's it. Mother is there to die, we all saw it coming. Thumper is sort of our viewpoint character (until the adult section, which I'll lambast in a minute) and the most fleshed-out, which is sort of an issue considering his non-role later on. Flower has a grand total of twelve lines, encompassing maybe 20 words between them? He's completely irrelevant except as a third wheel. He's the Donny. Hey, maybe that's why I don't think much of this movie; it's child-friendly Dude, Walter and Donny going on even less of an adventure and having even more of life just come whack them in the face. I really hope I'm the first person to ever link Bambi and The Big Lebowski. I kind of hope I'm the last, too

Moving on. The most interesting character in the movie (besides the owl, who at least is a bit active and fun to watch) doesn't even appear on screen. I was reminded of Jaws (bet that's not a common link either!) in so far as the villain of the film is Ominous Music and Camera Angles. Man is a surprisingly effective threat for something never depicted, and although later on Man's power appears as helldogs and flame (and you do see the camp site), the most terrifying quality of Man is just how much there is no context for him. I think that could have been underlined even more had any natural predator put in an appearance, but oh well. Man is a well-done conceit.

The big emotional moment is obviously supposed to be the death of Bambi's mom, which might have made a dent on me if not for having just watched Dumbo, which just... personal context makes the scene in Dumbo a lot more harsh than anyone could have predicted. It's handled pretty well but honestly, the first time they go to the meadow, you know it's part of the movie. That's just how it breaks down.

The adult section is a flop. It's way too short and quick. "Look at that, it's Bambi." "Why yes I am!" "And I'm Thumper!" "And I'm Flower!" "Don't you boys go falling in love." "We won't!" "Except me." "And me." "Annnnd me hold on Cello Stag is here to throw Ominously Backlit Choreography at me. But I'm awesome so it's okay. Now I have a girlfriend!" MAN "Oh hey dad what's ah crap we're running away. Where's my girl?" "BAMBI!" "There's my girl. Collect 1 Girl. Done. Off we go. Now we can bang and have babies. Errbody come look at mah babies." That's the whole ending. Bambi doesn't even take over Epic Rack Daddy's job, he just stands next to him wondering when he too will have an Epic Rack. Which, normally, strange ambition for a male mammal but extenuating circumstances.

Finally, let's talk music. So far I've been picking out the noteworthy songs where possible. It is not possible this time. All of this music blows. All of it. Some of it twice. Don't tell me any of these songs became hits, because I promise you, none of them deserved to. It starts with this dull, dreary "Love Is A Song" bit that flunks Metaphor 101 by being so tedious we want to slap it in the face, and not any amount of "Little April Showers" or "Inappropriately Timed Spring Celebration Song" will fix that. Were there really only three songs in this movie? You know what, I don't care. They all sucked.

In short, this feels like the animators had a chance to go all-out on showing off new skills... and everybody else got the year off. I'm betting this movie is only famous for the death scene and everything else about it gets forgiven for that being a big childhood shock. Because there's no way that, looking at Bambi objectively, it could honestly be considered a great movie.


  1. Yeah. This is mostly just an hour and change of nice visuals. Oddly Walt Disney himself was very fond of it-- maybe because it was so ambitious with its nature visuals.

    There was a bit of an emotional climax in the adult section that was cut out of the movie early in production where the Great Prince would have taken Bambi to see a man who had died in a hunting accident, thus helping him to see that even they are mortal.

    Yeah, none of the songs from this movie really went anywhere.

    Hey, maybe that's why I don't think much of this movie; it's child-friendly Dude, Walter and Donny going on even less of an adventure and having even more of life just come whack them in the face. I really hope I'm the first person to ever link Bambi and The Big Lebowski. I kind of hope I'm the last, too

    *sighs wistfully* One day, one day.

  2. Heh, for a while I had come to think of Bambi as a less-puffed-up precursor to The Lion King, but now I love your idea of it being a Big Lebowski in its own right.

    I also now see the appeal of the "Disney Princess", as the princesses tend to want to break out of the mold they're placed in. I guess I always found it easier to relate to the kid protagonists who try not to rock the boat.

  3. Bambi is one of those things everyone knows despite not ever having watched it. Or at least they think they know, which is certainly what I've always assumed. My vague and probably completely made up of osmosis impression seems to be correct by this review, which is very strange.

    1. On the other hand, Bambi and Cinderella were the movies I rewatched the most when I was very young, and I think it took watching a lot more movies before I realized how unusual the style in Bambi was. I feel it's rather brave to allow a lot of "dead air" in a cartoon for suspense, though now I think Samurai Jack overdid it sometimes.

      Thinking about the styles of protagonists again, Cinderella strikes an interesting balance in her quiet, passive dueling with her stepmother, but I should probably wait for Noise's second thoughts first.

  4. A friend of mine saw Bambi in theaters when she was 3 or so, and accidentally caused a riot. During the death scene, she stood on her chair and started crying and yelling "Mama! Where are you, Mama?" And that set off every other kid in the place, apparently. The parents, from what I hear, couldn't decide between concern for their children and amusement at *the entire theater* losing it.

  5. I can't tell you what it is about Bambi. I saw it when I was around 7 or 8, and it remains my favorite Disney movie. It didn't really need words. It communicated in atmosphere and music. It's more primal than most Disney movies and communicates on that level. It stands out in a Disney marathon because of that and won't easily compare to the rest.

    I notice you didn't discuss the whole sequence of the forest fire, Bambi's coming of age and his fight for Faline. It's all communicated almost entirely without words, and they aren't needed. I dunno, maybe you had to be sitting there in the dark theater, immersed in the imagery and orchestra. (The songs were pretty much there because they're directed in a Disney film. It would have been better with just the orchestra.)

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