If there's one thing that can be said about Bambi II (2006), Disney's follow-up to the original 1942 classic, it's that it probably holds the record for the longest sequel window in film history. Movies (both how they're made and who they're made for) have obviously changed a great deal in the last 60+ years, especially in the wonderful world of animation. Only a small percentage of genuine "family" films have slipped through the cracks during the last few decades, while most others were meant to be enjoyed by kids and kids alone. Whether this is good or bad is only a matter of opinion, but rarely has the difference between two eras been more evident.
Just for the record, Bambi II technically isn't a sequel. It's essentially a fill-in story that takes place during the original; specifically, between the time Bambi's mother is killed and the abrupt jump to his adult life. It's about the only fitting place for this type of story, but this same chronology makes the new title all the more confusing. To get the full effect, I did what many other curious parties will likely do: watched the original up until the "break", popped in Bambi II, and switched back for the big finish. It's not a completely jarring experience, but allow me to repeat myself: rarely has the difference between two eras been more evident.
Don't get me wrong: Bambi II isn't a terrible remake that tarnishes the original: in fact, this follow-up has plenty of heart, a good message and a story that actually does a decent job of "bridging the gap". Where Bambi II often falters, though, is in the way the story is told; for lack of a better phrase, it just doesn't feel right. The original relied more on music and atmosphere to carry the story, discarding lots of dialogue to let us fill in the emotional blanks. Bambi II often turns our quiet little deer into a hyperactive class clown, while Thumper's a bit more smart-alecky than his first incarnation (though maybe that's just the pre-teen thing kicking in). In more ways than one, though, Bambi II feels more like a "what if?" than a "what happened". Luckily, the story---a coming-of-age tale that sees young Bambi growing up with his noble but apprehensive father---retains the heart of the original, at least from the parent/child perspective.
The film's introduction is very effective (especially since it seems as if the first bit of the original 1940s dialogue has been left intact), while plenty of familiar faces are introduced in a clever and logical way. Many characters have been fleshed out a great deal, from Bambi's father---voiced by the ever-capable Patrick Stewart---to Bambi's rival, Ronno (who, smartly enough, hints at their future confrontation near the end of the original). For these reasons, this "lost chapter" in Bambi's life does make for a fuller story, but the extremely long gap in time (and style) between the two installments weakens the impact. The fact that it loosely borrows from a few modern Disney films (including The Lion King, among others) is noticeable but not overly distracting.
First-time director Brian Pimental---who's earned co-writing credits on two of Disney's best modern films, Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast---does an admirable job of steering the ship, so it'll be interesting to see what he does with a clean slate. Despite its flaws, Bambi II is still one of the better "unnecessary sequels" from Disney---and in more ways than one, it's a fairly solid stand-alone story. The artwork and animation are quite good, the music is appropriate (if not a bit too corny for its own good), and there's some terrific character moments scattered here and there. As a worthy successor to Bambi, though, it can't help but come up short.
This one-disc DVD release from Disney reminds us that a fantastic technical presentation can make a slightly uneven movie a bit more enjoyable: with near-perfect audio/visual quality, this is one great looking and sounding film that's easy to get lost in. While the bonus features are certainly on the light side, the complete package is still worth checking out for family viewing and curious animation fans. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality:
Bambi II's excellent 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is not just clear, crisp and colorful, it's one of the best looking discs I've seen in recent memory. It's no joke: along with the re-released pair of Toy Story films and and The Iron Giant, this is right near the top. Digital problems (edge enhancement, etc.) aren't an issue here, though it's no surprise given Disney's excellent track record on DVD. Even if the movie doesn't impress you, the visuals certainly will.
The audio presentation is almost as perfect, as Bambi II is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 (English or French) and DTS 5.1 (English only). Each mix shows an impressive atmosphere, highlighted by crystal-clear dialogue, punchy sound effects and a strong dynamic range. The DTS offers a slightly smoother audio experience, though the rear channels could've been used more on a few occasions. Optional English captions have been included for the film only.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging:
The menu designs for Bambi II (seen above) feature one of two seasonal themes---depending on if the groundhog sees his shadow or not---and offer simple menu transitions and easy navigation. This 72-minute film has been divided into 16 chapters, while no obvious layer change was detected during playback. The packaging is typical Disney fare, as this one-disc set is housed in a standard keepcase with an attractive matching slipcover and several inserts. Fortunately, the cover art is simple, clean and virtually free of excessive quotes and ugly banners.
There's not much of interest here, so those looking for good Bambi-related extras should check out the original's Platinum release. First up is Thumper's "Hurry and Scurry", an interactive hide-and-seek game to keep the kids quiet. Also here is Disney's Sketch Pad (3:43), a short drawing lesson with animator Andreas Deja (NOTE: an additional DVD-Rom feature presents the same piece in greater detail).
The next two supplements are slightly more film related: "The Legacy Continues" (8:15) is a fluffy making-of piece with the voice actors and production team, while Bambi's Trivia is a subtitle-based track that presents film-related facts during the main feature. Rounding out the bonus features are a few Sneak Peeks of upcoming Disney projects, including The Wild and the upcoming Lady and the Tramp: Special Edition DVD.
Love it or hate it, Bambi II doesn't ruin the charm of the original. It's easy to see that 60+ years has all but ensured that "you can't go home again", but at least this sequel's heart is in the right place. The DVD, while lacking any worthwhile bonus features, really delivers in the technical department---and it's worth checking out at least once for those merits alone. Only die-hard Disney collectors will want to rush out for a blind buy, but most everyone else should give this one a weekend spin first. While Bambi II can't help but pale in comparison to its big brother, it's still a decent effort in its own right. As such, this release comes mildly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an art instructor and office monkey from Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.