A Few Words About A few words about... Walt Disney's Bambi...

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Robert Harris, Feb 11, 2005.

  1. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    I first saw Bambi as a child in a nitrate dye transfer print in its first re-issue.

    I recall very little about the grain structure or the concept of multi-plane animation from that screening. What I do recall was traumatization when "man entered the forest."

    After all these years, and having had the opportunity to view Bambi in newer 35mm dye transfer prints (occasionally frame by frame), as well as in 16mm dye transfer, the new DVD did not come to me as as great an artisitic shock as some of the earlier Disney animated "classics."

    Let me be very clear. The Disney organization has continually overused the term "classic" to point where it has lost its meaning. Every new Disney animated film is (out of the box) a "classic."

    That isn't the case here.

    Bambi is a true classic. Like Pinocchio and a few others, this is the Dusenberg of the Disney library.

    What really thrills me about this new DVD is that it is still an accurate representation of the original film. It has not been totally shorn of film grain. It still has a bit of "Disney dust" adhering to the original nitrate cells as photographed, and the slight imperfections and optical aberrations caused by the cells within the multi-plane system, raise a film of this type to true cinematographic art.

    I'll allow reviewers to go into the details of all the extras on this release, and there are many of them. To me the greatest extra, is the ability via the DVD step frame system, to closely examine rain falling from leaves on a frame by frame basis. Want to learn about the techniques and secrets of extremely high end classic animation. Get out your remote and watch a few scenes frame by frame.

    With its naturalistic color scheme intact, and an image that has not been sanitized to oblivion, Bambi is the best DVD yet released from the short list of true Disney Classics. It looks as it should, which is why this release comes extremely highly recommended.

    The folks at Disney have pulled back on the homogenization and digital cleaning factor, and should be congratulated.
     
  2. Adam_S

    Adam_S Producer

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    That review of Bambi's transfer is the best news I've heard from Disney DVD since they announced the perfect wave 3 of the Treasures collections.

    Can't wait to get hold of this DVD.
     
  3. ZackR

    ZackR Supporting Actor

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    Mr. Harris,

    Thanks for those encouraging words. I am thrilled to hear that all grain has not been completely wiped out. That was one of my only real issues with Disney's Snow White release. This is truly excellent news. This always was a must purchase for me, but now I am even more exceited for its release!
     
  4. Russell G

    Russell G Fake Shemp

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    Awesome news!!!

    Now we just need a SE of Pinochio!
     
  5. Lars Vermundsberget

    Lars Vermundsberget Supporting Actor

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    I guess I have never really known how Bambi was supposed to look, so I haven't quite understood what was the problem with the mid-90s laserdisc (and VHS) release. But according to what I've read, this DVD is obviously what we need.
     
  6. Ernest Rister

    Ernest Rister Producer

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    Mr. Harris,

    In 1997, the Disney company released a version of Bambi on home video and laserdisc that was altered substantially. The largest issue was an artificially brightened image, with whites so blown out, they obscured the ink strokes detailing, say, the tuft of fur on Thumper's chest.

    Additionally, the soft mattes around the opening title cards were removed by an artifical "zoom", essentially blowing up the image to remove the soft, evocative mattes.

    Lastly, the film featured attempts at digitally re-painting some of the characters and backgrounds in an affort to fix inking errors, cel dust, and cel scrawl, mistakes and artifacts that have been a part of this film since 1942 (such as the outstretched arms of a field mouse suddenly changing colors when they reached out to touch a dew drop).

    Your stamp of approval on the restoration is a great relief, but I have to ask -- have the mattes been restored to the opening titles? Have you noticed any attempts at retro-actively correcting some of the more famous errors in the film, such as the registration error at the conclusion of the forest fire sequence -- specifically, a baby raccoon suddenly disappears when its mother is cleaning him, and he reappears at the left side of the frame? Is this a 21st Century "corrected" Bambi, or is it the same film we've known and studied for so long, mistakes and all?

    Any further information along these lines would be much appreciated.

    Regards,

    Ernest Rister
     
  7. Brandon Conway

    Brandon Conway captveg

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    Ernest, I can tell you that this registration error has been corrected.
     
  8. Ernest Rister

    Ernest Rister Producer

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    Thanks, Brandon. (Bambi: New and Improved) Any info about the opening titles?
     
  9. Brandon Conway

    Brandon Conway captveg

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    Ernest, I don't know enough about the original look of the film vs. a "new" look to say. That particular registration error was simply easy for me to notice/not notice.
     
  10. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    I'm not familiar with some of the later changes, but a quick check of the disc, does not show a racoon either disappearing or changing locations. Looks quite correct. In regard to "soft mattes" around the titles, they seem to look as they did on later dye transfers, although I could easily be missing some minutia.
     
  11. Ernest Rister

    Ernest Rister Producer

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    The opening titles should have a soft black border around them, resembling a "window box" look. The 1997 version zoomed in on the image, removing the mattes and making the credits larger, but in the process they altered the original what I would term "romantic" look of the title cards.

    Thanks for the info, though, Mr. Harris and Mr. Conway. Much appreciated so far.
     
  12. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    I can't put it any better than Adam_S.

    After Robert Harris' description that the transfer is well done:

     
  13. Brandon Conway

    Brandon Conway captveg

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    An aside: Ernest, you do know I'm captveg from IGN, right? [​IMG]
     
  14. Ernest Rister

    Ernest Rister Producer

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    Yeah, but here you're Mr. Conway. [​IMG]

    EDIT

    By the way, I've got Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston's detailed history of the making of Bambi (titled, appropriately enough, Walt Disney's Bambi: The Story and the Film). Open it up to the very first page, and you'll see a "screen shot" of the Main Title card, with the soft window-box frame. I just popped in my ancient "Walt Disney Classics" VHS edition of the film from 1988, and the window-box borders are plain as day.

    This is hard to describe -- the borders are not hard-edged, the soft window-boxing makes it appear as if the cards have been lit from behind with a soft light source, or if you have a theater background, lit from the front by a lighting instrument with the barrel run, creating a soft border around the card, with the light trailing off at the edges into shadow. Very lovely effect. I wish I could screen grab the image to show you what I was talking about.

    Regardless, the 1997 version zoomed in on the image, cropping out the soft window-box borders. Yes, this makes the titles larger, but that soft-lit effect is completely gone.

    This is a small detail in the grand scheme of things, and I don't want to make too big a deal out of it, but its a detail I'm looking for. I have such tremendous regard and respect for this movie - I look at certain sequences of animation, like Bambi walking out into snow for the first time, and the animation is so achingly perfect in design, in motion, in staging, in performance, it almost hurts to watch. It reminds of Richard Williams' statement on the film. He had seen it as a teen and thought it was typical Disney sugar mush, and then, after he studied animation and made his own films, he saw Bambi again in his 20's. "I came out on my hands and knees. I literally came out on my hands and knees. How? How did they do that?" he said.

    The animation in Bambi inspires such acts of humility. I'm awaiting the release with great eagerness and obvious curiosity. I'll be back in later with thoughts on Disney using modern technology to fix the errors in the film.

    Thanks again,

    Ernest
     
  15. Brandon Conway

    Brandon Conway captveg

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    Sure. I was just seeing if you had made that connection before. :b
     
  16. Ernest Rister

    Ernest Rister Producer

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    Personally, I'm of two minds about attempts to correct mistakes in vintage films. The arguments are so strong on both sides, I'm left with no strong opinion either way.

    On the one hand, all the numerous errors and mistakes in the film are part of animation history. The opening unbroken multiplane tracking shot alone features a couple of understandable errors -- the waterfall seen in the distance features a slight registration error. Since the waterfall is actually f/x animation laid on top of a background, it shimmies and jumps to the right in the original version, creating a floating effect. Also, because the intent was to create one continual shot, there is a noticeable "pop" (again, a registration error) when the new glass multiplane plates were loaded to continue the shot onto its second sequence. The image "tracks" onto a dark foreground image to help hide the new plates and backgrounds being loaded, and in the original release version, if you're looking, you can see the image jump a bit as the sequence was resumed in-camera.

    These are just the first minutes of Bambi -- and these are slight errors that have been a part of the film for decades. The original release version film contains errors even more obvious, like the aforementioned arms of the field mouse changing colors for a few frames, or the blatant error of the baby raccoon suddenly disappearing and reappearing on the right side of the frame at the conclusion of the forest fire sequence.

    I think it is safe to now say that the raccoon shot has been digitally corrected. I don't have the disc, so I can't say what else has been altered from the original release version, but once I get it, I'll be watching it closely.

    The question for the HTF, staunch defenders of the Original Release, is this -- what is more important? Original release? Or original intent? I say this because in 1942, Walt Disney was on the ropes, staggering under the financial body blows dealt by the raging war in Europe whch had eliminated the proceeeds from the foreign market. When Walt began production on Bambi, Pinocchio and Fantasia, he had no idea that these films would be required to recoup their production costs solely in domestic and Southern American territories. He was taking the marketplace of Snow White as his model. Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia and the whole world turned upside down. Walt was "bleeding out" financially as Bambi was finally begining to enter the final stages.

    Here is what Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston have to say about the tortured final months of Bambi's production:

    "In the weeks that followed, we began to understand that at least part of Walt's desire to simplify the charred forest and eventually cut it out completely had been motivated by economics. The studio's financial problems were growing worse. The money from Snow White had all been spent, the extremely expensive Pinocchio left us with unpaid loans, our new building was not paid for, and Fantasia continued to do poorly. Walt had been cutting back bit by bit for a full year, yet there was still more money going out then coming in. A drastic move had to be made. Walt was a fighter and usually full of creative ideas, but now he was trapped; even he could see that there was no way to continue Bambi the way he had planned. What could he do -- shelve it and wait for better times before finishing it? Would he still have a studio capable of such a production? Would he have anything left if he cut the budget drastically?

    One sad day he called his key animators and directors together and explained the situation. We had to cut expenses, not just a little here and a little there, but in half. He tried to insist that enough good animation had been done to carry the picture, and finally admitted that there would be no picture at all if we did not do something extreme.

    We looked at each other bleakly. Frank had tears in his eyes and Walt leaned over to him with unexpected gentleness. "Frank, I know it hurts you, but dammit, its got to go, that's all there is to it." We had never thought of our work as just a mere job. It was far too personal. The thought of losing any part of it or changing the picture into a lesser product was too painful to face. But if we were to save anything we would have to start at once looking for places to trim."
    -- Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, "Bambi: The Story and the Film" pgs. 181-183

    The film was barely finished. The plan for the original film called for roughly 9000 feet of finished animation, the end result totaled 6,259. This severe budget and editorial crunch is the reason why you see baby raccoons shifting places and why the arms of mice change colors and why the waterfall shimmies out of place and all the other errors in the original release version of the film. Walt was broke. He didn't have the money to make the movie he originally planned, he barely had the money to finish the film. The end result, as Thomas and Johnston describe it, was a "precise jewel" with no fat at all. A lean and exacting film with no extraneous matter. There was no money for anything else.

    So now here we are, 63 years later. The technology exists to not only remove positive and negative denisity artifacts from a film, but to fix the errors Walt *would* have fixed, if he had the money back in 1942. Registration errors, inking mistakes, even cel scrawl.

    What do you do? Fix the errors Walt couldn't afford to fix? Or leave the film alone, since the errors are a part of the film's history?

    Personally, I'm torn. To be honest, I just don't know what the right answer is, other than putting both versions on the disc, the end result being probable confusion for the mass marketplace that probably wouldn't notice a shimmy in the waterfall or the disappearing/re-appearing baby raccoon in the first place.

    I haven't seen the disc, it is obvious that at least one of the famous errors in Bambi has been corrected for the new version. I'll be able to adress the new version in total in a few weeks -- but this raises a fascinating debate, one I hope Mr. Harris himself will weigh in on as a expert in film restoration.

    What is more important? Original result...or original intent?

    Discuss.

    Best regards,

    Ernest Rister
     
  17. Edwin-S

    Edwin-S Lead Actor
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    To recapture original intent 3000 feet of extra film would have to be created and added to the original film. In the case of BAMBI, original intent doesn't seem to apply.

    I feel that any restoration should be limited to cleaning up artifacts that were not part of the original print to begin with: this includes film damage, burns, and scratches. Film grain should be left alone if it was present in the original print.

    Mistakes made during the film's production, and not caught before the film was released, should remain untouched. The errors, when caught, become part of the film's history. Sometimes it is just plain fun to catch nits, especially if the film is not particulary impressive.

    Color correcting a film in order to restore its original color values is also an acceptable practice.
     
  18. Patrick McCart

    Patrick McCart Lead Actor

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    I think mistakes should be corrected if there's documentation of the filmmakers being unsatisfied.

    In the case of Bambi, I think it would be safe to assume that Walt Disney and the rest of the team would be OK with correcting this stuff. However, Disney would want the film to keep its correct "look." This means keeping the right color timing, keeping the framing correct, and not adding a bunch of new sounds into the soundtrack. I honestly feel that Disney would be fine with erasing grain and cel dust, since it was all unavoidable.

    On the other hand, keeping errors intact isn't a crime, either. So, either way, justice is achieved with the film.
     
  19. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    I'm with Edwin, Ernest.

    Bambi is what it is. The way Walt and his nine old men released it. Not what they wished it might have been.

    Think about it, to whom would you entrust the duties of making the corrections? Present-day Disney Co. animation? [​IMG]

    Clean up work/restoration is fine.
     
  20. Ernest Rister

    Ernest Rister Producer

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    Mistakes made during the film's production, and not caught before the film was released, should remain untouched.

    Not caught...or no resources to correct? When Walt was confident of his resources, he threw out six months of work on Pinocchio and started over. He did not have such a luxury on Bambi.

    To hear Frank and Ollie talk about the final film, they seem to be quite pleased with their final result, although it was a nightmare to finish. True, we're talking about almost 1/3 of the initially planned animation never seeing the light of day, but here is what they say about what they were able to pull off:

    ********

    "We tried to work faster, put in overtime, get the scenes done by using every shortcut we knew. Taking out the charred forest removed 300 feet from the work yet to be done, and other cuts here and there had taken out 200 more, but the picture still totaled 8,500 feet with many scenes left to be animated. We limped along this waytrying to find acceptable alternatives, but within a few weeks Walt had worked out his own plan to complete the picture.

    Don't trim -- eliminate! Don't fuss with details -- cut out the whole scene. "Cut where there are a million animals." Cut, cut, cut. We were down to 8,000 feet.

    There should be no compromising on key scenes of personality or acting or storytelling, but check any section that invovles characters in expensive actions. Instead of eight scenes of Bambi and the Stag running from the fire, use five. Cut, cut, cut. 7,500 feet.

    Cut the additional scenes of effects animation, we have enough now. Cut the scenes that will require careful work and special handling, we don't need more. Cut the moving shadows and changing colors, they slow the pacing of the film. Cut the subtle nuances. Be bold. 6,500 feet.

    Possibly the picture worked better without the aditional opulence that had been planned. Now it was simpler, more direct, and faster moving. Maybe we were chipping away at the husk, the outer layers, the excesses, until we found the core, the pure heart of the subject. Instead of an awesome, majestic, overwhelming experience in the theater, we would offer a jewel. Walt's directives cut more than footage from the film; they cut tedium. They added spirit and texture to a lumbering giant. Walt had a vision that would save this complex artistic venture, but we were still uncertain."
    -- Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, Bambi: The Story and the Film, pg. 183.


    **********


    Me again. As if the film didn't have enough problems, The Reluctant Dragon (which features preview animation for Bambi) flopped and the screen cartoonist's union called a strike at the Disney studio on May 29, 1941. I'll skip the gory details on that, and pick up where the Bambi production resumed.


    **********


    "By November, we were starting to make progress and once again we could believe that Bambi might finally be completed. After all, we had been through everything that year. What more could possibly happen?

    On December 7th, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and we were at war. On the eighth, the Army took over the sound stage at the studioas a workshop for their trucks and storage for their equipment. Within days, all future productions were shelved, and everyone had new assignments on war-related projects, that is, everyone except those still on Bambi. Many weeks would be required for to complete the final drawings, the ink and paint, the checking, the final camera, and all of the follow-up functions. We hoped we had that much time."
    -- Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, Bambi: The Story and the Film, pg. 184-185


    **************


    "The staff still working on Bambi felt completely deserted. All in all, probably no more than thrity-five or forty men and women were scurrying about, trying to finish the studio's final film from its Golden Age. There was not much excitement or the usual thrill of completion, but finally, it was finished."
    -- Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, Bambi: The Story and the Film, pg. 186


    **********


    Me again. The film had its first public test screening on February 28, 1942, which did not go well due to inapproprite jeering from a loudmouth in the audience when Bambi's mother died.


    **********


    "Walt dismissed the insensitive quip as unrepresentative of the audience and wisely would not consider making any changes to that part of the film. He concentrated instead on little bits and pieces that would play better with judicious editing. There were no retakes or new additions. The corrected, final version was released to the world on August 13, 1942.

    It did not attract as many people as we had hoped, and the reviews were mixed. The critics were seeing something new from the studio and were unable to grasp its significance; their reviews were predominately glib and breezy. Only years later did critics begin to sense the magnitude of the film's concept and the effect it would have on future viewers

    Most people who went to see Bambi were enthralled and deeply moved, but some parents thought it too disturbing for their children. Even though these parents were entranced with Thumber, Bambi, and Flower, they were not sure about the whole picture. Maybe it was too dramatic and violent in a world that was invovled in a shattering war. Bambi did not recover its cost in first release."
    -- Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, Bambi: The Story and the Film, pg. 188-189


    *********

    And thus, the Golden Age of Animation ended. The mighty American animation renaissance of the 30's entered a new period of re-structuring and saw other animation houses rise to great heights within limited forms. Disney animation became forever streamlined, reaching a second, unsteady pinnacle in the 50's until the failure of Sleeping Beauty brought an end to the refined classical look of the Disney house style in favor of less-expensive means of ink-and-paint. Other American animated films hinted at what was achieved with Bambi, like the problematic Fox and the Hound and Don Bluth's Land Before Time, and 1993's The Lion King famously (or infamously) cribbed its cyclical structure and elements of its plot, but the original has still never been surpassed by any major American animation studio.


    **********

    "One day in the early 1950's Walt came up to us with a happy relieved look on his face. He announced, "Bambi has just paid for itself!" From then on, year after year and generation after generation, it has continued to charm viewers, young and old, with its believable fantasy.

    How could this different picture have survived through all the chaos, one disaster after another, of seven years of turmoil and uncertainties? One could believe it had taken on a life of its own which no misfortune could extinguish. As finally completed, Bambi is a film that leaves its mark. It is an experience. It goes beyond endearing characters, serious and violent incidents; it reaches the heart and lives there forever. It is truly a masterpiece. Of all the great pictures Walt Disney made, this was his favorite. It is ours, too."
    -- Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, Bambi: The Story and the Film, pg. 192


    ***************

    I remain of two minds. The film received no re-takes to correct its flaws, Walt was broke. Would he have corrected the flaws at the time, if he had the money? I remain convinced that he would.

    Then again, once a film was over, it was over for Walt as he moved on to the next project. Would Walt have gone back and spent money to fix ink and paint and camera flaws in films twenty years old (to say nothing of 63 years old)? I don't think so. There's no precedent for such a thing in Walt's career. Of course, he didn't live to see the era of modern film restoration, and Walt was always a tech-junkie.

    Is this "new digitally-corrected Bambi" objectionable?

    I have not seen the disc, but right now, I have no strong opinion either way.
     

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