Senior HTF Member
- Feb 24, 1999
Studio:Disney Year:1942 RunTime:70 minutes Aspect Ratio:4 x 3 encoded 1.331 OARAudio:5.1 DD English Disney Enhanced Home Theater Mix, 2.0 DD Original Mono English Mix, 5.1 DD French & Spanish SpecialFeatures:Feature length video commentary "Inside Walt's Story Meetings", Deleted Scenes (story board), Making of Bambi documentary, Restoring Bambi, Disney Time Capsule 1942: The Year of Bambi, The Art of Bambi, Tridks of the Trade, Inside the Disney Archives, The Old Mill animation short (1937), Original Theatrical Trailers ReleaseDate:March 1, 2004
In my opinion Bambi is of Disney's most beautiful and moving animated feature films. Bambi is quintessential classic Disney animation, yet takes some dramatic departures from the usual Disney feature-animation pattern: The story feels innocent but at the same time confronts the audience with some very dark and difficult realities. The animation style was (and still is) absolutely ground-breaking...the first application of Walt's multi-plane camera to replicate a sense of 3-dimensional layering in a feature-length animated film (The Old Mill was Walt's animation short that showcased this new technology). The artistic style of Bambi also pushed new frontiers of animation with it's emphasis on conveying animals with a less stylized, more natural sense of anatomy and movement (compare to the woodland characters in Snow White for example) and bold use of impressionistic painted backgrounds--each of which could easily hang in a frame on the walls of an exhibition. Also, Bambi is not a musical--the animals never sing. But you remember songs? That's because (to my understanding) it was the first film that incorporated full-length-songs (not just choral elements in the score) into the fabric of the narrative using the "interlude" approach...full length songs and musical numbers that are featured and even show-cased (Little April Showers) but never break the context of the story with characters suddenly breaking into song.
The story of Bambi might (mistakenly) appear quaint or even "boring" to modern audiences today. If you fall into this category I encourage you to look deeper. Dialogue is sparse and speech style is simple and unsophisticated, but this is intentional as the the primary vehicles for advancing the story are the visuals and musical score (very Fantasia-esque I would say). After his birth, we spend quite a bit of time accompanying Bambi as he romps with his woodland friends and experiences the world for the first time. Don't be deceived into thinking that the simplicity or tone of innocence is a weakness of the film. On the contrary, the artists of the film are doing something sublime--you just need to align your perceptions with what they're doing. Just how does the world appear to a child who has never seen or experienced it? Each new discovery is a revelation, no matter how mundane those experiences may seem to someone in-the-know. The ability to capture the genuine newness of these moments for the audience is a profound achievement. Bambi also represents a powerful coming-of-age drama, and one can easily discern how more modern features like The Lion King drew heavily from Bambi's mold.
Bambi is also the true definition of an uncompromised "art film". The craft that manifested it cannot be measured. The film establishes its own language for expression remains faithful to itself. The imagery is beautiful, powerful, and engaging. As I watch Bambi, it's rich use of animation and exquisite rendering of natural forms constantly brings to my mind associations with Fantasia (the Nutcracker Suite in particular...during April Showers and the changing-season interludes do your best not to see strong parallels). The dramatic use of the 3-dimensional layering, even in comparison to modern-day computer-modeled animation freed from all limitations of 2-dimensional rendering, is still astonishing to behold. After the April Showers Scene...watch the camera pull back from Bambi and his mother through the forest leaves and drop down to the reflection of the sky in the water. I get chills just recalling it in my mind. Bambi is art as it's purest and most perfect.
For these reasons and many more, I consider Bambi to be genuinely timeless. If you approach it with an open mind, far from viewing it as a quaint representation of a bygone age of animation, it will convey a surprisingly modern sensibility rife with innovation. Some Words from Ernest Rister:
Animation is difficult to discuss primarily because we are all so familiar with it.
We're surrounded by animation in video games, in commercials, in films, and even in strange places, like virtual reality simulators for Commercial Airline Pilots and Police Officers. Because of the widespread life this medium has, locating a common point of reference when discussing animation is tricky. The key to understanding animation is to strip away the artifice and focus on the act of animation itself.
Forget - for once - the backgrounds, the colors, the visual fx, the draftsmanship. Put them all aside as scenery. Think about a piece of animation you've just seen, and ask yourself two questions:
1. How did the character move?
2. Why did the animator make that character move that way?
If you can honestly answer those two questions, you can honestly evaluate a piece of animation, because you've located the craft. It doesn't matter if the subject is a cardboard cutout, or a puppet, or a lump of clay, or a computer CGI dinosaur, or a charcoal line on a piece of animation paper.
The art of animation isn't about drawing or sculpting or CGI modeling - it's about movement. Like the art of dance, animation is about seeing movement, its about qualities of movement, it's about appreciating movement. It's about manipulating an object or an image one frame at a time, in order to express yourself through movement, with your end result limited only by your own talent and personal philosophies.
The individual shot means nothing - it is the culmination of a sum of minutely different shots that ultimately add up to a personal statement of some kind. This is why the animators of old used to celebrate the completion of a film by throwing their cels on the floor and sliding across the room on them. The cels didn't mean anything individually. Only when combined, photographed, and run in sequence did any of those clear sheets of acetate have anything like a syntax, a language.
And make no mistake, animation - just like any other kind of art form that deals with movement - has a language. This is crucial to understanding the animator's art. When evaluating a work of animation, the consideration of the quality of movement has to come first, because that is your most direct window into what the artist was trying to say.
Well, you say, this is all fine and good, but what does this have to do with Bambi?
There are many types of animation, just as there are many different types of dance (tap, disco, swing, hip-hop, ballet, etc.). Bambi is a work of character animation, and of all the animated features ever made, from then until now, in America or abroad, in the realm of character animation, Bambi has never been surpassed.
Character animation, put simply, is a philosophy where the personality of the character governs its motions and actions. The idea here is to suggest an inner-life, an interior thought process, the result being a believable creation on-screen, and therefore, a true "character" that audiences can relate to, empathize with, or even fear in some cases. Character animation (or as Disney likes to call it, "personality animation") was pioneered and codified at the Disney studios in the 30's by Norm Ferguson and others. This form of animation soon became the dominant mode of American animation. Even today, one cannot look at Pixar's films or even the CGI work done by ILM on their CGI characters without seeing the influence of character animation.
To my mind, Bambi is the zenith of character animation. Scene after scene rolls by, showcasing some of the most brilliant examples of character animation ever created. From Bambi learning to stand for the first time, to Bambi's first exploration of the meadow, all the way through to the final shot of a Bambi taking his father's place as the Great Prince of the Forest, the character work is so exquisite, one understands why animation director Richard Williams claimed he "came out of the movie on my hands and knees. Literally, on my hands and knees. How -- how did they do that?"
I'd like to examine one moment in particular, a moment that not only perfectly demonstrates the philosophy of character animation, but also is a potent example of the charm of the film. About halfway through the film, winter comes to the forest for the first time, and Bambi wakes to a world covered in snow. Bambi slowly ventures out of the thicket to see what all "that white stuff" is. This scene was animated by Frank Thomas, and it is a beauty. Bambi takes a step, watches his foot sink through the snow. He lifts his foot and discovers he has made a track. He takes another few steps and looks behind him, to discover he has made a series of tracks. Excited at the new discovery, he begins to stomp around in the snow, making as many tracks as possible, until he falls into a snow drift.
Throughout this entire scene, you can see Bambi's internal thought process. You can see Bambi thinking. He moves according to the thoughts that are going through his head, and according to his character as a young fawn. All of these are being marshaled at the same time, in addition to an incredible ability to caricature the movement of the real animal. Acting, psychological realism, and motion caricature are all happening at once. Throw on top of that the brilliant draftsmanship, the beautiful backgrounds and character design, Ed Plumb's playful music, and the story itself, and you have a knock-out moment.
This may sound effusive, but it is true for me -- this moment in Bambi is *perfect*. There is no way you can improve it. Staging, motion, acting, draftsmanship -- nothing. It is perfect. There are many such moments in Bambi, a film with animation so exquisite and so beautiful, that there are times when it literally hurts to watch. It is the Sistine Chapel of personality animation.
Animation enthusiasts - and animation students in particular - owe it to themselves to see this film and study it. As Mr. Robert Harris has indicated, a work like Bambi is the reason for the "frame advance" button on your remote control. A few years ago, when Toy Story was released, a critic for Entertainment Weekly wrote that Toy Story's CGI graphics made Bambi look "as archaic as a cave painting". Bambi will never have the high-tech gloss of a Toy Story or Shark Tale or even Ice Age, but what it does have is actual character animation worlds beyond the stiff indicating and weightless CGI puppets of say, Shrek or Jimmy Neutron. Bambi may not have the surface gloss, so it will have to settle for being the animated film with the best actual character animation ever made.
-- Ernest Rister, for David Boulet and the Home Theater Forum, 2/23/05
Breathtaking. Remarkable. Beautiful. Exquisite.
Just some of the words that come to my mind watching Disney's first DVD release of this animated masterpiece.
Let's get the controversy out of the way. There is no film-grain. Just like with Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, Bambi has been digitally cleaned of all traces of film-artifacts (be they good or bad) and the folks at LDI have done an exemplary job of digital "restoration" (not to be confused with film restoration) to remove damage and blemishes that time has ravaged. Projected onto my 106 inch (16x9) screen, this presentation of Bambi does not look like the projected film viewers would have seen on the silver screen in 1942. I'm going to take a risk (as a rule being a grain-is-good guy) and say that what I'm seeing is in many ways arguably better than what audiences saw in 1942. Purists (other purists, I'm a purist too) may object, and every point of view on the matter is subjective and valid. My rationale is as follows:
Digital Restoration Rationale:Bambi was crafted from the art of animation. The film medium was the means of assembling these components together into a single stream by which they could be conveyed to an audience. Unlike most live-action films where the first "instantiation" of the image is the camera negative, the images for Bambi exist in their component form as painted art as an objective point of reference. The three-strip Technicolor negatives survive so no dependency on a composite color print needs to be made. Therefore, the Technicolor 3-strip elements can be restored, cleaned, and digitally recomposed together in a manner that more transparently reveals the source artwork imagery than the means that were available to Walt and his team in 1942.
Is this good? Is this bad? It depends on where you draw you "this is the art" line in the sand. We conventionally think of the camera negative or director-approved pristine print to be the "source" that we must faithfully preserve. But in the case of an animated film like Bambi, my inclination is to allow the line to be drawn even closer to the beginning of the signal chain. I'd suggest that the painted artwork itself is the "source" to which we should adhere. Walt made every attempt that his film duplication would alter the appearance of this artwork as little as possible--film grain was not a desired artifact of the medium in this case. Had the digital tools been at his disposal to do an even better job, I think he would have been excited by the chance to use them, and the image on this DVD does not undue the beauty of the magnificent prints of the film that have been produced throughout history, it merely presents the home theater enthusiast with an image that is different, and much closer to the "source" than even those film-prints could have achieved.
Those of us who have the 50th Anniversary laserdisc remember all the hullballoo about how the "digitally cleaned" backgrounds appeared frozen. The laserdisc got much criticism over this as Jay Pennington explains:
Since it's a different restoration, what the DVD does isn't necessarily what the old LD does.
Not only did they freeze backgrounds on that occasion, but unmoving characters, too. In the digital realm, that makes sense, as there is no point in recreating the wheel frame after frame. The problem was that those freezes retained the grain of the particular frame they froze. So a character or background would have natural, moving grain swimming around normally, then, boom! it would stop for a few frames or seconds, only to resume when the character moved again. They even added false grain to characters they repainted digitally in order to match other already-grainy elements in the frame, but would again hold that fake grain when character movement halted.
That sloppiness was what was so objectionable about the previous restoration.
In the case of the new DVD, the LDI folks restored each and every discrete frame of the original film. What's going on here...those background images have always been frozen, it's just that they didn't look frozen before because the dancing layer of film-grain between you and the painted background imparted a sense of "movement". (in some cases on a lower-res monitor it may look like some backgrounds have frozen film-grain like the former laserdisc...look closer...it's actually texture on the painted canvas!) By removing this intermediary layer of film-grain, the background images now appear as they really are...stationary background paintings...with all the detail and craft of hand-painted images.
Is this a bad thing? As always, it depends on your point of view. I see value along both ways of thinking. The advantage of the film grain was that it provided a sense of life to the stationary background images...obscuring them but embibing them with a sense of dynanism. The new image on this DVD does not impart that sense of "life", but it does something else that's wonderful...it presents those hand-painted backgrounds in all their artistic beauty and detail...the result is like watching a series of exquisite paintings in series before you one by one in breathtaking detail.
My only worry is that the film may be stripped of its atmosphere by removing the film grain - film grain gives a sense of density and life to an image, particularly helpful with a film like Bambi.
Let's consider the scene where Bambi's mother tests the safety of the meadow. We see it in long shot, initially, and the film grain (as I've been used to it) gives a sense of density and life to the wide open spaces. I fear that without the grain, we're looking at a static environment, like she is walking onto a lifeless meadow where even the air doesn't move.
What effect better serves the movie? What effect better serves the intent of the original artists? What effect do you prefer?
As always I encourage healthy, informed, and respectful discussion about these important points.
On with the review...
Let me warn you right now that though the talented folks at LDI have taken great pains to remove many film and photographic-related blemishes like scratches, grain, and dust particles, there are artifacts inherent in the animation itself that are still in tact (purists should be pleased to hear). Many folks may mistakenly presume that they are digital compression artifacts or noise from the digital-clean-up-process...neither of which I believe to be true. One artifact is an occasional shift in color-hue as images pan or characters move across the screen. These anomalies also appear in prints of the film and this DVD presentation actually goes a long way to ameliorating many of them. The one artifact that I find disconcerting...but forgivable since I believe it to be endemic to the original, is an odd "foggy" effect that occurs from time to time in panning background images. This same artifact is apparent on the former 50th anniversary laserdisc edition which had been digitally "cleaned" to a degree in the early 1990's but did not receive the detailed work that LDI provided for this new DVD (and I believe that the former laserdisc was also mastered from a print of the film rather than from digital files captured from the 3-strip Technicolor negatives). The fact that the same "foggy" appearance occurs in precisely the same sequences on both the former laser and the new DVD leads me to believe that it's truly in the source and not a digital artifact from LDI processing.
As long as I'm talking about the (few) negative aspects of the image let me quickly say that some extremely minor ringing from edge enhancement is present but for the most part not visible to my eyes when viewing from my 1.6 screen-width distance (1.6 screen widths from the full 16x9 screen width...not the 1.33:1 image itself). I moved closer at times just to see how close I had to get before the ringing became apparent and it seemed I had to get about 1.3 screen widths away. That doesn't bother me too much...that's much closer than you can sit with Standard-Def DVD material anyway. The only scene that I noticed any minor ringing from my usual seated position was when Bambi's mother first steps out into the field to look for danger...there was the faintest edge-halo across her back as you see her dark silhouette move out in front of a light-gray background. Not too bad and none of my movie-viewing guests noticed it...but that slight bit of EE does keep me from giving Bambi a perfect "5" score.
The image was satisfyingly detailed, though it didn't look "sharp", which I presume is more a factor of the animation style (the artists wanted to intentionally soften the hard-edges of the animated characters as they had done in Fantasia) though I could imagine that being confronted with an actual film-print or HD source file from LDI's lab might look a tad crisper.
So didn't this guy say he was blown away by the picture? Yes! Let's get on to the good stuff...
You really feel as though you're staring right at the painted backgrounds and animation cells created by the Disney artists. It's astonishing. Subtle image detail is rendered in background paintings that I never knew was there. Brush-strokes on leaves and tree bark. The textured canvas on which many backgrounds where sketched and/or painted appear naturally and beautifully. In one early scene, when the "camera" zooms in on Bambi lying next to his mother, don't be deceived into thinking that you're seeing noise on her body...her body is not monochromatic brown...you can see the canvas texture and brush-stroke detail of the actual painted image. At times the effect can be a bit jarring...because the steadiness of the image and superb clarity show so much original artwork detail that if you have a wide-angle or very high-resolution display you can find yourself concentrating on this visual information rather than seeing the forms on the screen as characters and objects to be accepted without scrutiny. But that's part of the fun...as the moviephile you've got the choice to watch the film in the mindset that you wish. If any of you teach courses in animation or painting, Presenting Bambi on a large-screen presentation to your class will give many opportunities for discussion.
Colors appear exactly as they should: They are subdued when they should be, saturated when they should be, and always representative of the appearance of the source artwork thanks to the folks at LDI who painstakingly compared their digital work on all these points to the original archived elements. The color in Bambi isn't quite as eye-popping as what you might be used to from Toy Story, Shrek, or Finding Nemo. It isn't supposed to be...the colors are intended to look realistic and their intensity varies from scene to scene. Most scenes are somewhat somber in tone...taking place beneath the canopy of the forest and showing different times of day. Some scenes (the sunset right after the rainstorm) blaze with color so brilliant you almost have to squint to take it in. The variety of hue is unbelievable...nothing is every simply "red" or "green" or "blue". Each image contains hues and tones that convey an astonishing level of complexity in the painting of the impressionistic backgrounds. Some of the more finely-rendered leaves contain such a range of hues that it would be impossible to count or identify them all. In every case, color is faithful to the source and it's so rewarding to see how the animators used every nuance of color to drive this story.
Contrast and Black level are also exemplary. The image has a rich three-dimensional look that goes beyond the depth-illusion of the multi-plane camera...the dynamic range of the image carries much of this burden and produces an image that's palpable and brilliant, with cleanly defined image detail down into the darkest shadows without becoming muddy or black-crushing (the "muddiness" of the "foggy" effect in some background pans is not a result of image-contrast issues). Compression seems to be handled very well...I really looked and found no evidence of macroblocking or MPEG noise that I could discern.
Comparison to 50th Anniversary Laserdisc:
I don't have the very first, non-digitally-cleaned laserdisc (though if someone wants to bring it over I'll be happy to do an A/B comparison!) which was mastered from an existing film-print and so would represent on home-video the best representation of how the un-cleaned image may appear. My 50th' Anniversary LD received a fair degree of digital clean-up, though nothing as extensive and sensitive-to-the-source as what LDI has done. However, some insights drawn from the comparison of the former laserdisc to this new DVD are of value, and as I stated earlier the fact that two very differently mastered video incarnations reveal precisely the same background shifting-foggy patters at precisely the [/i]same[/i] spots leads me to suspect that the few residual artifacts we see in this new DVD are source-related and not introduced from misapplied digital processing.
The first notable difference between the laserdisc and the new DVD is that the laserdisc image appears cropped (zoomed) in comparison to the new DVD. The DVD shows visibly more image content on all four sides of the image (sort of the reverse of the Mary Poppins DVD...grin...). The laserdisc also looks excessively noise/grainy in comparison especially when projected (I should mention that I'm running S-video out of my Pioneer Elite CLD-99 laserdisc player). If any of you are bothered by the occasional foggy/shifty backgrounds in the DVD during pans, you probably wouldn't be able to watch more than the first 10 seconds of the laserdisc...the effect is much worse. Detail is also much improved on the DVD as you would expect (though the difference with 1.33:1 titles is not as significant than with 16x9 WS DVDs that easily trump the detail on older non-anamorphic laserdiscs). Color is also more vivid, and more varied on the DVD presentation, though more similar than I would have predicted. The most dramatic difference to my eyes was the difference in contrast: The DVD looks much more brilliant with deeper blacks and remarkable shadow-detail that never gets crushed at either end...black or white whereas the Laserdisc image looks much "flatter" with less vivid brights and a black level that doesn't go as deep. Of course, at this point in the game I hope that the numbers of HT enthusiasts still saying "maybe I'll just hold on to my old laserdisc copy and skip the new DVD" are few--I provide this comparison more for the insights about restoration and to satisfy the curiosity of those laserdisc collectors who may not have a wide-angle display to reveal the more subtle differences.
WOW. Bambi looks spectacular folks. It's not "film like" given what the folks at LDI have done...it's "painting like" which I find all the more enthralling. Colors, textures, and detail is faithful to the source artwork to an astonishing degree. Shaving off just a tad for the moment or two when wide-angle viewers might see a halo from some very minor ee...
Picture Quality: 4.5 / 5
:star: :star: :star: :star:
In the past I think I've been too ambiguous with my scoring or at least haven't applied it consistently from title to title, so I've endeavored to define my rating system more clearly to help make the scoring more meaningful (for all titles reviewed December 2004 and later):
SCORE Description 1-2 An absolute abomination. Hurts to watch. Think "Outland" (scan-line aliasing, chroma noise, dotcrawl)-- truly horrid. 2-3 Has some serious problems, but one can at least watch it without getting a headache despite all the problems though you might try to talk your guests into picking a different movie to watch if you have a large projection screen. Think Cold Mountain. 3-4 Good or at least "acceptable" on a big-screen, but not winning any awards and definitely room for improvement if you view the image wide-angle (though smaller-screen viewers may be quite content). Think the first extended cut of Fellowship of the Ring...decent picture but still some HF filtering and some edge-halos. 4-5 A reference picture that really makes the most of the DVD medium and shows extraordinary transparency to the film-source elements. Non-videophile observers can't help but remark "WOW". Think The Empire Strikes Back, Return of The King or the Fifth Element Superbit (full “5” would be sans EE).
After the 5.1 Debacle on the new R1 Mary Poppins DVD, I was trembling with fear when I read those almost infamous words on the DVD promotional material..."New 5.1 Disney Enhanced for Home Theater Mix". I'm pleased to say my fears were not confirmed, and that this new 5.1 on Bambi is exactly what a new 5.1 DEHT mix should be. Given that the original mono soundtrack is also included, there should be little room for criticism and much room for praise.
New 5.1 DEHT:
The new mix succeeds on almost all counts. It is tasteful and reserved, and entirely respectful of the intent of the original mix. It satisfyingly spreads the musical score across the front main channels and adds to the impression of size during orchestral movements and choral singing. Bass is augmented substantially over what is present in the original mix (great use with the thunder especially), though it never sounds bombastic...the character of the bass integrates well and comes across like this was the way the music was originally recorded. Given that the audio was restored/processed from the existing mono master and not remixed from the original (I presume lost) sound elements, this is even more impressive. Surround use is subdued as it should be...no gimmicky newly recorded Foley effects of crows or bullets flying over head here (grin...). Surround use is primarily to help pull the musical atmosphere out into the listening environment and it does so nicely...and without placing center vocalists disconcertingly in the rear channels (grin again...). During many musical numbers I was amazing at how much larger the impression of the orchestra seemed through the new mix...such as during the choral singing such as in the April Showers sequence.
The vocals on the new mix also have a pleasingly "round" sound to them...never raspy or abrasively sharp. Noise reduction has been applied to remove all traces of hiss from the original audio, and while I'm not opposed to the notion of removing pops and crackle the tend to distract listeners by their more spontaneous and therefore jarring presence, I'm always leery of noise reduction applied to remove background hiss as it inevitably removes good sounds as well...notably the detail on the upper mid-range and top-end that provides the sound with a more palpable sense of openness and nuance. This is in fact my only criticism of the new soundtrack...I think that noise reduction might have been applied just a bit to much, although the amount of high-frequency loss here is nothing on par with the muddy, lifeless treble of the 5.1 disaster on Mary Poppins...so rest easy. Though I would have accepted a little audible hiss to get back a little more musical top-end, the sound is still satisfyingly detailed and those with brighter-sounding audio systems might even find it "just right" given the balance.
Original Mono Mix:
It's here, and it's wonderful. The recording level is on-par with the new 5.1 mix so you don't have to spin your volume knob clockwise three full revolutions when switching to this mix like did you did when switched to the original mix on Mary Poppins. When my processor is set to treat the 2.0 Mono mix properly, all the sound gets placed dead-center, so if you don't have a high-quality center channel you may want to force the 2.0 playback into L/R stereo mode. The mix sounds very, very good for a 1942 animated feature. It sounds to my ears that no harmful "processing" has been applied to dress this mix up for DVD...all that original soundtrack hiss is present along side all that wonderful natural musical detail. Dialog is crystal clear, and perhaps sounds a bit "flatter" than that on the 5.1 mix but I think for the most part this is due to the more constrained bass response of the original mix. The soundtrack has an "open" sound to it and has higher-resolution than what I'm used to from most 2.0 DD compressed signals. It sounds very close to linear PCM. Bravo.
Laserdisc 2.0 PCM:
The audio on the laserdisc cannot be neatly compared against the original mono track of the DVD because the 2.0 mix on the laserdisc employed some sort of processing to simulate a psuedo-stereo effect. In other words, the laserdisc audio is not the "original" audio...it was the 2.0 DEHT mix of 1992. Never-the-less, some interesting points can be observed. The first is that the laserdisc sounds much closer to the original mono soundtrack on the DVD than the new 5.1 mix (which has a very different character altogether as I first described). The laserdisc audio sounds a tad more detailed perhaps...owing to the uncompressed PCM encoding...and recording level is different requiring a bit of volume adjustment moving back and forth between the laserdisc and DVD audio. However, despite how much I liked the laserdisc sound, I'm not aware of what differences might be attributable to the stereophic-processing and so I don't want to compare it to strongly and attempt to draw any firm conclusions.
What I can tell you is that the first night I viewed Bambi at my friend's home-theater and we got out his laserdisc copy to compare I was very dismayed with the sound of the DVD (which sounded much less detailed) and felt that the laserdisc easily trumped both the new 5.1 and the original mono mix on the DVD. However, my friend has an older surround processor that doesn't decode Dolby Digital, and so we were using analog multi-channel audio outputs of his DVD player (his receiver has multi-channel inputs to match) and using the stereo L/R analog outputs of his laserdisc player--the point being that we were introducing two different D/A converters into the signal path. In my system, all my audio sources for movie playback send their audio signals to my processor digitally, and it applies the same d/a conversion process to everything. The next day when I compared the laserdisc to the DVD in my system (the impressions of which this review reflects), the DVD sounded much more detailed and when I went to A/B it against the laserdisc I was astonished at how remarkably close the PCM of the LD sounded to the 2.0 DD original mono track of the DVD. Just goes to show you that those little variables in the signal chain really do make a difference...keeping the d/a conversion process consistent for all three titles made an enormous difference in my overall impressions.
Finally, after the first debut on the Lion King, Disney has delivered a 5.1 DEHT mix that I might actually prefer to listen to over the original soundtrack. But it's close! And I could imagine that each time I view Bambi on DVD I might select to listen to one mix or the other and see how the choice affects my enjoyment of the film. Purists will be well pleased with the beauty of the original mono mix and how well the 2.0 Dolby Digital encoding has been done...fidelity is excellent. And those laserdisc collectors out there like me who typically lament the bygone days of LPCM audio where movies sounded so much better...be assured that in this case, the DVD really is doing a wonderful job of supplying you with faithful audio that doesn't leave you feeling "cheated" after blowing the dust off your old laserdsic just to see how the DVD compares.
Sound Quality: 4 / 5
:star: :star: :star: :star:
Where to begin! Folks, just like with Mary Poppins, Bambi is loaded with special feature content that is interesting, educational, and worth repeated re-watching. Let's dive in...
[*]New 5.1 Disney Enhanced for Home Theater Mix: Did he really say that? Did he really just list that as a special feature? He did. That's because in this particular case, the new mix really is special and something that adds value to the feature presentation beyond the original audio experience. Please read my comments in the audio section that apply...
[*] Inside Walt's Story Meetings: Folks, this is a treasure. This is perhaps one of the BEST "special features" I've encountered on any DVD, anywhere. Since creating the usual "Commentary" track for Bambi would have been difficult given the lack of surviving talent, someone at Disney envisioned an ingenious way to use existing documentation to create a video-commentary that ends up going far beyond what any simple commentary track would have provided. Written records survive of many of the meeting conversations over the development of Bambi. Much of the storyboard, concept art, and painted stills also survives. What the Disney team did was to use modern day actors to bring voice to these written transcripts. They do so astonishingly well..."Walt" even sounds like Walt, and the speaking style and interaction between them is convincing. This narrative is then placed in context of the running feature film...essentially you watch the entire Bambi feature with this backdrop of discussion that's been carefully chosen for its screen-specific applicability.
That would have been enough to fabricate a sort of "audio commentary" to accompany the feature film. However, the Disney team take it one step further...incorporating story boards, concept art, and still-photography from the archives to illustrate the precise points of discussion. For example, when we get introduced to the character of Thumper in the feature film playing out before us, we hear our team of artists begin to discuss this character and what they want him to be. They debate names, appearances, and personality traits...all the while we're treated to character sketches, development storyboards, and photographs of the young child actor who plays Thumper's voice. We are also treated to seldom-talked about details like how one early concept was to show man having been killed in the forest fire (with supported conceptual sketch to accompany). The effect is astonishing...it's as if you're eaves dropping on this pivotal design/development meeting from over 60 years ago. The graphical solution to mix the visual elements is to take a "picture in picture" approach with the feature film filling the screen and these historical images appearing to fill about a quadrant of the screen. When called for, the inserted images swap with the feature film and fill the screen with the feature film continuing to play in the small pop-up window. The whole dynamic works remarkably well, and seems natural to watch and intuitive to understand. To whoever at Disney came up with this little dandy at the brainstorming session...I applaud you and all who worked on bringing this truly innovative and valuable feature to this DVD.
That's it for disc 1...but keep in mind that the video commentary feature runs as long (a little longer actually with intros and lead-out) as the feature film itself and requires it's own video stream. I'm quite impressed that Disney was able to fit all of this onto Disc 1 and maintain picture quality as well as they did with the feature film. The picture quality of the video commentary is as-good as that of the feature film I should add...the only issue being the occasional combing from deinterlacing issues due to the mixing of film and video content into a single picture stream (easily forgivable).
[*]Deleted Scenes: Really a fancy way of saying the presentation of two storyboard concepts. One is called "Winter Grass" and is about a minute long. the other is called "Bambi's First Snow" and is about 2 1/2 minutes long. They are introduced by animator Andreas Deja and interesting to explore. You can see how one of Bambi/Thumper's best scenes would have been substantially altered in the First Snow number...and I think it was best left the way it appears in the final film. These scenes are interesting and most animation/Disney fans should enjoy seeing them here after so many years hidden away in the vault.
[*]Games and Activities: A bunch of kid-oriented games. I played with a few (the "What's your Season" profile and it got my personality totally wrong!) but didn't have the stamina to endure them all. Your kids will mess with these...you will not.
[*]Backstage Disney: A nearly 1 hour making-of documentary following Disney's excellent pattern of segmenting the feature into categories such as "Story", "Characters", "Music" etc. and making each category available for direct-access the main menu or giving you the "Play All" option. If you do select Play All, you can quickly skip from topic to topic with your track-advance button. There is a wealth of information here that casual viewers will enjoy and covetous viewers will love. We learn about the Chinese immigrant Tyrus Wong who got a job with Disney studios as an inbetweener animator and then stumbled into the background animation department and was responsible for influencing the entire look of the final film and impressionistic background style. We learn about the voice talents for Bambi, Faline, an Thumper and get to meet the adults who played these voices as children in the late 1930's. We learn about the technical developments in animation at Disney studios and how these new discoveries affected Bambi (techniques on perfecting the illusion of water reflection and the multi-plane camera). I could write a whole essay here but just trust me that this feature is not to be skipped!
[*]Restoring Bambi: Visit the folks at LDI labs and see first hand their work in restoring Bambi to match the color and contrast of the original painted artwork as their team work frame-by-frame to digitally restore this treasure. I could write marketing speech.
[*]The Legacy Continues, Bambi and the Great Prince of the Forest: The new forth-coming Bambi sequel promo hosted by Patrick Stuart who also will play the voice of Bambi's father. Ok, I was thinking the same thing you are. But let's not be too quick to dismiss it...and I'm sure I'll get to review it before you have to decide on your purchase. Actually, it sounds kind of interesting...the new story is designed to take place during the original Bambi feature and fills in the "missing" time from after Bambi's mother gets shot and his father steps in and raises his son...we never actually get to see any interaction between he and his father in the original film except when they walk off into the mist together. Hey...there might be someone out there who doesn't know Bambi's mother gets shot!
. Actually, I was ready to dismiss the new sequel until I saw this featurette and it actually convinced me that there might be something redeeming about it...I'll wait and see...
[*]Disney Time Capsule 1942: This short feature showcases trivia from year that Bambi was release...like famous actors who were born that year and world-wide events. Interesting, and nothing negative to say.
[*]The Art of Bambi: Something of a still-frame gallery divided by category. I encourage you to use the optional audio commentary which at times reveals some very interesting facts not covered elsewhere...like the fact that they used Rotoscoping (animating over live-action to capture more realism in movement in hard-to-draw concepts) for Bambi's father's antlers.
Just a quick clarification -- the Disney animators did not trace the antlers from live animal footage. What they did was rather ingenious. In test animation of the Great Prince, they found they were having great difficulty with the antlers, they looked "rubbery", meaning they did not have the stiff rigidity and feel of the real thing.
Finally, a solution was found. A large plaster sculpture of the Great Prince was created, and this was mounted on a pivot device so the head could be positioned at any angle relative to the animator. Then, using a mirror and a bright light, the image of the scultpture was reflected through the glass of the animator's drawing stand, and the animator traced the antlers from the sculpture, repositiong the head as the needs of the animation required.
Rotoscoping live-action footage (in the mode of Ralph Bakshi's films and Don Bluth's Titan A.E.) is a no-no in character animation, it is highly frowned upon as "cheating" by character animators.
You can choose to view these one at a time or view them in slide-show form which still allows you to hit the "skip" button to jump to the next image. The photographic and archival content here is marvelous, and while some screen area is still used for windowboxing, it's not as bad as the usual image galleries on other Disney discs.
[*]Tricks of the Trade: A seven minute excerpt from one of Walt's 1957 Disneyland TV shows detailing the technology of the multiplane camera. Fascinating...though I would have loved the whole episode!
[*]Inside the Disney Archives: Disney Supervising Animator Andreas Deja takes us on a tour of Disney's research library. It's impressive to see the care that these historical elements receive...notice the cellophane and gloves...all those background paintings by those Disney animators are still here...and in like-new condition. Andreas's journey focuses on a few interesting tidbits...we see some sketches for a storyboard sequence that never made it into the movie where a bumble bee finds its way into Bambi's stomach (thank God they cut that) and Thumper is originally called "Bobo". Really wonderful, and so great to see just how well Disney is caring for their archival material.
[*]The Old Mill: A masterpiece of animation, The Old Mill (Best Caroon Short, 1937) also spear-headed many of new animation techniques that were ultimately applied to Bambi. The most notable was the use of the multiplane camera, which saw it's first commercial use in The Old Mill short. Notice the use of zooms to suggest a sense of 3-dimensional space. Also pioneered in this short was the depiction of more realistic animal characters that departs from the typical 1930's "rubber legged" cows and overly stylized design. Obvious parallels will present themselves with the April Showers sequence in Bambi. This short has excellent picture quality...very finely detailed and natural...as well as natural film grain that does not seem to overly tax the MPEG compression codec. Well done.
[*]Trailers!: You heard me! There are a few presented here and it's interesting to see just how the Disney Marketing department of 1942 "pitched" Bambi. I wouldn't have called Bambi a "Love Story" per-se, but that's how it's being hyped for its contemporary audience. If any of you are curious as to what a non-LDI-ified Bambi DVD mastered from traditional print elements might have appeared...here's your chance. Look at the film-grain, and also note the color shift to the composite technicolor prints over time. Thanks Disney for including these. Trailers are an easy "freebee" special features fans always love to receive.
Here it is folks. The Bambi DVD you've been waiting for. Bambi looks spectacular. It's not "film like" given what the folks at LDI have done...it's "painting like" which I find all the more enthralling. Colors, textures, and detail is faithful to the source artwork to an astonishing degree revealing a wealth of detail from the original painted stills never visible before. The new 5.1 DEHT mix is outstanding, and it does just what a new 5.1 mix should do...genuinely enhances the original sound while remaining true to the intent of the original mix. The original mono mix is also included and sounds brilliant. Special features really pull all the stops out on this one, and the "Inside Walt's Story Meetings" video-commentary feature is outstanding, as are many of the other bonus material on Disc 2. Bambi was a film that really pushed the edge of animation in its time...both technically and in terms of artistic design. Combine with that a story that never ceases to illicit tears in just the right places and you've got a Disney Classic that belongs on your shelf.
I think that Walt would be pleased. I think you will be too.