Bambi II A Son’s Courage… A Father’s Love… Studio:Disney Year:2006 RunTime:73 minutes (this is the theatrical cut) Rating:G Aspect Ratio:16x9 encoded 1.78:1 Audio:5.1 DTS English, 5.1 DD English & French SpecialFeatures:Making-of featurette, Fun-Facts, Thumper’s Hurry & Scurry Game ReleaseDate:February 7, 2006 Feature... I was really looking forward to this release since I first found out that Disney had plans to take on the challenge of a “Bambi Sequel”. I'm thrilled to say that Disney has exceeded my every expectation. The original Bambi was good for its day, but by modern standards it’s quaint at best and feels old-fashioned next to the better developed stories and drawing style of recent animated features. Today’s audiences are more demanding and the Disney team have stepped up to the plate and delivered something deserving of their entertainment dollar. Not only does the story have a refreshingly “updated” appeal (touching on themes of Father-Son relationships which are appropriate given contemporary issues in our society), but even the animation style has been spruced up producing a much cleaner, smoother image using computer imagery than the out-dated brush-painted backgrounds from the first movie (I always found the texture of the paper and watercolor brush-strokes in the first film quite distracting, and the image on this new DVD is gorgeous and devoid of any such “painting” artifacts). I’m sure there will be a handful of Disney fans who insist on criticizing this “new” Bambi on the grounds that it attempts to spring-board off of the classic original but takes the story/animation in new directions. Well I’ve got news for you, maybe the original Bambi needed to be taken in a new direction? Anybody else find that “classic” as boring as I do? That drawn-out sequence in the old version with music during the rainstorm was so painfully slow I had to switch to PIP and play some videogames to keep my waning attention span from forcing me to turn it off altogether. Breathe in. Breathe out. Look, if I have to watch a movie like Bambi II, are you going to then deny me the right to purge myself by exercising a little satire in this thread? Yes, the faithful can sigh with relief…my opening paragraph was, of course, a complete and utter joke. And it’s not even April first and I still got some of you. Grinnn… Ok, I’ll try to be fair. Bambi II is more or less benign and is “safe” to buy if a new DVD-babysitting title is required for your kids’ collection. It’s not really a sequel at all…it’s more or less an “duringquel” as this film bridges the gap in the original movie: between the moment when Bambi’s father comes to his aid after the (spoiler) death of his mother and when we see Bambi suddenly appear fully antlered amid spring's blossoms ridden with the testosterone-eagerness of youth. So what the heck did happen between the moment with the speckle-backed baby Bambi wanders off with daddy in the snow until he makes his studly debut among the buds of May? Bambi II, A Son’s Courage, A Father’s Love, is gonna show you. Long story short, Bambi’s dad (convincingly played by Patrick Stewart) totally disses him for being a wuss until the end of the movie when Bambi risks his own life to save his to-be step-mom and his dad clues in that Bambi’s a righteous dude and that it can be cool to be a stay-at-home-dad even if you’re prince of the forest. The animation quality is above-average for a direct-to-video feature. Motion feels satisfyingly smooth and the general quality of the backgrounds isn’t Lion-King inspiring but it does a reasonable job of replicating the “look” of the original movie sans the soul of the hand-crafted artwork from that ground-breaking original. One clear negative for me is the lack of 3-dimensional depth-of-field (created by the multiplane camera in the original)…the new version “looks” recognizably like “Bambi” but doesn’t feel like it despite the pretty pictures. But who’s kidding…were you expecting this new version to even try to compete…or reproduce…the level of visual achievement from the original? Despite the flaws and sappy story, there are some reasons to investigate this film. For one, Allison Krauss sings a genuinely gorgeous opening theme-song and Martina McBride delivers the vocals to a rather nice piece as well. I’m actually going to get the soundtrack. If you like either of those two artists I might recommend that you consider getting the soundtrack on CD whether or not the film holds any interest for you on DVD. I was hoping that the DVD might feature a music-video to either one of these numbers by the performing artists but alas… Picture... Seems somewhat typical these days from BV (hopefully Blu-ray will give me the opportunity to do some reviews that actually sound different in the picture-quality area!) but we’ve got a decent picture overall with a few demerits for some HF filtering (not too bad) and some edge-ringing. By “filtering” I don’t mean that the image is soft…but it lacks the “snap” of better-mastered animation when viewed wide-angle. The edge-ringing isn’t too bad, but when viewed from 1.6 screen widths (like me on my 106” screen) I found that it created a “noise” especially around the sharp-line drawings of characters’ eyes; it was like the inside of the white eye had a ghost-line following the contour in what should have been a uniformly white eye. Those viewing from farther than 1.75:1 screen-widths will probably not find this objectionable but it bothered me despite my best attempts to ignore it. I also saw a few instances of odd color banding. I say “odd” because unlike the usual concentric-ring style color bands that give the hue a paint-by-numbers look, this banding typically looked more like faint horizontal or vertical stripes and was independent of the animation…like almost invisible bands placed over the image which stayed in the same place even when the rest of the drawing moved around. It was very rare and I was being really picky to even see it, but I’ve heard other people complain about color banding when I’ve barely noticed it on other titles so I wanted to point it out. I think most viewers won’t even see this because some displays are more forgiving and running DVI/HDMI tends to enhance color banding on my DLP projector. Everything else (color, contrast, black level, compression) was perfect. Note: Disney seems to have finally given up on the 1.66:1 aspect ratio for new animated features, which pleases me...let's use the full 1.78:1 frame if we're drawing something from scratch anyway... Picture Quality: 4 / 5 Rating Rationale... Rating Key: SCORE Description 1-2 An absolute abomination. Hurts to watch even on a 32” 4x3 480I TV. Think Outland or Jean De Flourette (scan-line aliasing, chroma noise, dotcrawl, PAL-NTSC conversion artifacts etc.)-- 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 Kill Bill Vol 1. 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 limited only by DVD’s 720 x 480 resolution. Non-videophile observers can't help but remark "WOW" and ask you if they are watching HD. Think The Empire Strikes Back, the Fifth Element Superbit or the new Toy Story 10th Anniversary Edition. Viewing Equipment: Currently running DVDs on my OPPO DVD player (Faroudja deinterlacing) which scales to 720P, feeding my BenQ 8700+ PJ via DVI, projecting onto a 106” 16x9 Dalite HiPower screen, viewed from approximately 1.6 screen-widths distance. Well mastered DVDs produce a stunningly film-like image in this scenario, and lesser-mastered material quickly shows its flaws. Sound... The audio presentation is fantastic. The mix is full-bodied, open and natural, and the 5 main channels are blended seamlessly. Sound pans from front to rear in a manner that maintains the character of the sound regardless of its position in the room and “surround sound” is employed during appropriate on-screen actions (like an animal rushing to the front of the screen from behind the viewer). Even a low-action scene such as when the groundhog is in his hole afraid to see his shadow is an opportunity that the audio engineer doesn’t miss: When he’s behind you, you hear him behind you and when the groundhog is in his hole and the animation places you down there with him, you hear his voice echo all around from all sides. Dialogue is also refreshingly directional and pans to the left/right appropriately as character move across the screen. Oh, and I mentioned before, you’ll enjoy listening to Alison Krauss sing her opening theme. Job well done. DTS: Does anyone else scratch their head like I do every time I see “DTS” on one of these made-for-kids-direct-to-video-Disney-cartoons? Not that I’m complaining, but it makes the *lack* of DTS on other more worthy titles all the more painful (I’m still not fully recovered from the lack of DTS on the R1 Lion King…Blu-ray redemption can’t come soon enough…) In any event, the DTS presentation is just a wee bit smoother, wee bit sweeter than the excellent 5.1 Dolby Digital mix in all the usual ways that I’ve come to expect (with the occasional inconsistent surprise). The biggest improvement to my ears with the DTS is the “rounder” vocals. With the DTS soundtrack, the dialogue sounds more mellow and “rounder” in a high-end audiophile kind of way that still sounds good, but somewhat flatter in the Dolby Digital presentation. You can listen and decide for yourself. Sound Quality: 5 / 5 Listening Equipment: B&K AVR 212 processor/receiver driving my Onix-Rocket Loudspeaker system. Special Features... Not much in the way of bonus features and honestly after being offended by teen-band music video after music video on virtually every high-profile Disney animation title, I was a bit dismayed to find that when I really wanted to enjoy a music video, there was none to be had. In any case, the DTS mix of the Alison Krauss and Martina McBride tunes are a joy to behold and I’ll get the CD soundtrack to get my music fix. [*]Making-of Featurette:It’s in this reference-setting 8 minute documentary that you’ll learn priceless facts about the making of Bambi II such as the producer’s disclosure that “The original Bambi was the inspiration for our film.” Wow. Think of what other elusive facts might evade you if you don’t watch this short! There are some fun moments where you meet the kids who do the voices and Patrick Stewart chimes in to tell us how amazing the whole experience was and how the animation team capture such “life” in their drawings. I think this feature will appeal to kids and it’s short length is a good indication that this is the audience for which it is intended. [*]Trivia:A cool little pop-up thingy that uses one of the subtitle tracks to display “fun facts” during the feature film. It works rather well and the graphics used are attractive so it doesn’t have the el-cheapo feel of typical DVD subtitles. Kids might like it. [*]Disney Sketch Pad:Disney animator Andreas Deja does a nice job showing how he draws Thumper. Kids will enjoy. [/list] All Together... Yes the long wait is over. Those of you who have been on a hunger strike waiting for Disney to release Bambi II can set the table and dig in... It’s here! The marketing and PR dribble would have you believe that the creative team set out to, and succeeded in, creating a grand masterpiece of animation ready to supplant if not nestle proudly along side of the original Bambi classic. My take: I tend to believe that a team of talented people can’t force themselves to get up and go to work everyday unless they think they are doing something that is actually worth while, and so they tend to over-hype the magnitude of what they’re doing in comparison to what this movie really is: a benign supplement to the Disney-DVD pile to pull out during long trips when you know you’ll just lose it if you have to hear the kids watch Toy Story for the fifth time in a row before the next gas station. Animation style is above-average and audio quality is exemplary, and Alison Krauss and Martina McBride do a nice job on their theme songs. Bonus material is on the thin side but the kids will like the Thumper-drawing demo. I’ve been as honest as I can be. Let’s see what you have to say!