Friday, October 7, 2016

CANON OF FILM: "BAMBI"

BAMBI (1942)

Producer: Walt Disney (Uncredited)
Supervising Director: David D. Hand
Screenplay: Larry Morey and Perce Pearce based on the novel by Felix Salten



I've been putting this one off for awhile now. I knew at some point I'd have to cover Disney's "Bambi", if for no other reason than it being one of those movies that seemingly everybody grew up with and knows and has an emotional connection too; it definitely belongs more towards the "Essential" part of the Canon than it does the "Great" part of it. Not that a film can't be both, (in fact they should be both) but I've always been a bit apprehensive about the film myself. When I originally wrote this article, I wrote about this being the latest of a few Canon of Film posts I had written recently that were on films I didn't particularly like, I called it, "Being stuck on self-mutilation mode." (Eye roll) It was years ago; I was going through a dark period in my college years, and for the record it was metaphorical, I've never tried or attempt to try self-mutilation or mutilation of any kind. Just getting that clear.

But yeah, this film. it's a rough one for me; I use to think it was 2 1/2 hours long; I was shocked when I looked it up and it turned out to only be 70 minutes long, but I think that's not necessarily a flaw. The movie is supposed to be an attempt to portray, in fairly simple understanding and terms the stages of life, from birth to adulthood, which, was original back then. Now, it's important to understand what Disney was going for too, because while Disney has a surrealistic experimental streak in him, what he was often going for was to make movies for kids, and telling the stories that kids grew up with, more importantly the stories that he probably grew up with. Now, we would've been somewhat older by the time the book "Bambi, A Life in the Woods" was written in 1923, but the simple tale of a young deer, as he grew up, learns to talk, learns to play, make friends, get into a relationship, suffer loss and grow up into an adult and have kids of his own, that's a pretty idealistic story to tell kids. Who didn't ever hear from some aunt or uncle as a kid that someday they were gonna grow up and become big and strong? In hindsight, while "Bambi" is certainly a better and more watchable movie, it probably seems more comparable to something like "Song of the South" than to most other Disney animated films, especially at that time. "Song of the South," while buried under the Disney vault now and for the foreseeable future, was really intended to simply be a retelling of some of his youthful stories. (Uncle Remus is probably more akin to an American Aesop than any other character.) It was only Disney's fifth animated feature after "Snow White...", "Pinocchio", "Fantasia" and "Dumbo" and it's worth noting that this was the last traditional narrative feature he made for quite a while after that, not for eight years when he made "Cinderella" in fact, most of the other features we're some less-remembered experimental films in the "Fantasia" mold like "Melody Time" and "Make Music Mine" and occasionally they were essentially a cobbled together collection of shorts put together. You do get the sense watching "Bambi" that this was one of his more personal films, like he had said as much as he wanted to with this film in terms of stories to tell, and it shows with the more experimental routes he went afterwards. 

Still, it's survived this long, and I can't think of anybody who truly loves and admires it; I'd be hard-pressed to find anybody who names it as their favorite Disney film, and when you look back on it, yes there's the movie's most infamous and famous scene, but people forget there's a lot of shocking gruesomeness in the film. Amazing scenes of the whole forest on fire, there's scenes of Bambi and another deer fighting over Faline. Why I was a kid I distinctly remember thinking the movie was as much or maybe moreso about the forest more than Bambi, and how it goes from Spring and Summer to that wonderful scene of Bambi and Thumper on ice in winter to see it destroyed, and reborn and searching for it to get green again, as Spring comes ever closer. You could read it like that, actually as a tale of the seasons or as an environmental fable of some kind. It's actually kinda shocking seeing the movie's original trailer to see how it was sold as a love story above anything else. I honestly forget Faline's name most of the time thinking about this film. It matters that the characters grow up and eventually fall in love, but it's not really important who they fall in love with, at least that's the impression I always got, but that makes sense actually when you realize he's telling a general tale about growing up and life and not really a more personal tale. My ambivalence towards the film, could be partially the fact that I just don't find these tales that hinge more on generalities instead of more elaborate, fully-formed characters as interesting as some of Disney's other films, either Walt's or the company's in general. I guess the only other major Disney animated feature that's a direct similar cousin of "Bambi" is "The Fox and the Hound", and I never cared much for that one either. In fact, as a counter-argument, I compared "Bambi" to one of Disney's more maligned animated features, "Oliver & Company", partially because that's the first movie I remember seeing in a movie theater, (Even though, I'm told "Bambi" was the first movie I actually saw in a theater) but also because of other factors, how it was a more direct story, yet was still basically about a young animal who's friends were more memorable and interesting than him as they basically drove the plot and him through the narrative, which in that case, was a re-imaging of "Oliver Twist" in modern-day New York City, which I vastly preferred as a setting to a forest, especially for animation. (Cause it's not like it was unusual for animated scenes to be set in forest back then even.) That said, it's not a fair comparison, Disney isn't going for plot or story with "Bambi", he going for pathos and emotions, which he succeeds at pretty well. That's why the movie has survived and remains a childhood classic for everyone, arguably he succeeded more for that here than any of his other films, it's definitely the big Disney movie that we relate almost directly with an emotional feeling and pull before we relate to the plot or story or even it's characters. That's probably why he abandoned traditional narrative for a more musically experimental phase right after, 'cause music is the art form that most gets into our headspace, and therefore all art strives to achieve the emotional pull of music, to the point where you can hear a lyric or a note even of a song and the entire thing can suddenly be stuck in your head. Even the greatest movies struggles to do that, so in a search for recapturing emotion, music is the next step, and Disney knows that more than most since most of his best films were musicals, and nothing can stick in your head more than a great song from a Disney film.

Not "Bambi" though come to think of it. There's a score, but I don't remember a musical number in the film. I guess there's "I Bring You a Song", but that wasn't a song in the film, and I had to just look that up, and I guess, "Let's Sing a Gay Little Spring Song" but nobody actually does sing in the movie, it's just on the soundtrack. 



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