I think I picked the right time, a couple of years ago, to start collecting Disney movies, since they’re bringing out all kinds of their films on Blu-ray these days, some of which I didn’t even know existed. Take this one, for instance.
Bambi II is a short (72-minute, barely over an hour without credits) direct-to-video sequel to the wildlife classic, released itself on Blu-ray earlier this year. Instead of focusing on the realism of the animal images, though, which was the strength of Bambi proper, this one recasts the deer fable into a single-father family bonding story. Set during the events of the first film, Bambi’s father, the Great Prince of the forest (Patrick Stewart), has to be talked into taking care of the now-motherless fawn (Alexander Gould). I found this premise overly anthropomorphized, even for Disney. The buck does make a statement about how the does take care of the young, but then it’s ignored, as it has to be, to make the movie work.
The skunk Flower returns, as does young doe Faline, while Thumper is dealing with his sisters, who love him so much they want to follow him around all the time. There’s an Owl, who appears to have wandered in from Winnie-the-Pooh, and a Groundhog (voiced by director Brian Pimental) who’s similarly familiar. New antagonist Ronno is a young buck who’s already growing antlers, ahead of Bambi.
As the film goes on, the dad declares what a prince does and doesn’t do (something I tired of even faster than Bambi does), while Bambi wants to play and otherwise act like the youngster he is, when he’s not dealing with his grief over losing his mother. As expected, over the course of the short movie, Bambi grows up, while dad learns the value of family. There’s some dated music, as well, trading in songs picked through decision-making for the ages for over-prominent too-modern ballads sung by Alison Krauss and others. I don’t need the music to tell me what to think and feel, thanks. Instead of a timeless classic, this one bears some obvious marks of its 2006 release date (64 years after the original, the longest time ever between first movie and sequel).
This is an enjoyable kids’ cartoon, if you don’t mind a lot of human traits and family structures imposed on woodland creatures, but giving it the name of Bambi sets up expectations that it just can’t fulfill. The comedy is entertaining, and the situations will be understood by the young audience for this film. A lot of kids will sympathize with Thumper being annoyed by his siblings, or Bambi feeling intimidated by the better developed bully Ronno, or learning to adapt to a non-traditional single-parent family, or the embarrassment of being teased about being scared. Several reviewers call this the best of the Disney direct-to-video followups, and I can believe that. Just because it’s not as great as its inspiration doesn’t mean it’s not good.
The action sequence where Bambi is misled by hunters and winds up freezing as their dogs approach is quite suspenseful and well-animated, but most of the time the animation is flatter than the original, more suited to television. A second sequence with pursuing hunt dogs is a turning point in the film and provides sustained drama. The design of the Great Prince is inspiring, and Stewart’s voice gives him the regal depth he needs. The sheer beauty of the original isn’t matched, relying instead on character beats and dialogue among the animals that now act like human children. For that reason, older viewers and animation connoisseurs don’t need it unless they want to keep their collection complete. (Sadly, I fall into that category, although I had the benefit of getting a review copy.)
The movie is available as a two-disc Blu-ray and DVD Combo Pack (suggested list price $39.99), or as a single-disc DVD ($29.99). Bonus features include:
- Three “forest fun games” hosted by Friend Owl to promote counting and math skills — Blu-ray only
- The two-minute deleted song “Sing the Day”, accompanied by storyboards
- “The Legacy Continues”, an eight-minute featurette about the making of the movie in which everyone talks about how inspirational the original Bambi was
- Almost four minutes of “Sketch Pad”, where animator Andreas Deja shows you how to draw Thumper
- A pop-up trivia track
- Another game, this time a “find the character in the picture” with Thumper