The long-overdue digital restoration of Walt Disney’s “Bambi” brings the rich animation back to its original vibrancy. Why it took so long to clean up this long-time favorite is uncertain, but the old “better late than never” notion certainly works here. At least today’s youngsters won’t have to view “Bambi” through the discolored and muddy hues that previous generations endured (it’s nice to see white snow rather than grey flakes).
But the newly liberated color palette also unmasks something which few critics will openly acknowledge: “Bambi” is not a great film. The film has a few memorably winning sequences which have become part of Disney pantheon: Bambi learning the names of the forest denizens, Bambi and Thumper trying to navigate the ice pond, and the genuinely heartbreaking death of Bambi’s mother (that scene, more than anything, raised waves of anti-hunting activists across the years). These have rightfully earned their place in Disney compilation reels as being among the studio’s finest moments.
But in between these sequences are faily dullish stretches of Disney kitsch, with too-cuddly animals in extreme states of too-cute behavior; there’s also a song score which is among Disney’s least interesting. The second part of the film, with the adult Bambi and his friends meeting their respective mates, is too marzipan-sweet (even by Disney standards) — the female animals are all fluttering eyelashes and Mae West wiggles while the male animals turn into quivering love-struck jelly at their first kiss. The finale, with Bambi turning into Bruce Lee to hack-chop a pack of hunting dogs, is almost unintentionally funny as it rewrites the laws of animal behavior (since when can deer scale walls and start rockslides?).
However, criticizing “Bambi” is a lonely pursuit — anyone who can find fault with a cute faun and furry little forest critters will have problems finding an audience to take his rants serious. Besides, the current state of children’s entertainment is so woefully inadequate (especially the Disney straight-to-video ripoffs of the studio’s classic works) that perhaps there’s no real harm in playing “Bambi” for today’s little ones. And at 70 minutes, cynical adults who fail to be hypnotized by the Disney formula will not suffer for too long.