After all the bad aesthetic investments and ill will Disney’s direct to video line racked up with “Cinderella II”, “The Little Mermaid II”, “The Return of Jafar”, “Pocahontas II”, “The Lion King II”, and painfully numerous others, they finally got one right. This isn’t cause to celebrate the second coming of what has always been a profitable arm of the Disney company because this could very well be the only time a movie this good comes from Disney ToonStudios. Secondly, there’s no word right now on John Lasseter’s plans for ToonStudios, since all of Disney animation will soon be at his command.
However, it is necessary to appeal to Lasseter on the point that “Bambi II” shows a marked improvement over what came before. He has come to the company at a prime time, where ToonStudios has now shown colors that were once dusty and gray. This is the first time that any direct-to-video sequel has genuflected respect toward what it follows. With “Bambi II”, it is the backgrounds that are well-loved, as well as the characters (except for a few moments with Thumper which are too outside the forest), and even the voice cast—including Patrick Stewart in a dignified, subdued performance as the Great Prince—observe and honor the voices from “Bambi”, making sure that they don’t stray too far, as this is set in the middle of the first film, where Bambi’s mother was killed and his father took to raising him. Of course, it isn’t that easy for the Great Prince as he doesn’t feel he can take care of Bambi, instructing Friend Owl (voice of Keith Ferguson) to find a doe in the forest who can take over. As with any story between an impassive father and his lively son, the Great Prince soon grows fond of Bambi, and there are lots of father-son moments that paper many joyful minutes. With the sensitivity threaded throughout the story, this is the first direct-to-video sequel that had actual brains behind it, people who explored every aspect of the Bambi tale, who most likely went into the famed Disney animation library to study the backgrounds used in the 1942 film, who discussed the story at length and decided upon the best way to tell it. This is the best way.
“Bambi II” also has moments that could only happen today, and are only designed so kids can imitate them, such as Thumper dancing around and playfully mocking Bambi in his uncertainty about bounding over a pine cone after taking a huge leap between cliffs. Bambi also suggests to his father why he should be with him on his rounds around the forest, in a claim that sounds far too precocious coming from Bambi. Amazingly, those are the only major problems. Besides all the wonders to be viewed in this forest, Bruce Broughton’s score brings back a few pieces from the original “Bambi” music while adding his own touches that make for even more poignancy. Plus, Alison Krauss, Michelle Lewis, and Martina McBride contribute songs that are competent and conducive to the natural-moving plot, where one plot point never overshadows another. Each of those have equal time, bringing back that pleasurable feeling from the first film where whatever happened in the forest was just the natural order of things.
Since “Bambi II” is also a DVD that will be played over and over again in households across the nation, it’s been loaded with some minor extras, with “Thumper’s Hurry and Scurry” the most useless of them, featuring a condescending female narrator who hasn’t yet seen it fit to talk to kids on their level. They don’t always need to be babied, and in fact, this hide-and-seek game leads to nothing in the search for Thumper. Not fun for anyone. Famed Disney animator Andreas Deja still works for the company in an animation consultant capacity and with the “Disney Sketch Pad” piece, he shows kids how to draw Thumper. Listening to him describe Thumper and how to draw him, along with watching his hand move constantly to create circles and ovals, he’d still better be around once Lasseter assumes full control. If talk is true of some 2-D animation being brought back, he’ll be one of the most valuable animators there, not only for his vast knowledge, but for his endlessly impressive talent, which always brought out the best in villains, and Hercules and Roger Rabbit and King Triton.
Lastly, “The Legacy Continues” details the production, with the usual comments on how intimidating it was to start work on this project when the previous film still has such a hold on Disney history and the people who love it. From what has resulted, “Bambi II” boosts the reputation of the original while making much use of what it is, in being moving, radiant, and even exciting in the final sequence, with genuine suspense that hasn’t been present in a Disney film for quite a long time. It’s only disappointing that there isn’t an audio commentary by director Brian Pimental or any of the key crew, as it would be a well-deserved tribute. They should all continually be proud of what they have created. This is solid proof that in times of such dire straits, like the direct to video Disney sequels, hope still exists. The endless patience has been worth it.