The Great Disney Blogathon: Bambi II (2006)
|February 12, 2013||Posted by Jess under Cartoons, Disney, Movies, The Great Disney Blogathon|
When I started this series, I promised to watch all of the sequels as well as the original Disney animated canon. This isn’t as self-sacrificing as it seems; for one thing, I am legitimately fond of some of the sequels (the Aladdin ones! Cinderella III!), and for another, I am a crazy Disney completionist who has sat through all of the Princess Collection direct-to-video compilations, so clearly I was going to watch all the sequels at some point regardless. Anyway, we’ve now come to our first sequel, Bambi II, released in 2006. Bambi II actually holds the record for longest time lapsed between an original film and its sequel – 64 years! – though it is technically a midquel, taking place after Bambi’s mother is shot and before he reaches adulthood.
As I mentioned last week when I reviewed Bambi, I was pretty nervous about watching this. Bambi is such a solemn, elegant masterpiece, and the Disney sequels tend to be slapdash and loud, more concerned with selling a billion DVDs and making 6-year-olds laugh than with faithfulness to the tone or characters of the original movie. But I was actually pleasantly surprised! Bambi II is actually a very cute little kids’ movie – if you completely mentally disassociate it from the first Bambi in every possible way.
Look. DisneyToon studios is never going to produce something that approaches the quiet, serious tone of the original Bambi. It’s just anathema to their M.O., which is, again, “Make something 6-year-olds will laugh at.”1 And the difference between the budget – both money and time – for Bambi, a project that Walt himself was super invested in and spent years and years on, and Bambi II, is vast, especially when you factor in inflation and the relative size of the company then and now. Disney is not going to set up a mini-zoo on the lot so that the animators can study the way deer move and send cameramen to Maine for half a year to film the exact way the light catches the dew on a new spring leaf at dawn. It’s just not going to happen. Not to mention how very different popular music – and thus the soundtracks of these two films – is after 64 years.2
So to watch Bambi II, you need to excise Bambi from your mind. Don’t compare, because the sequel will inevitably suffer, and that’s not entirely fair to it. Let the original movie be a vague reference point for the names of the characters and their relationships, and otherwise try your best to forget it exists.
If you can do that, you’re actually left with…not a bad movie at all. Bambi II is a very cute, if cliched, story about an estranged father and son bonding in the aftermath of the mother’s death. The true character arc belongs not to Bambi, but to the Great Prince (voiced, hilariously, by Patrick Stewart), who gradually grows to love his completely adorable son, learns that it’s okay to show affection for said son, and starts to process – and allow Bambi to process – his grief over Bambi’s mother’s death. The entire point of the Great Prince in Bambi was the complete opposite of this – he’s supposed to be unapproachable and self-contained. But for the very different kind of movie that Bambi II is, his arc is really rather touching (and of course, tremendously well acted). It helps that I have fierce daddy issues and love stories like this; suffice to say that I burst into tears twice while watching.3
I also thought Ronno’s character was really well done. His presence in the film was pretty much the only thing I knew about it going in; for some reason there are a bunch of Bambi/Ronno vids on YouTube to Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend,” so, um, I knew of those? And was baffled by them? I have no particular opinion on Bambi/Ronno shipping, but Ronno himself was surprisingly well written. He’s a bully, but not a particularly fearsome one; he’s clearly desperate for friends and has no idea how to ingratiate himself to other people (animals?), so he picks on them and antagonizes them instead. His aggression and frustration and loneliness all seemed really believable to me, a nuanced characterization head and shoulders above the stock personalities of everyone else in the movie, and I was genuinely sad that the plot of the original film requires that Young Ronno never learn a lesson or grow as a person (animal), because he is doomed to always be an antagonist.
Everyone else is pretty much what they are in Bambi: Friend Owl is a bit more of a busybody and Flower is a bit less coy, but that’s about it. Thumper is given lots of very simplistic comedy to work with, of course. I was pretty disappointed that the running gag with Thumper is that his sisters want to play with him and he doesn’t want to play with them, since he got along fine with them in the original movie; if Thumper wasn’t bothered by icky girl cooties in 1942, I don’t see why we need to add childish sexism 64 years later. I also wish Faline was given more to do. Her lively personality from the first film has been sadly diluted and she’s mostly there to support Bambi and be vaguely annoyed by Ronno. It would be cool if she wanted things for herself, movie! Or even if she could have remained the aggressor in her relationship with Bambi, which I always found really enjoyable.
Finally, the animation, while obviously not up to the standards of the original, is actually quite lovely for a DisneyToon movie. There’s some nice acting and some gorgeous backgrounds. The “There Is Life” sequence is particularly nice. There are a few moments of egregious CGI, and the deer’s legs don’t always move in a very natural-looking way, but it’s a vast improvement on, say, The Return of Jafar.4
Bambi II is hardly a masterpiece; there are some disappointments in terms of characterization, the soundtrack and animation are uneven, and the story, while touching, is straight out of the Heartwarming Family Film cliches file. But it’s absolutely watchable, genuinely touching in places, and clearly made with lots of love and skill. Bambi II, you’re okay by me.
- Which is not a bad thing! Bambi II is supposed to be watched by 6-year-olds; I have no problem with it being crafted with them in mind. The theatrical releases are meant to appeal to the whole family, but let’s be real: I am pretty much the only (somewhat) grown-up in the world determined to sit through all of the direct-to-DVD films. There’s no need to reach outside the target demographic. ↩
- Bambi was all about the choral arrangements. Bambi II references the original score pretty generously, particularly the Oscar-nominated “Love Is a Song” – more on that in the next footnote – but otherwise scores its montages to country ballads that seem like they would fit a little better in The Fox and the Hound II. But if there’s any music the modern Disney Company loves more than autotuned pop sung by 14-year-olds it owns, it’s broadly inoffensive country. ↩
- Only one of those times was Great Prince-related. (“Daddy’s here,” oh God, you stupid movie, you go right for the jugular, don’t you?) The other time was Bambi dreaming of being reunited with his mother while an instrumental arrangement of “Love Is a Song” plays in the background. Which, for those of you who didn’t make a mixtape in high school of Disney love songs (ahem), goes “Love is a song that never ends,” and I’m sorry, but that is playing DIRTY, Bambi II! ↩
- Part of me wonders if I should have reviewed the sequels in the order they came out as opposed to with their origin movies, so as to track the improvement of DisneyToon as a studio, but it’s too late for that now! ↩