Last of the animated Disney foundation features (after SNOW WHITE/’37; PINOCCHIO/40; FANTASIA/’40; DUMBO/’41) and too expensive to earn out in initial release (so too PINOCCHIO and FANTASIA). Disney wouldn’t try again till CINDERELLA/’50, with streamlined techniques to reduce the time-consuming/ labor-intensive/ hand-drawn detail that made the first five legend. BAMBI must be the most unusual of the bunch, with a pastoral/watercolor look and little in the way of plot. It’s observational drama, a couple of years in the life of a young deer, with a tone more realistic, less cartoony than the studio had attempted. Seen again, it’s fascinating to note how the art directors move set pieces in & out of naturalism, alternating gentle fun & tragedy. Usually with ‘man’ as villain.* (A spring-fever sequence could have been a ‘Silly Symphony’ short with mating rituals that have Bambi bed down with Faline once his voice drops, and Thumper the rabbit climaxing when touched. Yikes!) That wise old owl?, not only vegetarian, also a ringer for popular culture maven of the day Alex Woollcott. But let the sexual innuendoes and jumps in tone fall where they may and concentrate on the drop-dead gorgeous backgrounds. Then follow the link to this NYTimes piece on Tyrus Wong who was largely responsible for their look. Abstracting down from the overdone undergrowth burying the characters & effects, he brought an Asian influence that clarified/abstracted the look, sometimes with simple washes of color and hints of detail. Some of the most sophisticated art in the Disney canon, hiding in plain sight.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Imagine the political protests if this anti-development/anti-gun film came out now.