So, when time permits, as part of this project I’m squeezing in a few of the Disney direct-to-video sequels that I’ve missed. This may be the part of the project I regret the most!
First of all, before I even popped the DVD into my computer, there were a few things already working against Bambi II.
- It’s an “interqual.” This is my least favorite way to extend an existing story, and I have yet to see an interqual that I really like. I feel like if what happened during the timeframe of the interqual was THAT important, it should have been in the original movie. In the case of Bambi II, it takes place in the time between when [SPOILER!] Bambi’s mom dies in the first film and when he comes back all growned up and ready to get frisky with Faline.
- I really don’t like sequels that try to resurrect the old-time Disney movies. None of the original voices reappear, and animation styles and storytelling sensibilities have changed a lot in the ensuing years. This leads to awkward storytelling no matter how you slice it. Keep with the original “feel” and it feels disingenuous and out of touch with modern viewers. Modernize the story, and it doesn’t “jive” with the feel of the original. This is especially problematic with an “interqual” that supposedly happens concurrently with the classic film.
Bambi II suffered from both of the above shortcomings. With that said, it wasn’t a bad movie per se, but was easiest to enjoy if viewed on its own merits and not compared too closely to the original. This was hard when it did some of the things I hate most in sequels, which was to repeat a few of the jokes from movie I verbatim.
The animation in Disney’s direct-to-video releases can be a little uneven, but I was pleasantly surprised that the animation in Bambi II was consistent and even beautiful in places. I also felt a pang of sadness at the realization that D2V sequels might be the only way we ever get to enjoy 2D animation from Disney, now that they seem to have completely abandoned it for CGI animation.
So even though the animation was done well, it was jarring against the original. Bambi didn’t even really look the same. All the animals were WAY too expressive, and it lost the quiet, unpretentious naturalism Walt Disney strove to achieve in the original. It was much more cartoony, and felt more like a Lion King spin-off in artwork and in attitude than a continuation of the Bambi story. (Mufasa = Great Prince, Bambi = Simba, and that pretty much sums it up.)
So, the animation has been updated. The musical style has been updated. The storytelling sensibility has been updated. But never fear, one thing made it unscathed from 1942 to 2006, and that was … gender roles as played out in anthropomorphic animals!
I’m not subjecting D2V sequels to the Bechdel test, but the sexism in this film was so pervasive that I would be remiss not to mention it. First of all, the main conflict revolves around the Great Prince struggling with the idea of fatherhood and trying to pawn Bambi off on a doe to raise him, saying things like, “Princes are not meant to raise fawns,” etc. And of course, by the end of the movie the Great Prince has seen another side of himself and bonded with Bambi and decides he wants to raise his own son after all, thank you very much. But this accounts for about 1/10th of the movie, and I kept wondering if it was a lesson that would be lost on young viewers. Aren’t they more likely to remember the 90% of the movie where Father Deer tries to get out of childrearing and insists he is unsuited to it? What kind of message is this sending to kids about their fathers? Let’s give dads some credit, Disney.
Then we have Thumper’s four sisters, whom he spends the whole movie trying to evade because apparently if there is only one boy in a family, the girls MUST be OBSESSED with him. They’re never contentedly playing with one another, but instead searching tirelessly for Thumper and then fighting over who gets to sit next to him when he’s found. At the end, he lords it over them while he tells the story of his adventures with Bambi and a “thousand” hunting dogs, and when a sister pipes up, he silences her with the insistence that “I’m the one telling this story!”
Yes, you are, paternalistic male storyteller.
And then there is Bambi’s rival for Faline’s affection, Ronno, whose tough guy posturing for Bambi includes the sneering remark that, “Isn’t Bambi a girl’s name?” Ronno’s ultimate weakness is that he is something of a “mama’s boy.”
Well, is Bambi a girl’s name? Actually, no — it’s short for the Italian Bambino OR Bambina, which means baby, making it gender neutral. But if you search baby name sites, yes, now it shows up in pink. Bambi was in rare use as a woman’s name before Felix Salten used it in his book, but my hunch is that it became solidified as a “girl’s name” after the release of Bambi because, even though Bambi is a male, he is also adorable and sweet and innocent, all traits that, apparently, are OK to assign to adult women but not to adult men.
Overall, it’s a cute movie with some heartwarming moments (although a dream dialog between Bambi and his deceased mother is pretty much lifted word-for-word from Littlefoot’s last conversation with his dying mother in The Land Before Time.) But the unholy union of modern animation with forties-era gender norms was just too distracting for me to really enjoy the movie.