The Brief, Eternal Seasons
Written: Jan 8, 2009 (Updated Mar 15, 2009)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
There is perhaps no dramatic convention more sadly beautiful than the patterning of life and experience to the turning of the seasons, as new, green leaves turn golden, drop to the earth covered with snow that melts from patches of new green: the continual turning to, away from, and returning. And as often as Walt Disney’s early animated features incorporated pastoral images and themes, none of them is so filled with this aching consolation as Bambi, from 1942.
Which is not to say that “Bambi” is all somber meditation: there’s plenty of cartoon animal antics, a goggle-eyed owl, giggly bunnies - all that cuddly critter-mugging. Rather, Bambi’s growth and experience, as he gradually trades “spots for antlers”, turns with the altering cycles of the forest, happily so at times, at others, embarrassingly awkward, at others, helplessly tragic. We follow him from wobbly, long-legged faun, as he explores the spring-dressed meadow and meets its other new-born residents: Thumper the bunny, Flower the skunk, and, most intriguing to him, Faline, a doe-faun. Throughout, his shy curiosity is nicely countered by Thumper’s playful and pushy assistance.
But after childish frolics, there follows hardship, hunger and cold, peeling bark from trees to survive, huddling desperately in the snow, and confronting, for the first time, death. The loss of Bambi’s mother is one of the most affecting sequences in film history: there is a frantic rushing to escape from the clearing, Bambi’s mother crying desperately for him to run ahead, a rifle shot, Bambi continuing to run, then calling, searching in the dark, white woods, until his father appears, who tells him his mother can no longer be with him, before guiding him away in the slow, silent snowfall. When I was a child, I was not shocked by this; rather, I felt deeply, and the sequence, so suggestively handled, still brims deep feelings. The ensuing scene of spring elation, with radiant, blossomy trees and amorous birds, all while the sadness of the previous scene still lingers, is often overlooked, but has a tragic beauty just as impressive, a sense of the griefless renewal of nature, death answered, not with tears, but with blissfully ignorant life.
Again, in Disney’s third animated feature, there is a wonderful compression of new technique and simple, but powerful storytelling. The animal movements, their hopping, scurrying, staggering about on gangly legs, contribute much to the film’s vitality, particularly where Thumper urges Bambi to scuttle and slide along a frozen lake. The scenery is also gorgeous with passing detail, such as a rain pool, like polished metal, reflecting the peach-hued sky and violet clouds, which are rippled away by a lingering water drop. The orchestration of color is superb, and expressionistic flashes of colored light and shade as Bambi smacks horns with another buck-suitor, provide unique instances of visual narrative.
The music also deserves special mention: it’s something of a departure from previous Disney outings, as none of the characters sing, and the songs themselves melt into the drama, so to speak, rather than stand out as “musical numbers”. The “drip-drop” melody during the rainstorm is probably the most familiar example of this approach.
The film does lack some of the sly wit and ironic humor that makes Disney’s previous feature, Pinocchio, so palatable to adults, and, at times, it can be a tough sit for parents, who may look impatiently away from the cloying antics on the screen only to see them flashing across their child’s ecstatic face. Still, many of the characters (particularly Thumper) are endearing, and their perky attitudes and goings-on do make for a more startling contrast when misfortune hits.
And, however sickly-sweet the treatment at times, the total impression is potent and ageless. It has certainly stayed with me past childhood. Recently, as I was driving with my wife and baby through a Southern California canyon left devastated by fires, with burnt-out hills and brush and trees, I noticed, out of the patches of black, some little, bright shoots of green, which brought to mind the film’s final scene. In it, Bambi, having narrowly escaped from a massive forest-fire, is finally seen fully matured, the new Prince of the Forest, as he watches over his mate and newborn sons from a prominent rock, taking his father’s place, who retreats into the obscuring woods. It’s a sequence triumphantly sad, and an ending that goes beyond being simply happy or unhappy, as some of our deepest feelings do. It’s this evocation of the continual life and loss inherent in the changes of Nature that makes the film a poignantly beautiful experience, as well as an entertaining feature for adults and children. It’s one of Disney’s very best.
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: None of the Above
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children up Ages 8