Few companies throughout the history of the world have been so shameless in their pursuit of the almighty dollar as the Walt Disney Company. After breaking the mold in 1934, Disney has never shied away from creative marketing and release strategies to wring every last dollar out of its most beloved pieces of intellectual property. Each week, we’ll look at the House of Mouse’s various sequels, prequels, spin-offs and various misadventures relegated from the silver screen to the small screen. Is there any artistic merit to be found? Or was each film mostly conceived as an excuse to print more money? Join me as we search for the answers from the wonderful world of Di$ney.
Why does this exist?
Is the 1942 Bambi the most adult-driven animated film that Disney ever created? Sure, most of their protagonists had missing parents, but none of those films involved one of them literally being murdered … or the protagonist being shot … or a traumatic wildfire. This darkness resulted in “man” landing on the American Film Institute’s list of 50 Greatest Villains list in 2007. Cruella de Vil, and the Evil Queen from Snow White are the only other Disney villains to land on the list. Over the last few films we’ve covered, you can really feel the absence of Disney CEO Michael Eisner, who left the company in 2005 (and essentially had one foot out the door in 2004). Primarily, the original songs have almost completely disappeared, but the approaches to the films’ material feels more organic. This hasn’t necessarily resulted in the best offerings, but compared to the early films in this series, it’s almost a complete turnaround.
What’s going on here?
We’ve seen the same narrative structure from Bambi II a surprising number of times in this series. The film takes place in between the events of the original film, when Bambi is still an adolescent, even though Bambi ends with the title character as an adult. Thankfully, this isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker because how many of us have a perfect recall of the plot of Bambi? The film opens shortly after Bambi’s mother is murdered, which is a pretty dark way to open your children’s film featuring cuddly, talking forest animals. Much of the emotional thrust of the film can be boiled down to the Mufasa-Simba relationship in The Lion King. Bambi’s father, the Great Prince of the Forest, spends most of the film teaching Bambi what it means to be a leader and scolding him when he doesn’t live up to expectations. In between these scenes are more child-friendly shenanigans and music featuring all the woodland creatures from the original film. The third act mirrors the original film, with a harrowing chase sequence between Bambi and a pack of hunting dogs. The filmmakers even go so far as to make us think that Bambi has been killed in the aftermath! Imagine Disney pulling the same shenanigans with Aladdin or Mulan.
How much of the original is preserved?
Bambi II may not rank among the best of this series, but it won’t be anywhere close to the worst. How many other films have we covered that come anywhere close to the darkest parts on display here? Consider this devastating exchange between Bambi and his father when Bambi asks, of his mother “She’s never coming back, is she?” and his father’s simple, cold response is “No.”
It’s wild that Disney released this film in theaters overseas but skipped straight to home video in America. Believe it or not, the film could have found a way to work theatrically for American audiences. If director Brian Pimental and screenwriter Alicia Kirk could have padded the runtime a little more, Disney could have had a small money-maker on its hands between its bigger releases. The film certainly looks as good as any we’ve covered in this series. Most of that surely has to do with the advanced technology of 2006, but there’s some genuine artistry on display in some sequences.
Does this ruin the original film?
Bambi was Disney’s fifth feature film when it was first released in 1942. No film we’ll cover throughout this series will have a wider gap in releases between the original film and its sequel. Anyone alive when the original film was released would have been at least 64 when Bambi II was released. Disney notoriously re-released virtually all of its films over the years to make sure they were never forgotten, but all of this is to say that I don’t think anyone has any deep-seated feelings about the original film. The sequel doesn’t squander any character moments, and there aren’t too many eye-roll-worthy scenes — something that can happen too frequently with cutesy woodland critters. Every parent knows their kids will go through phases where they’re laser-focused on one specific property, character or adventure. My kids have gone through too many pop culture-adoration phases throughout the years, but if they were to bizarrely go through a Bambi phase, I wouldn’t be mad about pressing play on Bambi II a few weeks at a time.