Even though I’m an animal lover, BAMBI has never been one of my favorite Disney films. Based on Felix Slaten’s celebrated book, the film has always seemed to be missing the adult elements and sly humor that I enjoy in many of the Disney flicks. Plus, talking critters have never been my favorite form of animated characters.
I’m also one of the few stoics (or unfeeling bastards, depending on who you ask) who have never, and I mean never, cried at the death of Bambi’s mother. I can shed a tear at milk commercials, but for some reason this primal fear has never moved me. And on a recent viewing of the film, I think I finally figured out why—Bambi’s mother is never given enough screen time for us to grow attached.
I now fully admit I’ve been wrong all these years.
On a recent viewing, I was struck by the adult tone of the film. Scenes that used to ring hollow had now gained an emotional resonance that I obviously had missed all these years. The simplicity of the story and the genuine heart at the core of the film touched me like never before. Thanks in no small part to the new high definition transfer, the depth and detail in the matte backgrounds give the film a visual beauty unmatched in animation.
I also found newfound respect for Frank Churchill and Edward Plumb’s lovely, Oscar-nominated score. With only approximately a thousand words of dialogue in the film, music plays a crucial role. Other than the two 18-second silences signaling “man has entered the forest” and after the death of Bambi’s mother, the music carries the story.
Principal composer Frank Churchill was best known for his songs from SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS and had won the Oscar (along with Oliver Wallace) for DUMBO the year BAMBI was release. Churchill was once again responsible for the charming, memorable songs in BAMBI, including the Oscar-nominated “Love Is a Song” (with lyrics by Larry Morey), which appears over the opening credits and anchors the score. BAMBI was one of the first films (if not the first) to feature songs in the body of the film that were sung off-camera, not by the characters themselves, to further the narrative. He also contributed the major themes and motifs which were then arranged by Plumb into the underscoring.
Edward Plumb reportedly had studied with Johann Strauss, and using his gifts as musical director on FANTASIA, which was being filmed at the same time, he brings a classical bent to the score. The music echoes Stravinsky, Debussy and Ravel, and comes as close to Beethoven’s Pastoral symphony as you’re likely to find in film music. Memorable scenes include the gallop of the stags and Bambi and Thumper’s frolic on the ice. The tender love-duet waltz, “I Bring You a Song,” joyfully expresses Bambi’s newfound love for the doe Faline. And the threat of fire is frighteningly portrayed in the music.
Perhaps Churchill and Plumb’s finest sequence begins with a single drop of music. Churchill’s melody for “Little April Shower” Mickey Mouses the slowly falling raindrops in the clarinet. The simple foxtrot of Churchill’s tune turns into a torrent of musical violence as Plumb’s orchestrations swell and crash in the ever-increasing rush of the water. As the torrent of the storm subsides, so does the music…drop by drop, note by note.
The informative, yet all-too-brief, bonus feature on the Blu-ray called the music “Nature’s Symphony,” and symphonic it is. Classically orchestrated and as evocative as any tone poem, if you close your eyes, there are times you may feel as if you have stepped into the concert hall. And I mean that in a good way. No frills or musical experimentation here, just rich musical invention evocative of Bambi’s adventures in the forest.