"Bambi II" (2006) looks as gorgeous as the original, but the problem, as DVD Town's John J. Puccio pointed out in an earlier review, is that "the filmmakers, in trying desperately to maintain the tone and feel of the first movie, strove hard simply to interpose added scenes here and there, with little sense of any defining purpose or whole." In other words, this "midquel" has so little plot and such a scant three-act structure that it feels more like deleted scenes and subplot to the beloved 1942 film.
Funnily enough, the studio's obvious desire to stay faithful to the original classic also led them to replicate elements that might seem dated to audiences more than 60 years later. The pacing is as slow as a trickling brook, just as it was in "Bambi," where we met forest characters one-by-one. And there are plenty of leisurely sequences involving forest life. But "Bambi" came at a time when animation was still so new that audiences were excited to see what animation was capable of doing, so every sequence, no matter how simple, held their attention. "Bambi II" might be too slow, and there might not be enough of a major conflict for some viewers today.
I have two kids who act as my bellwether when we watch family films, and my nine-year-old daughter liked "Bambi II" enough to watch it again in the future--despite the bare-bones plot. My older son wanted more complexity.
"Bambi II" begins right after that iconic moment when Bambi's mother is shot and killed by hunters. In the opening, we see the tiny fawn in the snow approached by his father, the Prince of the Forest, who intones, "Your mother can't be with you any more." Patrick Stewart handles the voice of the Prince in what essentially becomes a single dad film. That's because Friend Owl (Keith Furguson) all but bamboozled the great one into looking after his own son until spring, though he wanted to find another doe to do the job. "A Prince's job is to watch over the herd; it's a doe's job to raise a fawn." Spoken like another relic from 1942.
There was potential here, but in typical Hollywood shorthand style, the character arcs are reduced to just this: The stately Prince will cover enough ground to where he loses some of that hardness and can shed a tear, and little Bambi (Alexander Gould), who freezes when a hunter's dogs charge at him rather than running as his father commands, will manage to get over his paralyzing fear. You know this the moment it's all set up so obviously.
Maybe "Bambi II" is II much "Bambi."
In "Bambi," we get early long scenes with the forest friends discovering a new season and interacting with each other, and there are awkward moments for Bambi. The same is true in "Bambi II."
In "Bambi," Faline is introduced as the young female who has an interest in Bambi, and in rutting season a full-racked Bambi takes on a challenger who tries to make Faline his mate. It's pretty intense, but here we get but a pale copy, with a character that confusingly combines a threat to Bambi with comic relief. A bully of a nub-horned deer named Ronno (Anthony Ghannam) keeps trying to challenge Bambi and move in on Faline (Andrea Bowen), but because he quickly gets his come-uppance and his appearances seem sporadic, rather than something building to a showdown, there's really no dramatic tension created. Yet ironically, because of his bullying, he also falls short as a comic-relief character.
In "Bambi," hunters and a fire provide two major crises, while in "Bambi II" we get hunters' dogs at two junctures--and that's kind of like dealing with a secretary of state, instead of the president.
Some sequences also seem more like TV segments, as when the whole forest gathers to see if the groundhog will see his shadow . . . or not.
But there's no denying that "Bambi II" looks remarkably close to the original film, and that's certainly praiseworthy. It's also awfully slight. The length is listed at 72 minutes, but that includes the credits. The film is really only 64 minutes long. No wonder it didn't feel as substantial as the original.
"Bambi II" is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, transferred to a 50GB Blu-ray disc using AVC/MPEG-4 technology. Even when the film itself falls short, you can always count on Disney to deliver top-notch production values. The picture is flawless, with wonderful retro background art, believable-looking colors, and strong edges and black levels. I saw no problems with the transfer.
The featured audio is an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack, which, because of the storyline, isn't asked to do much more than offer spurts of dynamism. It's a mellow film, and a mellow soundtrack, though the music is nicely updated from 1942 without "disrespecting" the original.
There's a mixture here of new and old features. One of the new-to-Blu features is "Friend Owl's Fun Forest Games," interactive lessons that are pitched at the age range of children who are still trying to nail down their colors and such. There's also a new deleted song, "Sing the Day," that was left out of the 2006 film, and which appears on the bonus DVD as well.
After that, it's all features that have appeared on the previous release:
A "Thumper's Hurry & Scurry" game of hide and seek, a "Disney Sketch Pad" which requires a DVD-ROM drive, an eight-minute making-of featurette ("The Legacy Continues") and a "Bambi's Trivia Tracks" pop-up feature that appeared on the DVD. It all sounds like more than there really is. The best extra is the DVD copy of the film, really.
As sequels go, "Bambi II" is respectable, but it's not a knock-your-socks-off follow-up. While it's amazing how closely this group of Disney artists and animators have approximated the original film, "Bambi II" is still lacking in the plot department.