You could see that love had kicked him in the face.

Make Mine Music (1946)

Anne: Well, after a week during which our usual movie-watching time was pre-empted by work, rehearsal, and performances of a very depressing opera about nuns (that part was just me, James would make a very unusual nun indeed!), we have FINALLY gotten around to watching Make Mine Music, the third out of however many package films. It feels like the bit in Julie and Julia when Julie Powell has to cook her way through all of the aspic recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

But that said, I really enjoyed Make Mine Music, and I think I can safely say that I enjoyed it a lot more than James did. This is a film that leans heavily on American nostalgia–a baseball game in 1902 (James, on why he didn’t like Casey at the Bat: “Is it because I don’t understand baseball?”), two hats falling in love in a department store window, a whale singing at the Metropolitan Opera. Those last two didn’t necessarily need to be set in an earlier time, but based on the costuming of the characters (and the kinds of hats!), they clearly were taking place before both World Wars.

I think it was deliberate–so much of the film depicted an earlier, simpler time that I can’t imagine there wasn’t some meeting during pre-production when somebody made the decision to tie the longer segments together with nostalgia.

James: I’ll have you know I make an excellent nun. A little more baritone than most, but damn if I don’t look good in a wimple.

I’m not convinced the typically historical settings where deliberate, but they were still probably a result of yearning for easier times during the war. There’s a vibrancy, a sense of fun and a sense of escapism to all the segments that whisks you away completely. That said, I definitely found more misses than hits in this piece.

About half of the 10 segments were brief at around 2 or 3 minutes, and these tended to be emotion pieces, single songs that didn’t try to tell a story so much as evoke a feeling. The longer segments, ranging from 8 minutes to 15 minutes, told complete stories, and it tended to be these that lost me. The longest segment was Peter and the Wolf at the centre of the film, and it kind of bored me. Some combination of having heard the music many times before (even playing it at school), and having seen the character archetypes before, perhaps, meant that the biggest chunk of the film failed to grip me. It doesn’t help that Sterling Holloway is the narrator yet again. He makes a fabulous Kaa, and a lovable Winnie-the-Pooh, but as a narrator I found him grating in The Three Caballeros and grating here. And yet again his narration seems largely unnecessary: the music and the animation tell the story, we don’t need to be told what’s happening alongside it (anyone who’s seen Dexter knows the frustration of being shown something, having it explained in Dexter’s inner monologue and having it discussed with his imagined dead father, thereby telling us the information three times). At times, such as in Bambi, these movies can be beautifully subtle, giving us no more than we need to fully experience the story being told. And then at other times we get it hammered into us, and the mood is lost.

The other segment that lost me was Casey at the Bat, a 9 minute adaptation of the 1888 Ernest Thayer poem of the same name. I don’t think it was the fact that it was baseball that lost me, so much as a failure to connect with the characters.  The animators seemed to be playing both teams as terrible players who fortuitously hit home runs or catch each other out depending on the moment, and so it became hard to empathise with either side. There’s no real sense of who most of these characters are; the strongest one is the pitcher, who is constantly nervous and therefore elicits the most empathy… so is he the hero? He doesn’t even have a name. And he’s against the title character! And then you have the surreal moment where it adapts the final stanza of the poem, a stanza that suggests a place where things are happy and the sun is shining, so that the final reveal that Casey struck out undercuts the suggested happy ending. In the animation, we get a very awkward cut into a dreamlike sequence. It’s not enough to suggest happiness, we have to see it, and the abrupt jump doesn’t increase the tension, it only kills the mood. My comment at the time was ‘Did that story finish?’. We then get another awkward cut so it can finish the poem, and it just doesn’t work. Maybe if I knew more about the poem, or about American vaudeville, or baseball or the offside rule or something else, it might have appealed to me more, but as it is it all felt very hard to connect with.

Also, Disney made a sequel. The first ever Disney sequel? I’m not sure, and I’m not going to find out, but you can find it here.

Anne: I have no problem with the end of “Casey at the Bat.” It’s not a happy ending–he strikes out and disappoints all of the fans. Maybe they didn’t need to animate the “somewhere people are happy” bit before that reveal–I’ll grant you that it was a little confusing–but it didn’t bother me. And it was clear to me that we were meant to be rooting for Casey’s team, the motley crew of more carefully-animated underdogs. The other team all looked the same to me.

Also, I had to google the “offside rule,” and I still don’t know what it is, so I’m not sure that that has anything to do with why you didn’t like it. Vive la différence!

Since we’re not going in order, I’m going to go ahead and name “The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met” as my favorite part of this movie. I think it just about negates all of those short, boring pop song segments (the Dinah Shore one was lovely, with the silhouettes of the ballet dancers, but I remember nothing of the others).

First of all, Nelson Eddy.

In splendid voice, singing and acting all of the roles. I particularly love the part when he sings the tenor, baritone and bass parts of the sextet from Lucia di Lammermoor.

(I’m going to resist making fun of Renée Fleming’s hair in this video, mainly because she sounds great and looks terrified.)

Of course, the cartoon does perpetuate some interesting ideas about how voices happen, but since whales can’t actually sing, I’m prepared to give it a pass. Also, a whale singing Pagliacci.

The whole thing was just a rollicking good time, with great singing and lots of laughs. Until the ending, which was surprisingly dark for a Disney film–actually, James pointed out that the end of this segment was the third time we had seen a depiction of heaven in Make Mine Music. The body count of the movie is way out of proportion to its length, especially if you include The Martins and the Coys, which in the interest of completeness, we did.

So, on the one hand, happy relaxed nostalgia of a simpler time…on the other hand, death?

James: Whale was perhaps my second favourite piece of the film, and it was wonderful almost from start to finish. The imagination and the joy in there is astonishing. A delightful story brimming over with silly sights and sounds (and a soundtrack laced with evocative classical music). While watching this film, I posited that the main difference between Looney Tunes shorts and Disney shorts of the same era is that Looney Tunes fits stories around brilliant characters, whereas Disney fits characters into brilliant stories. This short is about as close to Looney Tunes as I’ve seen Disney get (One Froggy Evening springs to mind) and yet this still feels like a stronger story than Looney Tunes could manage. There is an arc, there are hopes and dreams, and the main character is innocent and, ultimately, hurt. This is Disney. (One Froggy Evening is still one of the finest cartoons of all time, and yet it came 9 years later… I wonder how much Whale inspired it…)

If you need to see a strong Disney story that Looney Tunes could never get near, look to the cut short The Martins and the Coys. Originally the first segment in the film, it has been cut from UK and USA DVD releases, allegedly due to the violence. Well…



Yeah, it’s kinda violent. But it’s also a whole heap of fun! Terrific music and some fabulous plot twists, all in the space of 7 minutes. The vibrancy I mentioned earlier is all over this piece, and everyone involved seems to have had tremendous fun throughout. It’s a shame to leave it off the DVDs; even as a special feature with a disclaimer for violence, it’s a great piece of Disney silliness that deserves to be preserved. And it’s a much better opening than Blue Bayou, which is pleasant enough, but doesn’t kick start the film in the same way.

Anne: I thought “Blue Bayou” was pretty and atmospheric, and the animation of the water was really exceptional (as someone with no talent whatsoever in visual art, I’m always astounded by what the animators are able to do, especially in the pre-digital era). But at the same time, had it been any longer I would have been bored. When we were watching, you suggested that the short segments might serve as “palate cleansers” before and after each of the longer ones that contained complete stories. I think you’re probably right about that, but I also didn’t think they were especially interesting overall.

I did very much enjoy “All the Cats Join In”–though maybe a little disappointed that it wasn’t actually about cats! But with all of the nostalgia for the 19-aughts, it was fun to see an animated view of teenagers in the mid-1940s. Of course it was highly-stylized and cartoonish, but I thought that suited the “gotta dance” attitude of the characters.

(AND they’re patriotic! Check out the American flag on that banana split.)

“Without You” I found both boring and sad. I didn’t even like the song. Lots of tears and rain and boo hoo hoo. Moving on.

“Ballade Ballet” was very beautiful. I’m curious as to what technique the animators used to create those two silhouettes, because they were unbelievably realistic. I have to think that they filmed two ballet dancers in a pas de deux and then made them into silhouettes–but such is the magic of Disney that I’m really not sure.

I really liked “After You’ve Gone,” with music by Benny Goodman and the Goodman Octet (who also scored “All the Cats Join In”). The Disney animators have an amazing eye for ways to turn objects into other objects–piano-playing hands into can-can dancers, for example–and the segues between visual ideas are always so innovative and surprising. I’m also consistently impressed by the movements of normally inanimate objects: rather than giving the clarinet legs, they imagine how a clarinet would walk if a clarinet could walk.

And the same goes for hats. Over to you!

James: Indeed, I commented that ‘After You’ve Gone’ with its animation of musical instruments felt like a more fun version of a Fantasia segment. The way the animators bring to life ideas and concepts and suggested links in physicality is amazing.

Johnnie Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet was probably my favourite segment (Whale threatened to knock it off its top spot, but I’m a sucker for a happy ending), and it immediately showed the fun the animators were having with the design. The shape of the hats is perfect for their make and yet also look so human. No mean feat. The piece was longer than I expected, but was brimming with fun and inventive scenes showing Johnnie’s conflict while trying to reunite with his love. The story takes the surprising turns that (as I mentioned earlier) only Disney could come up with, and yet it feels so natural and makes so much sense, and the ending is genuinely surprising and completely satisfying. The story is brought to life musically by the Andrews Sisters, who imbue it with a sense of fun and a sense of purpose, as a story that’s fictional and yet still meaningful, perfectly married to the animation.  I haven’t seen Pixar’s latest short, The Blue Umbrella, but everything I’ve seen of it seems to have a similar story, and I can only hope it’s as fun and filled with beautiful twists as Johnnie

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Overall, though, I’d give Make Mine Music 5/10. There are some great segments in there, and even the weakest segments have beautiful aspects, but there are only two or three segments I’d watch again, not the whole movie. I’m starting to miss the momentum of a feature length story, as it can get kind of tiring to change gears so often within a film. Still, I’ve now seen a whale singing Mephistopheles. I couldn’t say that last week.

Anne: I’ll give it a 6/10. I enjoyed watching it, but as a package film it’s not as cohesive as The Three Caballeros or Saludos Amigos. To be honest, I’m not sure I’ll revisit any of the package films in the future, but time works wonders, so who knows?

Up next we’ve got Song of the South. This one wasn’t on our original list of 52 animated films, but when we realized that because we are both very busy and important people (*wink*), we weren’t going to make it through all of them by Thanksgiving, we decided we could include some in-betweeners. James grew up with Song of the South, but I’ve never seen it, since it was never released on commercial video in the States. It will be an experience!

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Yes, a llama can make you feel awfully unimportant.

Saludos Amigos (1942)
The Three Caballeros (1944)

James: So, we begin the package films. Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros were made with a few goals in mind:

1) Be cheaper than a full film (the reduced budget due to Disney’s previous losses, and fewer people and audiences due to the war effort)

2) Be informative (show the US more about Latin America, the government wanting better international relations, especially during wartime)

3) Give the animators an excuse for a paid holiday.

These being less important in retrospect (and features being more marketable than package films), Disney have never pushed these for re-release in the same way as they have other films, and so for both Anne and me this is our first experience coming to them.

And honestly, they’re pretty great. They’re fun, informative, innovative, with some enjoyable (if far less beautiful than Bambi or Pinocchio’s) animation and some very engaging music and songs. They’re also, at times, downright weird. But we’ll come to that in a bit.

Saludos Amigos, at only 42 minutes, is the shortest film we’ll review here. It’s composed of four animated shorts, connected by live action material of the artists seeing Latin America and learning about it, as we learn about it alongside them. There is no overarching story to this film, aside from the Disney animators experiencing new things and being inspired by them, culminating in each of the animated segments. The first segment shows us Donald Duck, himself a tourist in a strange land, learning about Lake Titicaca (and suffering a deal of slapstick while doing so). For the most part it’s fun if gentle, as the foreign ideas and ways are conveyed with comedy mostly pointed at Donald, carefully avoiding mocking the alien customs by mocking the American instead.

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Anne: Oh right, because mocking the American is ALWAYS funny. Ahem.

I had such a good time watching Saludos Amigos–and not just because I was slightly tipsy from finishing off the open bottle of wine from my Rosh Hashanah party.

One of the things I liked best about this little movie was the live action photography of Latin and South America in the 1940s. I loved seeing footage of Buenos Aires and realizing that that’s what it looked like when the Perons were in power, and seeing natives of each location going about their daily business, 70 years ago. It was fascinating, and seeing the animators’ inspiration made each animated segment even more entertaining and interesting.

The second segment was silly and cute–about the Little Mail Plane That Could, called Pedro. We couldn’t help but wonder why he was wearing his mail bag on the outside.

The story of Pedro the Plane was a perfect opportunity (and really just an excuse) to showcase the mountains of Peru, especially the one that looks like a person.

Wonderfully atmospheric and scary, especially in the scene where little Pedro got his first glimpse of it and hid behind a cloud in fright.

I’m not doing a very good job of reviewing this segment, but it really was mostly scenery and silly plane antics, with mostly unnecessary narration (this was a theme throughout the two package films).

James: Indeed, it’s very much gone from the subtle implications of Bambi to overexplaining a lot throughout both films. On occasion, however, the narrator works with the piece as a character, such as in the third segment. He speaks to rather than through Goofy as he tries to be an Argentinian cowboy, or ‘gaucho’, and dictates and orders much of the action throughout, for humorous effect. This segment has a very strong focus on the funny and mostly succeeds, particularly the slow motion sequence where Goofy is riding his horse and chasing an ostrich. Yeah. Let that sink in.

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I like that picture.

The whole segment culminates with Goofy having a (romantic?) dance with his horse and being narratively flown back to America, because… well, because that bit was over.

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Anne: I guess that makes “El Gaucho Goofy” a dog-and-pony show.

I’ll be here all week.

Anyway, I get to talk about Jose Carioca! LOVE this character, he’s like a suave Latin Jiminy Cricket, or the Brazilian Maurice Chevalier in bird form–and what’s more, before we met him we got to see an animator drawing him. Incredibly charismatic and fun, plus he mostly speaks in Portuguese to the bewildered Donald Duck. Bravi to the folks at Disney for casting a Brazilian actor to voice a Brazilian character–what a concept. (Pet peeve of mine–I remember seeing Ratatouille and wondering why, in the name of authenticity, they couldn’t have hired French actors if they wanted French accents! But I’m getting ahead of myself by about 70 years.)

There’s a wonderfully charming moment when Donald Duck hands Jose Carioca his business card and Jose gets SO excited about meeting THE Donald Duck–el Pato Donald!–that he just talks and talks and talks in rapid-fire Portuguese while poor Donald tries to follow along in multiple dictionaries. Finally, Jose says, “Or, as you Americans would say, let’s go see the town!” (Donald is rightly shocked by this. It reminds me of the Quidditch World Cup in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, when Cornelius Fudge has to sit next to the Bulgarian ambassador, who pretends he doesn’t speak English because it’s funnier that way.)

This segment is lovely all around. Jose Carioca teaches Donald about the samba, then they go out and dance and sing about how wonderful Brazil is. And that’s about it–until Three Caballeros when they get an extended segment about Bahìa and dance with Aurora Miranda (ANNE: “Is that Carmen Miranda?!”).

James: Jose Carioca is a delightful character, and it’s a shame he’s been all but forgotten in Disney history. His banter with Donald is delightful, and his whole attitude is just a pleasure whenever he’s on screen. And then, the movie ends, short but very sweet.

Saludos Amigos was successful enough to warrant a further trip to South America two years later. The Three Caballeros is much less obviously educational than its predecessor, and is much more gung ho with its attempts to entertain… with some success.  The end result is a very, very weird film which mostly seems to know what it’s trying to do, and when it doesn’t it’s even more fascinating than when it does. There is a definite (if convoluted) plot line to the film, more so than even in previous features, following Donald Duck’s exploration of more parts of Latin America. It all takes place on his birthday, as he receives three gifts from Latin America (he won’t be so grateful when it gets to Latin America’s birthday and he has to buy 500 million presents).

First of all, he gets a projector with a video documentary about birds, which leads to our first two segments. The first is about Pablo the Penguin, who- wait, Pablo?

'With a tenacity of purpose seldom found in a penguin...'

‘With a tenacity of purpose seldom found in a penguin…’

Anne: Right, Pablo is the penguin who can’t deal with living in the Arctic because it’s too cold. His best friend is a stove called Smoky Joe, and he dreams about relocating to Latin America. Why? “Well, that’s human nature for you, even if you’re a penguin.”

I thought this segment was funny and charming, but nearly ruined by Sterling Holloway’s narration. Sterling Holloway also voices this guy:

And this one:

It’s an excellent character voice, but there’s something odd and almost a little creepy about it here. Not to mention that the narration is just not necessary. It was even more overkill than Pablo the Plane’s narration; there was virtually nothing explained by the narrator that we couldn’t have figured out from watching the wordless cartoon, which was pretty well-plotted–even if Pablo’s longing to get to Latin America was more or less arbitrary. But rather less than more.

After Pablo is a short segment about all the different birds in Latin America…which somehow leads into a story about a flying donkey.

I mean, I’ve seen an elephant fly, but this is ridiculous!

In contrast to Pablo the Penguin, this section has narration that works FOR and WITH the animation rather than against it. The narrator is an old gaucho reminiscing about when he was a little gauchito; he’s not a reliable narrator, and as he remembers bits and pieces of the story, they appear on the screen. He interacts with his younger self as he tells the story, which makes for highly entertaining storytelling.

James: This bit is actually really fun. As you say, the interplay between the narrator and the story is a highlight, and the final sequence with the race is actually exciting (although I’m pretty sure flying is still cheating). This segment is also the first sign of just how weird Disney were prepared to get with this piece.

The weirdness continues in the main narrative as Donald’s next present is a book entitled ‘Brasil’, in the pages of which is our old friend Jose Carioca, who takes Donald into the book to explore the state of Baia. This segment begins strongly, but it does go on a bit, saying less about Baia as it goes on, and just indulging in the musical number. This would be fine, but the segment is 12 minutes long, and so no matter how fun it is it still feels drawn out. Still, there’s some fun stuff with the Aracuan bird…

…and some neat mixing in of live action.

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Aurora Miranda, Carmen’s sister. Who knew?

After that we are introduced to our third Caballero, Panchito Pistoles!

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Then Panchito, Jose and Donald sing the titular song. I can’t stress this enough, this is a fabulous song. Fun, exciting, imaginative… it’s like the Animaniacs theme tune. It just builds and builds with strongly defined characters and a fabulous sense of style. If you want a taste of the film, check this song out. 

Anne: It doesn’t get much better than “We’re three happy chappies/ with snappy serapes!” Fantastic. I’m not being sarcastic. I love it.

Panchito, Jose and Donald head to Mexico on their magic serape…

…where horn dog Donald proceeds to chase every woman he sees. He dances with a character billed only as “Mexico Girl” on IMDB, and pursues a bevy of bathing beauties at the beach, making him a playa on the playa.

Ouch, I’m sorry. Strike that last remark.

All of the flirting and chasing does beg the question, where precisely was Daisy Duck at this point?

My research tells me that Daisy was created in 1940. So shame on you, Pato Donald. SHAME UPON THEE.

(It’s been a really long day and I’m getting slap-happy. Oh dear.)

Also, I have to say that I find both Panchito and Jose more interesting than Donald Duck. It’s too bad that they don’t appear much, if at all, beyond Saludos Amigos and Three Caballeros, because they’re both so charming and funny.

James: Maybe I was just conditioned the right way as a kid, but I do still love Donald Duck. He’s loveable and generally well meaning but also flawed, and more than anyone else this is his movie (although he’s arguably a secondary protagonist to Latin America). He’s not in too much of the film, but when he is he works with the characters around him, particularly Jose and Panchito, to be an enjoyable team player but still distinctly Donald. That said, it’d be great to see a return of the trio (according to Wikipedia they’ve recently been introduced to rides and parades at the various Disneyland resorts, so maybe we’ll see an animated reunion before long?).

And finally we reach the last segment… which is flipping MENTAL. Here’s the setup: Donald watches a video of an attractive woman(‘s face) singing a love song. He kisses the screen, and suddenly trips. I mean, really trips. Most of the last ten minutes is just Donald sliding through crazy animation with a loved up grin on his face. I really can’t describe this segment and get the true experience across to you, even just putting up individual images wouldn’t do justice to this insanity… so here it is in its entirety:

Skip through that, and you’ll see the kind of bizarre visuals I’m talking about. Honestly, I have no idea how I feel about this segment. The animation is fun, but it’s twice as long as Pink Elephants on Parade (which made a heck of a lot more sense). It’s not even really exploring Latin America anymore, aside from a few vaguely Mexican images like cacti and sombreros. It’s just… mad.

Still, at least it ends with a reprise of the titular song, and the three new friends enjoying some fireworks. The ending feels very abrupt, and the whole finale will likely leave you wondering what the heck you just witnessed. Maybe that’s a good thing?

Anne: Yeah, that bit went on a little too long for my taste. It’s too bad, because if it weren’t for that I would probably score Three Caballeros higher. To be honest, I’m finding it hard to score either of these films, because they were geared towards a specific purpose: to educate American audiences on Latin/South American culture, and to foster friendship and positive relationships. I think I’d give Saludos Amigos a 7/10, and Three Caballeros a 6.5/10–the former had the lion’s share of really good animated segments, but the latter had the fantastic “Three Caballeros” number, the flying donkey, and some gorgeous visuals in the Baìa section. It’s not so much that Saludos was BETTER, but Three Caballeros had a few segments that I found really detracted from my overall enjoyment. Subtracting points, here.

James: That’s where Saludos feels stronger because of its brevity, which is an unfortunate thing for it to come down to. Saludos just feels that bit too short for my tastes, not quite enough to get your teeth into… but Caballeros often doesn’t fill its time well enough. I think I’ll have to score both Saludos and Caballeros at 7, because while Caballeros has more flaws, it also has higher ambition in its animation, its character building and its exploration of Latin American culture. That said, they’re both fascinating and fun pieces, and they’ve introduced us to two wonderful new old characters.

Next up, Make Mine Music.

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Good morning, Young Prince!

Bambi (1942)

Anne: Well, James has gone to bed because in England it’s already Thursday, but it’s only 9:45 here, so I thought I would put down some of my thoughts on Bambi before I go to bed myself.

What an incredibly beautiful movie. All that lush forest scenery, the meadow grass that looks like it was done with colored pencils, the April shower scene, the forest fire, the graceful leaping of the stags–everything was truly of a piece. The movements of the animals were both realistic and surprising; rabbits probably don’t ice skate like Thumper does, but it makes perfect sense visually! And that final image of the adult Bambi and his father silhouetted against the autumn sky, with the forest still recovering from the ravages of the fire, was hauntingly grand.

An interesting fact: “Man” from Bambi ranks 20th on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 Heroes and Villains. (The Queen from Snow White is #10 and Cruella DeVil is #39.) And with good reason. There was true dread and tension onscreen when the hunters first appeared–as much as they ever did appear. I said back when we reviewed Snow White that the Queen was scary because of her lack of clear definition–and Man is even more frightening because he has no visual presence. We understand the threat and the danger because of the sudden change in movement and attitude of the forest creatures. When Bambi’s mother tells him, simply, “Man is in the forest,” she doesn’t need to elaborate. We know what this will mean for the idyllic existence of Bambi and his friends.

What makes Bambi particularly effective, I think, is that until the appearance–or non-appearance, really–of Man, the animals themselves act a great deal like humans. While they aren’t nearly as anthropomorphic as the characters in The Lion King or The Rescuers, to name a couple of examples, they do talk, experience wonder at the beauty of nature, and forge inter-species friendships. The roles are not so much acted as inhabited–Thumper is easily one of my favorite characters in the Disney canon.

Seriously. Every time I eat kale or spinach, I have to remind myself, “Eating greens is a special treat. They make long ears and great big feet.” I also love that they deliberately hired young children and asked them to read their lines as naturally as possible, which makes the film utterly charming (at least until the characters grow up!).

It is easy to forget that these wonderful characters are not in fact human–that is, until the senseless threat of the film’s actual humans is imminent. While watching Bambi we found ourselves comparing it frequently to The Lion King, but I think the major difference is that the danger in The Lion King–and in most Disney movies–comes from within the characters’ world. An evil stepmother, a royal vizier, a sea witch, all with logical (to them, anyway) motives for wanting to do harm to the main character. But the hunters in Bambi have no knowledge of the rich world they’re destroying, and they have no personal stake in the story, which means that they can strike at random and without mercy. I keep thinking back to the moment near the end, when the hunters return to the forest in force, and the three birds are hiding on the ground; one of them is unable to resist her natural instinct to fly and escape the danger, and she is almost immediately shot out of the sky. Not an important character, but an indelible image and concept.

Wow, that got dark in a hurry. I’ll leave it there and let James continue when he wakes up.

James: Dark is right. For a film that (for the most part) feels like it’s aimed at a much younger audience than its predecessors – the cute animals, the simple emotions, the storybook structure – it’s pretty brutal at times. The bird you mention isn’t just seen flying by, she has a conversation. She’s imbued with a character, a personality… she’s real. And then she gets shot. Ouch. And of course there’s Bambi’s mother… Oh, man. I can’t talk about that yet.

The emotions explored in the movie are very simple – fear, grief, love, etc – and all handled one at a time. Once again the film is very segmented, with each part setting a small goal for teaching the protagonist and audience, and succeeding, before moving on to the next part. The emotions are simple… and yet surprisingly mature. Nothing gets over explained, it’s all shown so well through the animation and the soundtrack. The animals fall in love without ‘love’ ever being mentioned (instead they get twitterpated… and don’t we all?). Bambi forms a bond with the Prince of the Forest without ever calling him ‘dad’. But the script is the most subtle and the most mature when it comes to the villain.

Bambi’s mother enters the meadow nervously. There’s danger. The animals eventually come out, and enjoy the meadow… until something happens. The animals run. Bambi and his mother run. They escape, and when it’s quiet, they emerge.

‘What happened, mother? Why did we all run?’
‘Man was in the forest.’

And it’s as simple as that. That’s all the explanation we get, and it’s all the explanation we need. It’s a haunting line reading by Paula Winslowe, and the silence of the soundtrack is deafening. The fear of this villain drives the two most important (or at least most memorable) parts of the film later on, and this is all the introduction we get to them. We understand the animals’ fear so clearly, and without ever stating that man is a real threat or showing any real damage, even until Bambi’s mother actually… you know. We don’t need any more explanation, we just know. That’s some mature storytelling. 

Okay, it’s possible that the underplaying is to try and let some of the darker stuff go over the kids’ heads. Like not mentioning specifically that Bambi’s mom’s… you know (maybe she just got caught by Man and is living in a nice house with a garden in Detroit? That’s what happened, right, ma?). It’s possible that all of this is subtle specifically so that the kids don’t get it… but I’d hope the parents would help their kids through the emotions. They’re good emotions to experience and understand, and they’re beautifully presented here. Part of the joy of film is wallowing in the emotion it takes you to, and I’d hope that the parents would let their kids wallow here, even if it’s more intense emotionally than most Disney to this point. I choose to see this as subtlety for intensity rather than subtlety for concealment.

Anne: I hate to break it to you, but Bambi’s mother is…well, you know. (Is this joke getting old yet?)

But really, I have thoughts about how they handled the death of Bambi’s mother. Compare it to, say, the death of Mufasa in The Lion King.

Sad, yes. Heartbreaking. BUT also not remotely how animals react in that situation. I mean, okay, there are plenty of things that are not realistic about how the animals behave in Bambi. They are pretty solidly anthropomorphized. (During the twitterpated scene: “Why are the skunks kissing on the lips?”) I think it was very bold of the filmmakers to not even show Bambi’s mother’s death, and not to pursue it afterwards. Obviously all animals are different (I just found this article from the New York Times about how some animals deal with death and grief), and I don’t know much about how deer would actually react. But the cycle of life has to continue, and while maybe it seems a little harsh to jump straight from Bambi’s father saying, “Your mother will not be with you anymore” to the next spring when all of the young adult animals are mating, I appreciate the thought behind it.

I remarked during the movie at that point, when you said you thought that transition seemed a little abrupt, that I liked the idea of Bambi having to grow up very quickly when his mother dies. I think it mirrors the experience of a lot of people, which is consistent with the tone of the rest of the movie.

Also, you said that the word “love” is never mentioned, but what about the opening song?

James: Ah yes, the opening song. A lovely, awe-inspiring, entirely irrelevant song. I like it, but it has precisely zero connection to the rest of the movie.

I did find that transition abrupt, and while I understand the reasons (characterwise showing him moving on and demographicwise not overegging the grief for the kids), I would have liked to see at least a scene or two covering that. If only Disney made a followup film set in this gap detailing Bambi’s new relationship to the Prince of the Forest, maybe getting the voice of that fish Nemo to be Bambi, and indulging in a great Shakespearean actor like, say, Patrick Stewart to voice the Prince of the Forest. But I suppose that would be silly.

Ahem.

Narratively (again) this film is just a series of shorter stories, even more neatly divided up into the seasons of the year. The emotions are simple, each one explored and developed and, often, resolved within a few minutes. However, there is a much clearer throughline for this film than for any so far. Although nothing at the start really gets followed through to the end, and a lot of sequences take place despite the previous moments as opposed to because of them, much of the film does follow on from earlier. Groundwork is laid for ‘Man’ quite early on, and every subsequent appearance is aided by the first (simple) detailing of the villain. The ‘love’ sequence doesn’t require the earlier scene with Faline, but it’s certainly stronger because of it, adding a sense of momentum which, however slight, feels earned. Bambi escaping Man at the end with the Prince of the Forest is essentially a victory against the villain, made stronger by his earlier defeats; ‘You will not take me now’. I’m looking forward to a stronger throughline in these films, but this is a very strong step forward.

The characters are all strong, with Bambi learning in much the same way Pinocchio did (and rising to the challenge at the climax in much the same way) but with a stronger starting personality. His shy, flummoxed nature when being danced around by Faline is very real and very, very funny. Faline is a strong character, if a little unmotivated at times. In fact, she might be one of the earliest recorded examples of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (Manic Pixie Dream Doe?). Bambi’s mother is kind, loving, understanding and wise; she dies not because of an error but because she was so busy making  sure her son was okay. Thumper is, of course, a delight, both as a nonplussed kid and as a nonplussed adult (with whiskers and everything! He’d probably look silly with antlers.), and all of the other named characters get some fun moments. As stated earlier, even the pigeons get enough personality to be shocked by the death of one of them. The makers knew where our attention and affection needed to be for every scene, and made sure we were right there with it.

Anne: HA! Manic Pixie Dream Doe. I like it.

You didn’t mention Flower, and I love Flower, so a shout-out for Flower.

Gaaaaaarsh.

We were chuckling about Flower during the movie, because there really isn’t anything about the design of him to indicate that he’s male. But that’s something I love about Bambi–they didn’t sacrifice the beauty of so many of these animals to make them more like human males and females. The deer are all so graceful, even the male deer; it’s really only the antlers that make it clear which deer are male and which are female.

I really don’t have a lot more to say about this movie. I did think that the soundtrack was exceptional: so descriptive and full of the emotions of the characters. There are only a few songs in Bambi–“Little April Shower,” “Love is a Song” (over the opening credits), the spring song, and the one when Faline and Bambi are frolicking around the meadow falling in love–and to be honest they’re pretty superfluous. But at least the characters aren’t singing, because that would be strange, I think.

9/10 for Bambi. Gorgeous, moving, scary–every single frame is memorable.

James: Bambi is a very positive step on Disney’s path. We’ve got a few compilation films coming up, and so when the next full length feature shows up eight years later (Cinderella) it’ll be interesting to see how the protagonist’s arc shapes up, but Bambi’s is a reasonably strong one, with all the moments building the character Bambi becomes at the end. I’d like to see more complex emotions, and more time exploring them, but taking into account that this is going for a younger audience, it’s all handled superbly. Oh, and the animation is truly beautiful. 8.5/10.

Next up, Saludos Amigos! I know, I haven’t heard of it either.

Anne: I HAVE heard of it! There’s a famous song in Saludos Amigos…possibly entitled “Saludos Amigos.” Oh, fine, I don’t know anything about it.

ADDENDUM: If you liked Bambi, watch this. If you hated Bambi, watch this. If you know anyone who loved or hated Bambi, watch this, and pity parents in the cinema in 1942 having the same experience.

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