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Bambi: Diamond Edition Blu-ray

Years ago, after my daughter first watched Bambi, she told me all about the fun the movie was. Then she got quiet, turned to me gravely and said, "I think Bambi's mother died."

It's a formative moment for young audiences, a rite of passage that should be linked with Walt Disney's classic film, because no one has handled that circle of life better than in Bambi. Not even Disney's successors, though lord knows they've tried and come close with films like The Lion King (itself getting a "Diamond Edition" in the Fall) and Finding Nemo.

No, Bambi stands as a masterpiece that truly deserves to be called that. In attempting to use animation to bring audiences "a life in the forest," Disney's crew made a far more effective true life adventure than the studio's later documentaries. And they did it with cute cartoon animals.

This month's release to Blu-ray makes the classic lush and vibrant, only appropriate for the care that went into the original production. On Blu-ray, you can really see the deep plane camera effects, all the different layers of images shifting as the story explores the life of the young prince of the forest. The restoration is so clear there are points when you can see the slight shadow of one cel resting on top of the background.

That may be clearer than audiences have ever seen it, but it's a minor detail that only animation fans would pick up. For everyone else, this is simply crisp, and a chance to see just how much effort went into making this film, shifting from soft watercolors to heavy detail on figures, to lighting and color changes on characters to reflect the emotions of the scenes. It's an artistic wonder.

Bambi is also a movie that's hard to imagine being made today. It moves at a stately but involving pace, in places more about mood than narrative as Disney pushed the boundaries of animation language. The "Little April Shower" number is a cool montage of not just animals seeking shelter, but how rain affects the forest itself.

Yet of course there is story – nothing with the required beats of modern storytelling, but snapshots in the development of a life, from infancy to adulthood. And though we have a main trio of a deer, a rabbit and a skunk, at least in the toddler stage the characters are remarkably human. All the forest children are recognizably children, and should delight new audiences with that identification.

For adults, it's a bit of nostalgia, and for fans – when Disney loads up these Diamond Editions, it seems impossible to think they have anything left undiscovered in the vaults. This time around they've uncovered two storyboard sequences cut from the film, but included here without commentary beyond their house Walt impersonator narrating – and as I noted with Snow White, this guy is good at being Disney.

Though it goes uncommented, once you've watched the film, those deleted sequences are also a perfect example of what a master storyteller Walt was. Though Bambi takes its time, it doesn't have a wasted or redundant moment -- but it would have if Walt hadn't cut those two scenes. It's just not obvious, and few people today have as keen a sense as he did.

A new touch – and I'll admit at this point a little beyond my technological means – is an app called "Second Screen," which you download to your PC or iPad. Choose the Second Screen option on your Blu-ray player and activate Second Screen on your device, and the movie and app sync up to literally provide a second screen full of trivia, galleries and other tangents off of the movie.

I may not be able to try it, but I know several people that would go nuts for this option.

Because Disney also does pretty well with giving educational information, not just their own studio history, there's a semi-storybook option that allows you to follow various animated characters in their own habitats, while the Owl gently lectures about the forest. Interspersed with games, it's a fun feature for kids.

If you already have Bambi, it's a safe trade-up; all the features from the previous release are included, and of course, Disney includes the regular DVD for those with a car or computer set-up for the kids to watch. Or yourself. Let's not compartmentalize the audience.

When it comes to Disney in particular, I cannot stress enough how their animated classics sold me on Blu-ray as a format. For many movies, digital download or DVD is enough, but for those movies that you'll be returning to again and again, this is the way to go. I can't be in the little projection room with Walt Disney that first time in 1942, but the Diamond Editions do a fair job of letting me pretend.

Derek McCaw


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