Jab’s Disney Reviews: Dumbo and Bambi

DUMBO (1941)

Dumbo came on the heels of a couple of financial failures (Pinocchio & Fantasia), and so was one of the first Disney movies made “on the cheap”. However, this cheapness in animation allowed the directors to focus on acting rather than showing off fancy backgrounds, and so we got one of the more personable tales. And this one’s a doozy of an iconic film- is there any more tear-inducing scene in the movies than when Mrs. Jumbo cradles her son through the bars of her cage? Timothy the Mouse is a great adviser character (in that he’s kind of bad at it at first), and it’s got some FANTASTIC imagery, especially when Mrs. Jumbo razes the circus to the ground, or the famous Pink Elephants on Parade sequence, producing one of the greatest Acid Sequences in the history of film.

The sequence with the Black Crows is notorious for using racially-stereotyped dialogue (but in a more charming way than, say, Coal Black and De Sebben Dwarfs did at Warner), something that NO KID ever picks up on at first, and only became apparent to me later when I first heard the 1930s “black speech” stereotyped in other works and went “hey, but that’s how those crows talkedOOHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” Granted, these are some of the few good guys in the film, and it’s pretty fair for its day.

The film does hold up, though. It helps that it’s got a short enough run time that virtually EVER scene is iconic and memorable. The bitchy old female elephants are pretty funny in the beginning, Dumbo goes from “adorable baby” to “cute and endearing” very quickly, most of the supporting cast is likable, and it’s arguably the most potent of Disney’s “Underdog” stories.

Reception & Cultural Impact:

Dumbo was actually a BIG hit for the studio, surprising a lot of people. John Lasseter comments how it has GREAT “Economy of Plot”, being less than an hour long, but tells a complete tale with character development, emotional impact, and great scenery. It’s one of the more cutesy films, but also contains a lot of darkness, sadness and weight. Sayings like “It was YOU all along!” have stood the test of time, and people still go on about Pink Elephants because of this one.

A remake by Tim Burton is coming out later this month, and the character appears in many Disney Parks as the infamous “circling fliers” ride. The ride is so infamously slow-loading (essentially having only a handful of Dumbos available for small groups) that they had to build TWO of them, and even still they’re a big slog for most parents, who don’t particularly care for the attraction.

BAMBI (1942)

Written by: Felix Salten (book), Larry Morey, Perce Pearce & Gustaf Tenggren

Bambi is one of the most famous and influential films of all time- never before had animals been animated to this level of skill (compare the deer seen in Snow White to the ones seen in this film), and the cutesy way in which they were depicted (with giant eyes and large foreheads to make them look more baby-like) set off numerous creators, including the early names behind Anime & Manga, who would forever adopt the “Big Eyes Small Mouth” style as a near-universal cultural trend in Japan.

It differs from the other films in that it’s basically a bunch of stuff about cute animals being cute and endearing. There’s very little conflict at all, as you see Bambi grow up and learn how to do things, live like an animal, and meet girl animals. And then… every kid in the world has their first moment of movie-driven heartbreak. Oddly, I must have been too old when I first saw this, because while I was empathetic, I wasn’t beside myself like a lot of people apparently get when the Hunter kills ol’ Bambi’s mom (oh sorry- SPOILER ALERT!!). Never mind that, as the Nostalgia Critic notes, they literally go straight from “Your mother cannot be with you any more” (god I still remember that line from when I was seven years old- clearly that shit stuck with me) to the happy little ditty of April Showers. Bambi meets his dad (who really is kind of a deadbeat until the end, when you think about it), and the whole thing pulls a Lion King (or should I say, Lion King pulled a Bambi) with the circle of life playing out.

Curiously, like a lot of now-famous and beloved Disney films, it was a financial failure when it came out, due to the enormous cost of doing all of this slow-going animal-based stuff. The kind of technology and skill to make realistic animals just DID NOT EXIST at this time, so it took a ton of expense to make it work. It recouped the losses in a re-release in 1947 (ie. after World War II, when European theatres were more open to playing the film), and still went on to be known as an all-time classic.

I actually had to look up what the hell Bambi was as a book, showing just how much cultural cache Disney’s version had. Turns out that Bambi- A Life In The Woods was a smash hit from a German writer in 1923, meaning the movie’s the equivalent of making a film of a book from, like, 1998 as a Disney Animated Feature today. It’s kind of weird- we associate Disney with always going for Fairy Tales and ancient folk tales and the like (RapunzelSnow WhiteThe Frog Prince, etc.), but Bambi was literally only about twenty years old when they based one of the very first Disney Features off of it.

Reception and Cultural Impact:

Bambi was mostly beloved (though some found the lack of Fantasy elements to be a downgrade), and has gone on to become one of the most famous cultural touchstones in history- the first movie many people can remember that made them cry. Bambi’s mother dying is an EXTREMELY famous, iconic moment, and pretty much unsurpassed on that level. Animaniacs used it as a gag fifty years later, for God’s sake! People STILL crack jokes about hunters and hunting using this story today! Though one amusing thing is that Bambi himself is somewhat infamous as a symbol of wussiness- the ultra-feminine name makes him hard to take seriously, even though he whups some ass by the end of the film.

Many of the side characters are very famous- Thumper most especially. He’s arguably the first “For The Laughs” Sidekick in Disney History, being snotty, funny and ultra-cute. You can see a lot of Flounder, Abu and others in the guy- he’s mischievous and large-eyed, but ultimately likable

The story’s considered a bit anti-hunting, and pro-environmentalist, as not only do unseen hunters kill Bambi’s mother, but they get the forest burnt down- this is MUCH more prominent in the novel, apparently. The villain of the story, usually called “Man”, is arguably the most infamous unseen character in movies.

The most infamous of all of Disney’s Unnecessary Straight-To-Video Sequels is the apocalyptic Bambi 2, initially used as a JOKE on Saturday Night Live as if it were the most blasphemous example of “Sequelitis” possible… and Disney ACTUALLY MADE IT! Funnily enough, there WAS a sequel to Bambi in book form (dealing with his twin children), but Bambi 2 is actually a prequel featuring Bambi being raised by his uncertain, unsure father, The Great Prince of the Forest. The DVD sold well, but was poorly-received, largely because of the very CONCEPT of making a sequel to a movie from 19-friggin’-42- one of Disney’s most hallowed offerings.

Bambi, for obvious reasons, doesn’t have much of an impact on the Disney Parks. You really can’t fit a human being into a “Bambi” costume and have it look right. I believe there’s been a Thumper “Head Character” before, though. No rides feature the gang, either.

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