“Bambi II”, the midquel centered around everyone’s favorite deer prince. It always surprises me just how good this movie is, because it really shouldn’t be. For starters, it’s a sequel and Disney’s track record with sequels is fairly awful. In fact, their record has gotten so bad that it’s practically become a meme to cringe at the sight of a Disney sequel. For another thing, “Bambi II” technically isn’t even a sequel, it’s a midquel – and prequels and midquels always tend to feel pointless (it was originally called “Bambi And The Great Prince” during production, and honestly the studio should have kept that title because I think it’s far more fitting and accurate than “Bambi II”). And for one last reason, it’s the Disney sequel with the largest gap between itself and it’s predecessor. In fact, “Bambi” and “Bambi II” currently hold the record for the longest gap between a movie and it’s sequel – nearly sixty-five years.
By all rights, this movie should be awful or totally cringy, like the “Beauty and the Beast” sequels (which can best be described as “Character Assassination, Parts 1 and 2”). But surprisingly enough, it’s not. It’s actually pretty enjoyable. Sweet and funny (very funny) and touching. Clearly, the people who made this movie knew the original “Bambi” was beloved and if they blew it on the level of some of the other sequels, they would be ripped to shreds. I think what makes this movie work is the fact that it’s the one of the only Disney sequels I’ve seen so far that can say it gave it’s main characters more dimensions than they had before, and breathed new life into them. The premise is centered around the event everyone remembers from the original “Bambi” – the loss of a parent. Bambi’s mother is dead, she’s clearly never coming back, and now her boys that have been left behind have to decide what they’re going to do with themselves from here on out.
I mentioned in my review of “Bambi” that there were a lot of great things about that movie – the animation, the score, the atmosphere, the villain – but I wouldn’t say Bambi himself was one of them, since he and his family were kept as blank slates until the last twenty-five minutes. By contrast, Bambi is very likable in this movie, without feeling like his personality has changed too much. He’s still a playful, energetic fawn that tries to enjoy everything life has to offer him, but he’s gradually a proactive figure as well as a reactive one. I think part of what makes Bambi so endearing, beyond having stronger characterization, is the fact that he’s more involved in the humor. This movie has so much fun at Bambi’s expense without it ever feeling mean-spirited. He can’t keep up with his father on the morning patrols, he’s antagonized by another jealous fawn (Ronno), and at one point he has a run-in with a cantankerous porcupine. The status quo in young Bambi’s life has been permanently changed. He’s been sent to live with his father who up until now has been a near-total stranger to him (which, needless to say, is uncomfortable), and he’s been stripped away from his beloved mother. As you would expect, Bambi misses her terribly, but he still tries to make the best of things and strike up a rapport with the nearest adult figure in his life, which is of course, the Great Prince. The mysterious and aloof stag intrigues him, as he’s not quite as unapproachable as Bambi originally thought. Since, unlike Simba or Littlefoot, Bambi didn’t see his mother die, he’s allowed to cling to the idea that she’s still around, stay in denial a little bit longer, until he nearly gets himself killed by hunters – at which point, the dejected deer is forced to accept that she’s gone for good.
In the weeks following that, with his friends’ encouragement, Bambi starts to get tired of being timid and helpless all the time. He starts to want to take control of his life, put himself out there and really go for what he wants – which includes making awkward conversation with his father. After the ice is broken between them, Bambi gets to not only build a connection with a parent again and stave off loneliness, he also learns a lot from the Great Prince about being a prince and being a buck, and it slowly helps him to gain confidence and come out of his shell. Bambi has always been a plucky and carefree kid, but now the Great Prince is preparing him to be a future herd leader as well, and he wants to rise to the challenge of that. The most pivotal moment in the movie is when Bambi’s potential caretaker, Mena, is caught in a hunting trap with hunting dogs on the way, and it occurs to him that instead of running away, again, he can save her. As a prince of the forest, using what his father taught him, Bambi can make a difference in the forest, and he wants that. In that moment, Bambi the badass deer prince that I enjoyed in the last twenty-five minutes of the original film is born. Bambi displays quite a heroic side, faces his fear of Man and proves that he has what it takes to be a fine leader someday. Over the course of this movie, Bambi stepped outside of his comfort zone, he went through some tough times and he had a couple of near-death experiences, but he ultimately walks away from it a stronger person and achieves everything he had been hoping for, from having a proper relationship with his father to gaining a pair of antlers, and I couldn’t be happier for the little guy. Good on you, Bambi.
While Bambi deals with the loss of his mother by trying to make the best of things and gaining a greater sense of self-confidence, the ever stoic (and somewhat pompous) Great Prince copes by burying himself in his duties and refusing to look back at the past. He’s grieving and a bit depressed, but still, life moves on. Male deer are rarely ever present in the lives of their off-spring – it’s the way deer do things as a species. The Great Prince has always cared for his mate and his son, but he’s never had to be more than a distant protector before now. Now, he has to be a provider as well. Much like how “Bambi II” is frank about how uncomfortable it would be going to go live with a father who’s a near-total stranger, the film is also honest about what would happen if someone who’s never had to be personally responsible for someone else beyond leadership and has no context on how to handle kids is suddenly tasked with raising one – including the ugly parts. When the Great Prince leaves Bambi on his own for far too long one day, it nearly gets Bambi killed by hunters, which only further convinces him that he’s incompatible with the role of a parent. It doesn’t help that he’s been aloofly isolating himself from other deer for years before now. Something that’s worth noting is that the co-protagonists of this film are moving in opposite directions in terms of character arcs. While Bambi is a shy but amiable kid who needs to grow into the role of a more confident prince, the Great Prince is an already competent and capable adult who’s defined himself around his duties for so long that he’s almost forgotten how to be a person, and he needs to regain his ability to connect to people on a more personal level if he’s going to continue raising Bambi. Once the Great Prince begins to let Bambi in and they start to find some common ground, meeting somewhere around the middle, things click. They have a great amount of influence on each other, and it’s easy to see that through their companionship, they make each other better than they were before.
Still, despite thawing out considerably, the Great Prince’s doubts remain about what’s actually best for Bambi. One of the more harsh but satisfying moments in the movie is when Bambi snaps and finally calls the Great Prince out on toying with his emotions (because even the nicest deer have their limits), and the dilemma in the last act revolves around forcing the Great Prince to confront what he truly values – his adherence to princely traditions or his budding relationship with his son – a head versus heart decision. The fact that the Prince’s potential goodbye to Bambi is a reminder of the boy’s birthright and not that his father loves him is a quietly cold gesture, but says a lot about how simultaneously well-meaning and misguided his priorities are. Even now, he wonders if he made the right choice and halfway regrets it. Like Elsa’s attempts to ‘protect’ Anna in “Frozen“, the Great Prince has locked himself in something of a self-fulfilling prophecy – every attempt to keep Bambi at a distance because he thinks it’s for his own good has only made things worse and wound up hurting him anyway, and the climax is no exception. When his fatherly concern swells up and the Great Prince finds he has seemingly lost his mate and his son to Man, he can no longer fall back on his princely coping methods to ignore the buried grief – they’re worthless – and it’s the final step to clearing up his priorities. The close shave in the third act convinces him to wholeheartedly accept his new relationship with Bambi – as weird, unconventional and wonderful as it is. In the weeks afterward, the pair’s genial dynamic has returned and the Great Prince, having started to make peace with his mate’s death and learned his lesson about the importance of keeping some of his earthly tethers, decides to tell Bambi more about his mother. Like Bambi, the Great Prince really grows on you in this movie.
The little bunny Thumper was easily one of the best characters in the original “Bambi” and he’s not relinquishing that status anytime soon. Thumper is as much of a sweet but mischievous troublemaker as ever, and his voice actor turns him into a large, stroppy ham without it ever feeling like overkill: he’s very entertaining. In this film, Thumper is pretty much Bambi’s wingman as well as his best friend. Bambi was always a timid deer who didn’t like to take risks much, and it was his mother who encouraged him to be sociable. Now that she’s gone, that role has fallen to Thumper. Thumper tries to be supportive of Bambi’s decisions, and as an added benefit he gets to spend time away from his younger sisters who have been crowding him more than usual lately. Thumper’s sisters are pretty adorable by the way, with all their innocent insensitivity and total relentlessness. Flower the skunk retains his main personality traits of being quiet, bashful and effeminate, but his role as the third man in the forest trio is given a bit more emphasis and his oddball traits are slightly more noticeable. For example, he seems to have developed a fear of snapping turtles that turns out to be quite warranted by the end. The doe-eyed Faline makes a few appearances and she’s still a satellite love interest, though she’s shown to have sympathy for Bambi’s dilemma and appears to have become closer in Bambi’s friend group, as a girl next door type, than she was before.
Bambi gains a rival in this film, young Ronno, who is a little bitch deer. Ronno is a braggart and a show-off, an older fawn who’s eager for attention from his peers. He’s already starting to develop antlers so he thinks he’s more masculine than he is. He’s also a would-be bully. Ronno gradually becomes jealous of Bambi, because of Bambi’s status as the young prince of the forest, and because despite Ronno’s hubris, it slowly becomes clear he will always be second-best to his younger, more timid rival. Fueled by envy and resentment, Ronno becomes more spiteful and cruel by the film’s end. I find the movie utilizes him well, not just as a minor antagonist to Bambi but also as a plot device; he casually lore-drops some important information about Man, and through his attempts to hurt Bambi, he winds up manufacturing situations that help to advance the main plot. Something that does bother me about Ronno though is when he taunts Bambi about freezing up on the meadow. How the fuck could Ronno know about that? He was not in that scene. He was long gone when it happened. The only way Ronno could know about that was if one, the Great Prince had been bitching about Bambi to other deer, which is very unlikely, or two, this creepy deer boy had decided to go spy on someone he had literally just met. Considering how Ronno just appears out of nowhere before the climax, it’s probably the latter. The other antagonist of these movies, Man, remains a formidable, unseen threat, especially since he arguably comes even closer to killing Bambi as a fawn than he did before. I’m beginning to wonder if Man keeps targeting Bambi, a rather scrawny fawn, because he knows one of his parents will step in to try to protect him, who make for far bigger prizes. After all, that’s how Bambi’s mom died.
The animation in “Bambi II”, and in particular the expansive watercolor backgrounds, is very beautiful. The never-ending forest setting of Bambi’s world continues to inspire some diverse and serene backgrounds from Disney, and it’s a visual pleasure watching grey winter melt away into vibrant, bouncing spring throughout the film (the wide shot of the herd running through the meadow in “The First Sign Of Spring” is surprisingly breathtaking). Despite the main characters having far more dialogue than they did previously, a lot of emotion is conveyed quietly and subtly through their eyes throughout the movie (since many of them have been slightly redesigned to have more expressive eyes), and it’s this aspect of the animation in “Bambi II” that I would say is the most successful; it contributes to several of the more poignant scenes in the movie (like Bambi and the Great Prince having a quiet chat after dark). Something I enjoyed about “Bambi” was how it made good use of its color palette, and how it would manipulate the colors of the backgrounds to amplify its mood at any given time. “Bambi II” tries to retain that, which makes the drawn-out scene where Bambi wanders into a hunting trap genuinely creepy, and the other scene where Bambi is almost savaged by a very determined hunting dog quite alarming. I think the weakest aspect of “Bambi II” is the thankfully rare instances of blending 3-D elements into a 2-D film. I still don’t like it when Disney does this: the textures never quite sync up right, and it especially feels out of place in this movie.
The soundtrack is very pleasant and fun to listen to. In fact, “Bambi II” was one of the few sequels (like “Simba’s Pride”) that I would say was musically distinct enough to warrant having a soundtrack album. Similar to how they went through a jazz phase in the 60’s and a pop phase in the 90’s, Disney seemed to be really very fond of country music in the mid-to-late 2000’s. While it felt out of place in some of their other films, the breezy, twangy genre actually fits the forest setting of this movie, especially since it’s imbued with an innocent, childlike whimsy and retains the sweeping choruses of the original film. “There Is Life” and “The First Sign Of Spring” are tranquil, rising, heartwarming songs that do a fine job of drawing you into them, and lay down the main theme and metaphor for the film of seasons passing, allowing for unexpected changes. Elsewhere, “Through Your Eyes” nicely sums up Bambi’s precocious nature and his desire to know more about his father. Bruce Broughton’s score is very rich. He weaves “Love Is A Song” into the tapestry as a bit of continuity with the first film, gives Bambi’s scenes with his friends a sprightly touch in “Being Brave”, and composes a shared theme for Bambi and the Great Prince that undergoes a subtle transformation in the background of the movie. Originally stated in forlorn, solemn brass instruments in the first half of the film, it becomes progressively tender and is performed on string instruments in the back half of the film, as the ice is officially broken between the two princes. Said father and son theme is at it’s most noticeable during their farewell, when the Great Prince sends Bambi to go live with Mena.
The worst thing I can say about this movie is that it feels a bit short (it’s actually around the same length as “Bambi”, but I wouldn’t have minded an additional ten to fifteen minutes). It’s obviously not on the level of the original film when it comes to impressive feats of animation, but it does manage to be a very effective character story that turns Bambi and the Great Prince into more engaging, likable figures than they were before. If you only ever decide to see one Disney sequel in your life, I recommend this one.
* “For it’s out of the darkness that we learn to see! And out of the silence that songs come to be! And all that we dream of awaits patiently! There is life! There is! There is life!!!”
* “Bambi! A prince does not ‘woo-hoo‘” “He doesn’t?” “He must certainly does not!” Sometime between 1942 and 2006, Disney noticed the Great Prince has one hell of an ego, and there are several small jabs at it scattered in this movie. Bless Patrick Stewart for that delivery though.
* Bambi had chats with his mom about a young deer’s development, and that’s a pretty cute mental image.
* A fun and easy to miss fact. In the original film, Thumper had five sisters, but in this one he only has four. I guess Bambi’s mom wasn’t the only one who got shot that winter.
* “We decided, we’d all sit by you!” “Ugh“.
* “Now, if there’ll be no further interruptions” Little girls, please shut up. I’m trying to posture here.
* There are times when the tone of this movie reminds me of “Winnie The Pooh” as much as it does “Bambi”, and that makes me smile because I do love “Winnie The Pooh”.
* “‘Bambi?’ Isn’t that a girl’s name?” Dear lord, Disney did get self-aware with this movie.
* “Oh geez, I was only messing around with him. Isn’t that right, Bambi?” “Ronno!” “I’M COMING!!!”
* “Why did you have to go?” “Everything in the forest has its season. Where one thing falls, another grows. Maybe not what was there before, but something new and wonderful all the same” Well that was sweet. Bambi’s mom clearly believes her mate will be able to step up, even if he doesn’t believe it himself.
* “She’s never coming back… is she?” “….No”.
* “Trespassing little hooligans! No respect! No respect at all! And what are you looking at, you big moose?!” My good sir, that is blasphemy.
* “Does it look bad?” “Euuggghhh! I’m not gonna lie to you, it ain’t pretty”.
* “Don’t feel bad. If we didn’t have cowards, we wouldn’t be able to tell who the brave ones are” Congratulations Ronno, you just figured out why you’re in this movie.
* “Parents like it when you ask them questions, Bambi. Lots and lots of questions” Thumper, ya little liar.
* I only just noticed that while Bambi got most of his looks from his mother, he inherited his big brown deer eyes from his father.
* “A new season’s begun for a father and son! And everything grows a little faster, every moment stretches longer, and it will only get much stronger! We will be together, leaving our cares behind forever, at the first sign of spring! The heat of the sun will shine right through, never a moment comes too soon! At the first sign of spring! At the first sign of spring… At the first sign of spring!”
* I like the contrast between Bambi and the Great Prince’s personalities when Friend Owl walks in on them. The former is pretty unphased while the latter is quietly mortified.
* Anyone who’s familiar with Disney movie formulas knows this third act farewell is not even close to the end, but it is a more convincing fakeout than most. The original “Bambi” had this odd implication that at some point Bambi went to go live in a different forest, and in the source material, the Great Prince actually did send Bambi to go live with a doe instead of raising him himself. So people who know their Bambi history will catch that reference.
* “I feel for you, I do. It must be hard having a father who’s so ashamed of you, he’d give you away” Ronno, just fuck you.
* Bambi kicked that dog straight off the cliff. Young Bambi’s first blood.
* I feel kind of bad for Mena. She decides to do a favor for the royal family, which nearly gets her killed, and by the end it turns out out they don’t even need her anymore.
* “I’m here. I’m here”. Heh, callback.
* I like that despite Bambi having the usual romance arc with Faline, the most important relationships he has in these movies is with his parents; his mother in the former and his father in the latter. It kind of helps them to stand out.
- Nostalgia Critc; Animatedkid; Fiddletwix; The Critical Canucks; HappyKatana; Chud; Blu-Ray; SimbaKing94; The Hunch Blog; Jess’s (Somewhat) Grown-Up Type Blog (2); Film; Movie Soothsayer; MousePlanet; DVDVerdict; Toon Talk; DVDTalk; Mike And Kuri; IMDB; Slate; ShinyWhiteWaters; ShinyWhiteWaters (2); Duckyworth; KiaraFan2; Rotoscopers; Animated Views; Pixar Perfect; The Cynic’s Guide To Disney Animated Classics (1); The Cynic’s Guide To Disney Animated Classics (2); Walt Disney Confessions.
- Conscience In The Wild by Magical Substances.
- Prancing Fawns / Just How Much I Care About You by Veronicatoon7.
- When Will I Get My Antlers? by Tangled4Ever.
- Woodland Blue by Admeet.
- A Special Memory by Seiji and Shizuku Forever.
- Don’t Tell Flower I Said That by Detouredbe.
- Darby by Tsubokurasan.
- When Love Hurts / The Days In The Life Of A Prince by I’m-On-A-Roll.
- Ronno’s Big Mistake / You Helped Me, I’ll Help You / The Ghost Stag Of The Forest by BasedCube95.
- Bambi’s Unexpected Confession by Just4FunFiction.
- Come, My Son / Get Up by LBIGreyhound13.
- Bambi: Tides Of War by Sneakyraccoon86.
- This Place by Kay-ChanLufu.
- Antlers by AvidMoron.