One of the most revered animated films of all time is making its escape from the Disney vault as a Blu-ray release. The Diamond Edition of Bambi presents the animated classic in its best form yet. I sat down with the voice of Bambi, Donnie Dunagan, and animator Andreas Deja to discuss the legacy of Bambi and the future of animated films.
Dunagan shared stories, both personal and general, about his experience of working as a young boy for Walt Disney. He recalls a discussion over the intensity of Bambi's mother's death, which has become one of the most controversial moments in animated history. Ironically, the scenes were animated, but Walt Disney specifically requested they not be shown in the film.
Deja is the animator at Walt Disney Animation Studios responsible for Hercules from Hercules, Jafar from Aladdin and Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. Arguably, his best creation is Roger Rabbit from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? More recently, he is the animator behind Tigger in the upcoming new Winnie the Pooh movie.
The two are quite a pair to interview. Deja is a reserved magician whose passion for animation shines through his answers. Dunagan is a firework of personality. Every word he speaks is not only informative, but entertaining. He is so charismatic that it is easy to fall off track in conversation, but he always finds a way to bring the conversation back to its origin. In our discussion, we explored the staying power of Bambi as Deja revealed some secrets about the world of animation yesterday and today.
Screen Rant: Bambi was actually one of my favorite films as a child; between Bambi and Sword and the Stone, those are my two favorite Disney movies.
Andreas Deja: Bambi was Walt Disney’s favorite.
Donnie Dunagan: People don’t realize he overspent for that. He loved it so much. He was determined to use oils, instead of just watercolors for a lot of the background work, which is why it’s so easy for Blu-ray to make it look magnificent twice.
Screen Rant: Bambi is about a number of things, but to me it’s more about discovery. A lot of people associate it with the message about Man vs. Nature, but to me it's about that process of life from birth to death to birth and understanding the value of the people you surround yourself with. In your eyes, what is Bambi about?
Donnie Dunagan: Most films, then and now, are single-themed. If it is an adventure, it’s all shoot-em-up throw-em-up bang-bang now. Bambi treats humor, courage, fear, laughter, making fun of oneself, love, birth and the cycle of life like no other film, animated or otherwise, I’ve ever seen in my entire life – and I’m 77, so I’ve seen some stuff. It is the most omni-directional, emotional, sensory story ever on canvas anywhere.
Screen Rant: Why do you think Bambi has been such a staple in entertainment for so long? It is shorter than most films nowadays, it has less dialogue and is musically-driven.
Donnie Dunagan: The majority of audiences can find one or two events in Bambi in their own lives. I really believe that. Somebody once called it an environment, and I don’t believe that. It’s an atmosphere – and I’m a scientist. Blu-ray has expanded that atmosphere quantum. It is the orchestration of a cycle of life… Bambi is a love affair for people with fair hearts. Children are starving for something simple, subtle and fun that they can relate to. Children are starved for Bambi.
Screen Rant: We’ve talked about how the canvas artwork steps off the frame. How do you see the future of animation?
Andreas Deja: In the end, good or bad, it is going to depend on the box office. If we find our audiences, we are going to keep doing these things. But once in a while, you need to re-invent yourself. You can’t do another Beauty and the Beast. You have to do something new and that is where we are at right now – one of those cornerstones. We said, okay, we still have the audience, but do we really get them excited. We have to come up with a new style and a new style of storytelling.
Screen Rant: Do certain advancements like 3D keep the revolutions happening?
Andreas Deja: I think you have to keep them excited. Even CG animations, for my eyes, tend to look the same – all of them – no matter what studio it is. They all have that super-realistic look. The room looks like this room and buildings look like that. In CG, they can do anything. They can create different worlds that are not real and very few studios do that. I haven’t really seen that done. They have the same challenge to take a left turn and do something new.
Screen Rant: Has there been any talk of bringing Bambi back in 3D?
Andreas Deja: No, but there has been talk of conversion to 3D. It has happened. The first one the studio did was Beauty and the Beast, which was supposed to come out theatrically – they changed their minds and it is going to come out for home theater in 3D. That market is just starting. Lion King will come out on Blu-ray in Fall, and that will be sold as a Blu-ray, DVD and 3D Blu-ray. They can convert the most recent films fairly easily, but the older ones are a little more tricky because they don’t have digital files for the characters and the backgrounds.
The Blu-ray release brings Bambi to life as a visual treat. Like many of Disney's classic films, it will continue to expand its legacy as the industry advances. It may be difficult, expensive and time-staking to bring Bambi back in 3D, but don't count it out. It seems like the logical next step, but likely won't happen for some time. Now that the classic has caught up to today's technology, it should be settled in quite nicely.
The ending of Bambi suggested an inevitable sequel. Unfortunately, it took Disney 64 years to create and release one and it went straight to DVD. Bambi II, of which Andreas Deja was an animation consultant, was not even a true sequel. It takes place during Bambi in the time just after Bambi's mother's death. It would be nice to see Disney create a true sequel that essentially re-captures the magic of the first film with Bambi's new children exploring the world as it has changed today.
Suggestions aside, the original Bambi provides everything a film should and Donnie Dunagan convinces you of that. He speaks with true passion for the film and it goes without saying his impact on the character with his gentle voice as a child is just as essential as the animation or music that accompanies it. Between all the characters in Bambi, it has proven over the years that time is not a factor and it will always be around - a pleasure to know amidst the industry's visual spectacles of today.