Since 1942, the original Bambi has both charmed and (let's be honest) traumatized young audiences. More than a mere cartoon character, Bambi has become emblematic of childhood innocence cut short by the tragic loss of a parent. Sadness. Isolation. Uncertainty. Indeed, a half-century before Mufasa succumbed to a wildebeest stampede in The Lion King, Bambi's mother fell prey to Man in a scene that stigmatized deer hunters forever. But what of Bambi's father? We got a glimpse of the majestic stag in the first film, but that story focused on Bambi's self-discovery and budding friendships.
Perhaps it was inevitable that, in this age of straight-to-DVD sequels, the folks at Disney would venture back into the forest for another round with the playful fawn. In Bambi II, the young deer is still trying to get his spindly legs under him with help from his best friends; a cocksure bunny named Thumper, and Flower, a subdued skunk. Bambi has also attracted the attention of a sweet doe (Faline) and an arrogant young rival (Ronno).
But the central relationship is paternal. Bambi wants desperately to follow in the snowy hoofprints of The Great Prince. However, Dad has important work to do and mustn't be slowed down by a hanger-on, even his own flesh and blood. He reluctantly offers to care for Bambi through the winter, but intends to delegate parenting duties to a worthy doe come spring. So this stately buck goes about protecting the herd and tossing Bambi table scraps of wisdom, only to discover the importance—and satisfaction—of raising Bambi himself. As winter gives way to spring, Dad's cold, aloof dignity mellows and both boys learn what it means to be complete alpha males.
While it's great that Bambi has pals to help him find his way through the thicket, the inestimable value of a father's tutelage comes through loud and clear. Not only does the fawn need The Great Prince's wisdom, but also his love and approval. That's why Bambi feels compelled to model bravery after locking up in the face of danger. (He eventually proves his mettle.) The regal stag has some growing to do, too. He softens to his son, even allowing himself to show tenderness at times. It's a wonderful reminder to dads that, although professional goals and an authoritative presence in the home are important, a boy also needs open communication, playfulness, warmth and quantity time.
At first The Great Prince dismisses Bambi's desire to reminisce about his mother ("A prince does not look back, only ahead"), but learns to value those memories. Bambi's kind heart earns a secret smile from Dad when he frees a ladybug caught in a spider's web. Bambi is also selfless and brave when a dire crisis arises, during which he leads a pack of dogs away from a doe caught in a trap. By contrast, the narcissistic bully Ronno is looked down upon, in part for saving his own hide in that tight spot.
Dad charges to Bambi's rescue. Thumper notes that dads like to answer lots of questions, and echoes his father's sage advice: "A family that plays together stays together." When Thumper's spunk borders on insolence, he's quickly humbled by a loving, no-nonsense mom.
Thumper challenges Bambi to reach new heights and tells him that a well-timed growl can calm fears ("Just be scarier than whatever's scaring you"). Dad reinforces the need for courage ("A prince may be afraid, but he can't let fear stop him from acting"). As children of the King, young Christians can apply this to their own need for bravery when the right thing to do isn't necessarily the easy thing to do. Also, Ronno is a jealous, proud deceiver bent on berating Bambi and convincing him that his father is ashamed of him—much the way Satan tries to alienate us from God. Such moments of peer conflict can be used to illuminate that spiritual parallel.
Nothing supernatural to speak of, though one scene is noteworthy for its handling of an otherworldly reunion. In a dream, Bambi's mother assures him that she's always with him, and explains that life and death occur because "everything in the forest has its season." In essence, this mirrors The Lion King's "circle of life" chat and celestial appearance of Mufasa, but without the accompanying (odd) spirituality.
None. Poked by a cranky porcupine, Bambi lurches into an accidental kiss with Faline.
Lots of spills and thrills throughout the forest (some comical, some threatening). Bambi gets lured into an open field by hunters, whose vicious dogs charge the stunned deer before The Great Prince intervenes and tosses the canines around with his antlers. An incidental gunshot rings out. Later, Bambi dispatches several dogs, one with an avalanche of rocks and another with a kick off a cliff. Bambi and Ronno butt heads (literally) and get into scrapes. Flower blasts a dog with his God-given defense mechanism. The animals are harassed by a crotchety old porcupine who makes his point with sharp quills. A turtle bites Ronno on the nose. A ledge crumbles from beneath Bambi, causing him to fall and lie unconscious for a tense moment or two.
Crude or Profane Language
Ronno says "geez" and is verbally disrespectful to his mother (who lets him get away with it).
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Is it fair to once again paint hunters as the heartless, faceless baddies? You have to admit, a sportsman with a gun and an open spot above the fireplace probably is the greatest threat to an eight-point buck. Still, not all hunters are simply out for a trophy. Some hunt for food. Others help to thin overpopulated herds and strengthen the community as a whole. Consider exploring both sides of this divisive issue with children in order to avoid the wholesale vilification of hunters.
Was anyone clamoring for a Bambi sequel? What's next, Sleeping Beauty 2: Back to Bed? In case it isn't obvious, I'm pretty skeptical when Disney raids the intellectual property vault to put a profitable new spin on an old favorite. But I must admit, I'm glad this one's here!
Bambi II overcomes a thin story and a few prefab, Disney Channel-style pop songs by throwing in plenty of cute bits and filling the screen with lush, beautiful scenery. Snowflakes. Dew on leaves. Ripples in water. Fireflies. Layers of branches. Rain striking rocks. There's even a moment when Bambi hides in deep grass from two circling black hounds who, from high above, look like swimming sharks. Moments like this show the animators' commitment to stylishly reviving an old art form at a time when anything that isn't 3-D tends to be rushed through the animation mill. Brian Pimental and his creative team find ways to bring the forest to life with light, color, shadow and texture that's a far cry from the quickie foliage in a Winnie the Pooh sequel.
Thematically, in addition to modeling kindness and courage for little ones, the film does a terrific job of stressing a boy's need for his father. The opening scene isn't afraid to put a finger in the chest of the workaholic, emotionally detached dad who considers raising a child woman's work. The rest of the tale wraps an enabling arm around that same viewer's shoulders, gently presenting the benefits (for him and for his kids) of being intimately engaged in a child's life.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
The voices of Patrick Stewart as The Great Prince; Alexander Gould as Bambi; Brendon Baerg as Thumper; Nicky Jones as Flower; Anthony Ghannam as Ronno; Andrea Bowen as Faline
Brian Pimental ( )