Having just immensely enjoyed Zootopia, the latest offering from Disney Animation (the company’s animation unit is now separate from the feature film division) which I reviewed this month, I was thinking of what to choose for this month’s DVD pick and then, suddenly, it occurred to me…Bambi!
Why Bambi? Several reasons actually.1) It was a time when Walt Disney was unafraid of showing the dark side of life in his animated movies (think Pinnochio). 2) It was one of his most accomplished cartoon features visually without calling lots of attention to itself the way Fantasia did or seeming too cartoonish like Dumbo. 3) It has animal characters that we can identify with and that we really care about. 4) If you have never seen it, then you and your children should.
Most everyone knows that Bambi is a faun (the name comes from the Italian word bambino) who grows up in a forest and has several animal friends (most notably Thumper the rabbit), undergoes several trials including a heart wrenching trauma, and ultimately triumphs over adversity. I’m leaving out specifics for those who haven’t seen the film or read the book by Felix Salter.
What many people may not know is that Bambi’s allegorical nature, which is plain to see once the film is over but which rarely occurs while you are watching, is due to Disney’s superb skill as an animated storyteller. We are so seduced by the visuals and so caught up in the characters’ plights that we don’t see the big picture until later, especially if we are children.
When I was in college in the early 1970s, Bambi had become a symbol of everything that then contemporary critics hated about Disney. It was manipulative, it was reactionary, it was cute, it was a relic from another time. It didn’t help that it had become a punchline thanks to Marv Newland’s one minute animated film Bambi Meets Godzilla.
Fortunately we’ve moved way past that and now Bambi can be appreciated as one of Walt Disney’s (as opposed to Disney) finest achievements that still has the power to enchant and disturb. If you’ve never seen it than you should and if you have then you should revisit it especially if you’ve just seen Zootopia.
With all this sequel, pseudo-sequel and megawatt franchise madness, I decided to ratchet it back this month for my DVD pick and highlight a film that’s perfect for romantic spring night. Brooklyn was a delightful little film released late last year that garnered critical praise and several Oscar nominations. It was recently released on DVD.
To describe John Crowley’s Brooklyn as a masterpiece makes it sound very grandiose, when in fact it is this film’s smallness that makes it so utterly charming. That it doesn’t pretend to be anything more than it is also makes it classically so. The premise is as simple as it gets – a young Irish woman immigrates to America. Perhaps it’s the story’s simplicity that allows it to genuinely tug on the heartstrings and hit all the right notes.
With no prospects for meaningful work in her native land, Eilis (pronounced EE-lish; played by Saoirse (pronounced SER-sha) Ronan) is sent to America to build a better life for herself. There she suffers the crushing despair of loneliness and homesickness, but gets a job in a department store, starts taking night classes, and falls in love with good Italian-American boy named Tony (Emory Cohen). But just as Eilis is getting a foothold on life in the states, a family situation sends her back to Ireland.
Before she leaves she secretly marries Tony, and expects to return to Brooklyn in several weeks, but back in Ireland she is presented with professional opportunities and a life with a well off local boy (Domhnall Gleeson) The prospective life in her native homeland seems much better suited for Eilis, but the life she’s built in New York is the life she has built. Sadly, no matter which life she chooses, there will be sadness and hearts will be broken.
The major and the minor characters all have a substantive realness to them. Saoirse Ronan is all grown up and shines brilliantly as the Eilis. Emory Cohen brings a heart-on-his-sleeve sweetness to Tony’s character, and to the film, that is undeniably appealing.
Everything about Brooklyn rings true, its story, its actors, its locations, and its tone. It’s a period piece that is a time capsule, but that somehow manages to not feel like a period piece; it’s just feels tangible and timeless. There is something very dear about this film and it’s really quite magical in its own way.
Whatever you want to call Brooklyn – a ‘classic,’ a ‘masterpiece,’ etc., it’s one of the best pictures of the year. And better yet. It stand on its own and there won’t be a sequel next year or fourteen years from now. If you missed it in the theatres, rent it.