24 February 2012

Disney Daze: Week 8: Make Mine Music

In 2012, this intrepid reporter plans to watch, in chronological order, all of Walt Disney Studios' 52 theatrically-released animated features, one per week.

Having dedicated so much time and resources to the war effort, not to mention able-bodied employees who enlisted, Walt Disney was far from producing another feature with a standalone story. As a means of keeping the feature division alive, the remainder of the 1940s was spent releasing package films that comprised several shorter subjects strung together. Some films like the upcoming Fun and Fancy Free or the company's last package film, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad - released at the decade's close - consisted of fairly long narratives, the films showcase just two disparate segments. 

The studio's first post-war release, 1946's Make Mine Music, is closer to a shorts festival. The film contains ten segments, none of which runs longer than fifteen minutes, with the majority clocking in at a Silly Symphony-sized six to seven minutes. It's like a Walt Disney mixtape. The film's unifying thread is, as the title implies, music. Though unlike Fantasia which puts the music front and center, placing all attention and artistry at the composition's mercy, Make Mine Music is a lot more frivolous. Much of the onscreen action derives from literal translation of the lyrics sung by some of the 1940s top stars, including Dinah Shore and Nelson Eddy. Many segments let the music recede almost entirely into the background having been usurped by narration.

The first sequence in the film, The Martins and Coys is - as it's opening title tells us - a rustic ballad sung by the vocal group the King's Men. The short tells the story of a generations-long feud between two backwoods families, a la the Hatfields and McCoys, who live side by side and spend every waking moment aiming their rifles and firing at their neighbors. Eventually all of the bullets hit their targets and both families ascend to heaven, save one member of each clan, a voluptuous girl and a goofy, yet strapping man. As the survivor's deceased relatives look down from their heavenly perch, they discover to their unending dismay that the two progeny have ceased hunting one another and fallen madly in love. The two are soon wed and the joke is that now the warring continues as they bicker and feud just as before, just under one house.

The segment is fairly rote with little to single out. The most interesting piece of animation is a wide shot showing the two shacks facing one another and anonymous puffs of smoke volleying back and forth, not a single rifle or shooter to be seen. The prevalence of guns and violence in this sequence caused Disney to excise the short completely from all home video releases, which is incredibly ridiculous because the segment is very broad and silly and I sincerely doubt the viewing of such material would result in our children subsequently taking up arms. Thankfully the section is available for viewing online.

The next piece in the film is the closest in style to Fantasia and that's because it was in fact originally designed for the earlier film. Initially intended as a showcase for Debussy's "Clair de Lune", Make Mine Music substitutes the more contemporary tune "Blue Bayou". Called a tone poem and set in a twilit swamp, the scene follows a stork as it soars through the night sky. The scene is very delicate and subtle, featuring some nice multiplane work and excellent water effects with the moon's reflection breaking apart as the swamp ripples. It feels incredibly out of place in this rather upbeat and energetic film, but that makes it all the more worthwhile.

Speaking of energy, the third sequence in the film, "All the Cats Join In" perfectly marries the big band busyness of the great Benny Goodman and his Orchestra with a jumping, jiving piece of animation that literally draws itself as it goes. The section opens on a shot of a sketch book where an alley cat is erased and replaced with a fresh-faced teenage boy. He is quickly drawn surrounded by a jukebox, phone booth and all of the other accoutrements of a first-rate malt shop. With the great Goodman and his band blaring out of the speaker the boy calls to invite his girlfriend who jumps up, into the shower and out the door. All the local teenagers end up at the shop where they drink sodas, eat ice cream and dance until the jukebox bursts.

The section is easily one of Make Mine Music's best. The vitality in every pencil stroke of animation, even the meta pencil stroke of the pencil animating the ensuing scene, is infectious. It is one of the greatest fusions of animation to music and rhythm in film history. But above all else it is just a whole lot of fun. Several animators worked on the sequence but the one who makes the most lasting impression is Fred Moore, whose infamous drawings of nude women were legendary on the Disney lot. These girls are the models for the teenagers in "All the Cats Join In" (they're also the basis for the design of Fantasia's centaurettes). Moore himself animates the surprisingly risqué section featuring the teenage girl at home. The scene shows her stripping down and hopping in the shower, her body dancing in silhouette behind the shower door. The gags in the sequence are all solid, from the preening younger sister who longs to join the fun to my favorite wherein the animated pencil quickly draws a stop light to halt the half-drawn car full of teenagers so it can finish drawing a back axle.

Despite some interesting water special effects, the film's fourth segment, animated to the ballad "Without You", leaves very little impression. The same goes for the failed attempt at marrying animation with live-action ballet in the "Two Silhouettes" sequence, which in theory sounds like a noble experiment but comes off clumsy and uninspired. Sandwiched between these two pieces is arguably Make Mine Music's most famous sequence, the retelling of "Casey at the Bat". The section opens with stills of a beautiful turn-of-the-century tableaux, showing all of the local ladies and gentlemen turning out in their greatest finery to watch a baseball game. From there the section comes alive with some solid character animation. There is a short, ill-tempered manager; a Jimmy Durante-inspired pitcher; a gruff Irish umpire; a batter with a meddlesome mustache; and of course, Casey, whose hubris is exuded in every movement he makes. Besides these caricatures and a few whimsical touches, not much of "Casey at the Bat" really sticks. It seems that the segment is most fondly remembered for the poem that inspired it. Disney's adaptation doesn't bring much more to the table.

The longest segment of Make Mine Music is a visual representation of Prokofiev's piece "Peter and the Wolf". The work was originally written as a means of introducing children to classical music, with each instrument representing a different character in the story of a boy and his forest friends who head off in search of a vicious wolf. These connections are described in the segment's introduction by Sterling Holloway, who at this point was fast on track to becoming a Disney staple. Unfortunately once the story itself begins, Holloway continues to prattle on instead of leaving the music and art to propel the story. The section would be much stronger if it was portrayed in pantomine in time with the music. The strong melodies lend themselves well enough to the animation. We do not need superfluous descriptions. The voiceover work adds nothing to the proceedings except some forced emotional anxiety. If anything it detracts from the whole point of the piece which is storytelling through music. We can clearly see the danger Peter and his pals are in, telling us does not enhance that.

That being said, there are some wonderful elements in the sequence. The subtle nods to Russian dress embedded in the animal designs is splendid, particularly Sasha the bird's ushanka cap and the pegged pant-like legs of Ivan the cat. Having the title and later the signs in the village written in Russian shows a quality of care and attention to detail that differentiates the segment from some of the more slapdash efforts in the package films. There are some choice bits of animation as well, with the shadow of grandpa's beard morphing into the wolf, who when we him meet later is a truly menacing character, all fangs and drool and piercing red eyes. He is a much more horrific wolf than the antagonist in The Three Little Pigs from a decade earlier.

"Peter and the Wolf" is followed by a welcome return from Benny Goodman who pares down his orchestra to present the tune "After You've Gone" which scores a quick little scene showing anthropomorphized instruments goofing around. I can't help but think that the two minute segment would have been better utilized at the beginning Make Mine Music as a snappy little credit sequence setting the mood for the film. As it stands, sandwiched in the second half of a film relying more and more on traditional narrative, the fun little number falls through the cracks. 

I must confess that I am a bit of a sucker for the love song portion of the film, sung by the Andrews Sisters, who tell the story of "Johnny Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet". It is treacly and saccharine but there is something in the tale of two hats falling in love in a window display that taps into the latent hopeless romantic in me. It doesn't hurt that the song is gentle and catchy and the effective animation of the hats so charming. The way Johnny is made to have a smiling mouth when poised on a pedestal is truly creative work. There is not much to chew on but as a love story goes it manages to squeeze in all of the genre's trappings while presenting them in a new, imaginative environment.

The film ends with the tragic tale of Willie the whale who is possessed with an operatic voice and longs to put it to good use. Sailors rave of the mellifluous voice they have heard emanating from the whale during their voyages on the high seas. The opera impresario Tetti-Tatti believes this is due to an opera singer being swallowed by the beast, not the whale's own true talent. Seeing the fortune he could make if he brought the singer back, Tetti-Tatti pursues Willie, whom he discovers serenading enraptured sea gulls and sea lions. We then cut to Willie performing several famous pieces in an elegant symphonic hall, from Pagliacci to Mephistopheles. The crowds grow more ecstatic with each successive performance. Willie's picture graces the cover of Life magazine. He is front page news.

Sadly we discover that this reverie is nothing but a dream as the short fades back to the open ocean and Tetti-Tatti who successfully harpoons poor Willie, killing him before his opera dreams can come true. The supreme shock of this reveal is staggeringly felt. We have been so subtly lulled into genial complacency by scene after scene of Willie's imagined success. His drive and enthusiasm for opera is incredibly palpable and the animators really imbue the character with goodwill and gravitas. To have that all brutally pulled out from under us is disorienting, distressing, and drama of the highest order, compellingly composed. The outburst of violence on a stormy sea is powerful and poetic, as we catch mere glimpses of the hulking whale's silhouette wandering wounded into the horizon. The scene works so well because all of those qualities that marked the early Disney features - superb storytelling, captivating characters, and top notch animation - are present. It is also rather interesting that Disney would alter the original story of "Peter and the Wolf" earlier in the film to eliminate the death of Sonya the duck, only to brutally kill off an even more lovable character later on. 

On the whole, Make Mine Music is a slight but enjoyable work. While not all of it sticks, the filmmakers were careful never to overstay their welcome. No sequence in the film drags, even the most mundane or trivial. This alone is a strong advancement from the plodding tedium of most of The Three Caballeros. To judge the film on its own merits is noble, but it can often be difficult separating the package film from the studio's vaunted lineage. To think that Bambi was released just a few short years prior makes Make Mine Music even more trifling. 

17 February 2012

Disney Daze: Week 7: The Three Caballeros

In 2012, this intrepid reporter plans to watch, in chronological order, all of Walt Disney Studios' 52 theatrically-released animated features, one per week.

Saludos Amigos was a rousing box office success, first in its initial release south of the border and later in the U.S. where the film recouped its meager production cost twice over. This windfall kicked pre-production on a second South American shorts package into overdrive. Plans for the next film included a segment on Mexico and the introduction of a rooster character. By the time the resulting film - originally titled Surprise Package - was released, it had ballooned to twice Saludos length and was renamed The Three Caballeros. Unfortunately this expansion was ultimately to the film's detriment.  

Caballeros begins in much the same fashion as Saludos. We get a brief introduction to what will be our thematic wraparound segment - here it is Donald Duck's birthday and we see the waterfowl opening presents from all of his Latin American friends. Each present segues us into a short on a different country. This is how an anonymous gift of a film projector throws us into the feature's first short, The Cold-Blooded Penguin. The story of a penguin named Pablo who longs for warmer climates, the short has nary a thing to teach us of Latin American life, besides the fact that it is warm there. Basically, Pablo is freezing cold in the Antarctic, then he devises a plan to sail to Argentina where he will laze in a hammock drinking lemonade and fanning himself. Despite its complete lack of cultural relevance, the short has its charms. There are some clever visual moments on Pablo's journey, for instance when he literally runs into the equator and needs Neptune's help to lift up the barrier so he may pass. A shot of the earth shows water dripping off the ocean and into space, and so on.

The next short, called the Flying Gauchito, is Caballeros' most successful piece of entertainment. The story returns us to the culture of the gaucho, previously exemplified by Goofy in Saludos Amigos. Here a narrating gaucho is recalling his life as a little boy who - while out hunting condors one day - captures a winged donkey. The two become fast friends and enter a race where they are laughed at by the onlookers and fellow contestants for their diminutive size before ultimately triumphing by well, cheating. Using the donkey's hidden wings they win the race, become exposed, and fly off towards the horizon never to be seen again. It's all a bit derivative, basically Pinocchio finds the Latin equivalent of Dumbo and they live happily ever after, but the animation is stellar, with some lovely flourishes and the storytelling is fluid and engaging. The narration is especially good with its gentle rhyming nature and emotional outbursts during the climactic race.

Unfortunately at this point the film decides to abandon the short subjects and become a musical. As we return to Donald, he opens up a pop-up book from (and featuring) his Saludos buddy José Carioca, identified here and on almost all promotional copy for the film as "Joe". Is this nickname to signify the closeness between the two birds or was José too ethnic for the public? Either way, Joey takes Donald on a trip to the Brazilian city of Baia by shrinking down and catching a train in the book. In this sequence we are introduced to the aracuan, a bird with a goofy little song who is portrayed here as a Harpo Marxist agent of chaos. The nameless aracuan's appearances in Caballeros are brief but always welcome. He runs out of the frame, or should I say the frame runs out on him. He sketches out multiple railroad lines sending José and Donald's train shooting off in myriad directions. 

Once in Baia the film makes its first foray into animation/live-action hybridization. This was nothing new to Walt Disney whose first productions back in Kansas City - pre-Oswald the Lucky Rabbit - were known as the Alice Comedies and featured a live action girl interacting with an animated environment. Disney's familiarity with the effects does yield some nice visual inventiveness in Caballeros. Here Donald and José watch as Aurora Miranda, Carmen's sister, dances her way through the streets of Baia dotted with houses that dance along to the samba.

Between the Baia sequence and the rest of the film's musical numbers we get a brief interlude where the story of Las Posadas which tells of a Mexican Christmas tradition involving children walking through town reenacting Joseph and Mary's search for a room by inquiring at households for a place to stay. This story is told by the third Caballero, the heretofore unknown Panchito, a gun-toting, sombrero-wearing rooster of Mexican lineage. The scene is most notable for the lovely Mary Blair pastels that tell the story. These images are precursors to Blair's global children immortalized in Disneyland's it's a small world attraction which originally opened at the New York World's Fair some twenty years after CaballerosFollowing Las Posadas, Donald, José and Panchito climb aboard a magic sarape and head off on a journey to many Mexican locales where a variety of dances and songs are performed.

What are the two things one learns from The Three Caballeros? This viewer learned that the people of Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico love to sing and dance; and that Donald Duck is really, really horny. Those two elements literally make up the majority of the last two-thirds of the picture. Several times throughout the film some Latin chanteuse will appear onscreen joyously crooning some infectious tune and Donald will stare at her, his mouth agape, drool dripping from his beak. The duck lusts after every single woman he sees, first Aurora Miranda, then a beach full of bathing beauties, and finally Dora Luz, who appears in the stars above Mexico and sings a ballad called "You Belong to My Heart". 

The latter sequence is the strongest in the film's back-end. The song is lilting and lulling, accompanied by gentle twilit visuals as Donald, sitting on a crescent moon pines for the floating Dora's head. Eventually he receives the kiss he's been hunting for the whole film. Instantly Donald goes certifiably insane as his whole body turns crimson and he shoots through the stars, sniffing neon flowers and relishing the reverie of love reciprocated before José and Panchito jarringly burst out of nowhere, throwing the scene into schizophrenic chaos. The sequence jumps erratically between Donald's hallucinogenic misremembrances of events earlier in the film, returns to the calm "You Belong to My Heart", and another explosion from his Caballero brothers who among other things tommy-gun daisies at the screen. The five minute sequence - which suitably ends with creepy male voices whispering "pretty girls, pretty girls" - is the most energetic and stunning sequence in an otherwise listless film. 

In watching these two Good Neighbor programs back to back, it is evident that Saludos' greatest asset is its brevity. Even though the film's scenes rarely attain the magnificence of the best Silly Symphonies, the Saludos shorts retain the pace and rhythm of their cinematic ancestors. They never overstay their welcome. Once Caballeros turns from shorts package to musical travelogue it becomes increasingly tedious. Scenes drag on and become faceless and interchangeable. While some bright moments pop out amongst the monotony, their presence is fleeting. The Three Caballeros was to be followed by a third Latin America feature, tentatively titled Cuban Caravan, but was scrapped when Caballeros bombed at the box office. Disney would return to the concept of the package film several times in the ensuing years but the travelogue experiment was never again attempted. 

10 February 2012

Disney Daze: Week 6: Saludos Amigos

In 2012, this intrepid reporter plans to watch, in chronological order, all of Walt Disney Studios' 52 theatrically-released animated features, one per week.

The two most disastrous events to affect the Walt Disney Studios during their namesake's tenure occurred within months of each other in 1941. The first was a cartoonists' strike that started on 29 May and lasted for five weeks. The toll this bitter and divisive dispute took on the company was incalculable. Loyalty was questioned and relationships were irrevocably strained. Six months later Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor, kicking Dumbo off his planned Time Magazine cover and thrusting the entire United States - including Walt Disney - into war. Within a week of the attack, some 700 soldiers began to occupy various buildings on the company's Burbank grounds, due to its close proximity to the Lockheed aircraft plant.

The government enlisted the studio to create propaganda films for the Allied cause. The war provided a source of much-needed funds for the continually cash-strapped studio. Unfortunately for a visionary artist like Walt Disney, being chosen as a hired gun - even by an organization as powerful as the United States government - was a hard pill to swallow. Walt spent his entire career giving other people orders, overseeing their work, but he bristled at the thought of having the tables turned, being forced to take orders from officers who knew nothing about filmmaking or storytelling. 

Earlier in the year, prior to the U.S. involvement in World War II, the studio had its first taste of government work when it was assigned to help strengthen ties with Latin and South America through the Good Neighbor program. It was believed that countries in this region could be highly susceptible to an alliance with the Nazis. The Disney studio was tasked with creating a film that celebrated the cultures of these diverse countries, thus establishing a bond and sense of brotherhood with the rest of the Americas.

The resulting film, Saludos Amigos, is a cheaply made, slap-dash picture with very little to do with South American culture, history, or people. It is a trifle of a film, clocking in at a mere forty-two minutes, the shortest of the fifty-two features in the studio's animated canon. The movie is divided into four distinct sections ostensibly focussing on a particular region. Each section begins with repurposed 16mm home movies that were shot by El Grupo, the artistic envoy Disney selected to travel south for inspiration and study. Footage of scenic locales is interspersed with shots of the artists observing and sketching native rituals. These then lead rather clumsily into the animated sections.

The first segment of Saludos Amigos centers on the Inca people living near Lake Titicaca. Our intrepid guide is none other than Donald Duck, who portrays the haphazard tourist getting into all sorts of mishaps as he dons the native garb, wrestles with a proud llama, and attempts to cross a precarious mountain bridge. This is by far the weakest section of the film, feeling like unfunny outtakes from any run-of-the-mill Disney short. Most of Donald's gags are recycled from several of his previous shorts and here are rather lazily executed. 

Leaving Lake Titicaca for what is purported to be Chile, we get a taste for this land by a story about a plucky little mail plane named Pedro. What this has to do with the region is anybody's guess, but the section is charming in its own low-key way. Pedro has to make his first mail run when both of his winged parents are out of commission. Full of vim and vigor, Pedro takes on the challenge which includes a treacherous pass through unforgiving terrain. The animation in this sequence is occasionally notable, particularly in regards to the some of the angles chosen for Pedro's harrowing return. An ominous low shot looking up at rain falling past the granite gremlin etched in the Andes mountainside is a stand-out. Despite the fact that the sequence was singled out and released as a standalone short, the segment did not go over too well with some Chileans, particularly cartoonist Rene Rios, a.k.a. Pepo, who thought that Chile being represented by a puny little plane was an insult. He created the long-running and immensely popular comic strip and character Condorito in response.  

The second half of the film begins with Argentina and a treatise on their version of the American cowboy, the gaucho. Our guide this time around is Goofy and the section has all of the hallmarks of a classic Goofy How-To short. There is the know-it-all narration, offbeat wackiness, and the oblivious good humor of our protagonist as he fails time and time again at whatsoever he tries to accomplish. There are some interesting moments in the section, for example when the animators depict the lassoing of an ostrich and then rewind the footage, before showing it to us again in slow motion, replete with warped narration. This is followed by the natural impulse to go in the opposite direction and speed everything up until the narration is a shrieking little chirp. There are also some really interesting wipes, where Goofy and his horse are forcibly pushed off the screen by the next encroaching scene.

Lastly we travel to Brazil where a returning Donald Duck meets his South American avian counterpart, the dapper, cigar-smoking Jose Carioca. The beginning of this segment - called "Aquarela de Brazil" - is by far the film's most fantastic sequence. Before we even meet up with the birds, an animated artist's hand and brush create the elegant tableaux of Rio de Janeiro before us, with several Disney-certified psychedelic flights of fancy. A freshly painted bushel of bananas evolves into a tree full of toucans. A meat-eating tropical plant consumes a bee and sambas into being as Donald Duck. The music in this sequence is also the film's best, with Donald learning the moves to several exotic dances. There is a glimmer of excitement and challenge here that the rest of Saludos Amigos sorely lacks. As Donald gets dunked in a recently dabbled drop of blue, the playful sense of wonder seen so frequently on the screen in Fantasia or Bambi pokes its head out as if to say hello, friends.

03 February 2012

Disney Daze: Week 5: Bambi

In 2012, this intrepid reporter plans to watch, in chronological order, all of Walt Disney Studios' 52 theatrically-released animated features, one per week.

I find myself absolutely astounded by how incredibly different the first five Disney films are from one another. Watched in such quick succession their defiant individuality becomes ever more apparent. While all five films are spearheaded by an auteur with a clear and consistent worldview, when it comes to style and substance they appear to almost willfully rebel against the successes of their predecessors. To think that the word Disney has become shorthand for a very formulaic type of storytelling when all of these films stand proudly on their own individual achievement. Where Dumbo stands as a monument to economical, streamlined storytelling, Bambi defies convention by being less a narrative feature than a tone poem.

Bambi's production was one of the most troublesome the studio ever mounted. The rights to the story were acquired by Disney in 1937 and he began production in earnest, hoping the film would be the company's second feature film after Snow White. Difficulty paring down a script to Walt's satisfaction was nothing compared to the struggles of realistically animating the forest creatures. After a number of fits and starts the work was shelved as focus turned to other productions. Once Pinocchio and Fantasia were well under way, Walt returned his attention to the story. To achieve the realism required for the film, a makeshift zoo was housed on the company's Burbank lot where deer, ducks, owls, and skunks were kept so the animators would have live models. The intense study paid off handsomely. The characterizations in Bambi are unlike any in the Disney canon. The creatures are certainly cartoons but they move as if their hides hid real muscle and bone.

When discussing Dumbo I mentioned that when watching the quickly and inexpensively-produced fourth feature we do not miss the technical hallmarks of other early Disney films, the incredible special effects or lavish multiplane tracking shots. While this is most certainly true, boy oh boy, does the opening of Bambi bluntly remind you of what you've been missing. In an opening multiplane shot to rival Pinocchio's first day of school and Fantasia's "Ave Maria" pilgrimage, we are treated to a sumptuous tracking shot that weaves through trees and past streams as the forest awakens to a new dawn. The shot is a powerhouse, not only in its flawless technical composition, but in its economical means of storytelling as well.  The shot sets the tone of the film beautifully, introducing its preoccupation with naturalistic animation and the transcendent appreciation of pure existence.

A brief description of the multiplane camera may be in order since I find myself referring to it far more often than I had initially anticipated. The device was invented by Mickey Mouse co-creator and the first Disney Studios animator Ub Iwerks, during a defection from the company in the 1930s. The multiplane camera allowed for a more realistic representation of depth in animation by having various layers of painted backgrounds attached to a rig that would allow each individual plane to be moved a particular distance toward or away from the camera. When all of these layers were filmed together, the image onscreen appeared to be three dimensional and incredibly realistic. The eighty-year-old technology actually looks more convincing than today's gimmicky obsession with computer generated third dimensions. Plus, one need not wear clunky glasses! The process was painstaking but created some of the most magnificent shots ever achieved in cinema.

The first half of the film depicts Bambi's childhood growing up as prince of the forest. He learns how to walk, talk, and jump with help from other creatures in the forest, notably a bashful skunk he mistakenly names Flower and a bratty little bunny named Thumper. If I have one bone to pick with the film it is with the character of Thumper. He's a source of levity in a rather dramatic film and I understand the need for that service but the character occasionally grates, overstaying his welcome with brash boasting and drawn out apologies. It would be much more gratifying to spend more time with Owl whose curmudgeonly demeanor betrays a compassionate heart, or the retiring Flower who continually charms in his brief scenes.

Instead of pursuing a traditional story arc with a clear objective, Bambi is a series of small interludes showcasing one aspect of learning and maturation. The film's greatest sequence is the depiction of a storm's progression. Starting out with Bambi's curious study of a drop tinkling on a leaf, we move organically to a downpour and a crescendo of crashing thunder, before the clouds part to reveal a pink sky, and the camera pans down to a pool of water where a few more drops deposit themselves, completing the circle. The section is a microcosm of the entire film's cyclical nature. The sequence is set to the beautiful tune "Little April Shower" written by Frank Churchill, composer of such classics as "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?", "Baby Mine" and "Whistle While You Work". Unfortunately Churchill's work on Bambi would be his last. He committed suicide before the film's release, shooting himself at his piano.

While Bambi may have the least recognizable soundtrack of the first five features, music plays a more important role here than in any of the narrative films preceding. There is so little dialogue in the film that music is played almost continuously from beginning to end, in what becomes a seventy-minute symphony. The two notable exceptions come first when Bambi's mother warns him of man's presence in the forest and later after her passing. Both sections of silence last a full 18 seconds. Because of their supreme scarcity the silences are ever more powerfully felt.

The film is divided at the point of this second silence. After heeding his mother's warnings Bambi runs frantically from the meadow away from unseen Man's evil presence. He returns safely to the thicket but his mother does not. As a heavy snow falls - almost blocking out the entire frame - a scared and lonesome Bambi runs into his father who tells him that his mother cannot be with him anymore. The entire sequence is handled so beautifully that I struggle to think of a cinematic death that is more poignant and effective than the offscreen murder of Bambi's mother. This is the zenith of animated art, a far cry from a happy-go-lucky mouse whistlin' "Dixie" on a steamboat less than fifteen years earlier.

In certain respects Bambi is Walt Disney's most radical film to date. Fantasia telegraphs its experimental nature before we even get to the feature. In promotion, presentation, and introduction we are given ample warning that what we're about to see is SpecialBambi itself is far more subversive. To see a supreme example of false advertising, take a look at the film's original theatrical trailer from 1942. The film is marketed as one of the greatest love stories ever told and the voiceover tries mostly in vain to connect various forms of love to such disjointed images as Bambi locking horns with a rival, his paramour Faline being hunted by vicious dogs, and the entire forest burning to the ground. Admittedly the twitterpated sequence is one of the most enjoyable depictions of first love ever filmed, but Bambi is far from a love story. The film is a story concerning the entirety of life, and while love is a necessary component, so is birth, death, fear, loss, and pain. Bambi's unflinching portrayal of these themes vaults it to the highest echelon of cinematic expression.