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Disney Restores ‘Bambi' for a New Generation

6 Jan, 2005 By: Meryl Schoenbaum

Even if it's been awhile since you've seen Walt Disney's classic animated film Bambi, chances are there are probably certain scenes that spring to mind: the animals and birds of the forest surrounding the newborn fawn to greet him; his first shaky steps as he ventures out on his own; his precocious rabbit friend, Thumper; and an embarrassed Bambi sliding across a frozen pond, sprawled on all fours, in an attempt to steady himself.

Now, the Walt Disney Co. has completed an extensive digital restoration of the 1942 animated classic, which will be released March 1 (prebook Jan. 18) —for the first time on DVD — in a two-disc set: Bambi — Special Edition ($29.99 DVD, $24.99 VHS).

Bambi was the first Disney animated film to have an all-animal cast. (The film's villain — Man, the hunter — is present only through the animals' reactions to his approach.)

Dave Bossert, who has been working at Disney for more than 20 years, was the artistic supervisor and animation expert for the Bambi film restoration.“After the original negatives were scanned, my team and I came in on a weekly basis to inspect the work being done by technicians, who were removing scratches and dirt by computer on a frame-by-frame basis,” Bossert said.

It's a painstaking, multistep process, he explained.

“First there's the automated portion, where images are run through software to identify dirt and remove it, and the images are looked at for exposure inconsistencies,” he said. “Then there is a hand-cleaning portion where more dirt and scratches are removed. Once the cleaning and restoration work is done, the color is adjusted.”

The biggest challenge he and his restoration team faced was not to overstep the bounds of the original artistic intent of the film, Bossert said.

“I kept asking myself, ‘What was the original artistic intent?' You have to be vigilant in doing the best you can in restoring the film to its original intent, even if it means you leave a ‘color pop' in the scene. The film was made during World War II, and during our restoration work, we discovered the original artists had washed the acetate cels, which were made from petroleum products, so they could reuse them in other scenes in a rationing effort,” he said.

As for the DVD features, Bossert gives Disney credit for always making sure bonus features are family friendly. For instance, the “Forest Adventure” game included on the DVD was designed to be enjoyed by the youngest and oldest members of the family alike.

One of the DVD extras Bossert enjoys most is the “Inside Walt's Story Meetings” feature, in which actual transcripts from story meetings attended by Walt Disney himself and the original Bambi animators are shared with the viewer through voice re-enactments and original drawings. The viewer is treated to Walt's creative ideas and can see firsthand how closely his early concepts match the final work. The tradition of story meetings continues at Disney today, Bossert said, in a pleasing convergence of past and present.

The best part of working on the restoration for Bossert was getting to step back in time to see what it was like working as an animator on the 1942 film version. The restoration crew had the opportunity to work with two of the original animators, called the “nine old men” — Frank Thomas, who unfortunately passed away during the restoration; and Joe Grant, who at age 92 or 93, still comes to work every day.

With all the hard work and long hours involved in restoring such a treasured film as Bambi, for Dave Bossert it was “a labor of love.”

Not only is Bambi one of the most popular and beloved films the studio has ever produced, it has the distinction of appearing on a 37-cent U.S. postage stamp, issued just last year.

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