Thursday, September 2, 2010

Bambi - The Story and the Film by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston

Bambi is a tough film to do research for, in a lot of respects. Because it was under development for so long, there is a plethora of artwork out there, as well as some amazing stories of how the film was put together. Not all of the sources agree, as in any research, and it’s difficult to prioritize things.

That’s why getting things straight from the people who were there is so important. In the book Bambi – The Story and the Film by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, we get just that. Two of the famed Nine Old Men team up to produce a book that tells the entire story of how Bambi came to the screen, as well as showcasing some amazing artwork.

The stage is set quickly for the book, as Frank and Ollie relate how Walt wanted to use the extensive library of artwork done for Bambi to create a book that told the story of the film. Like a children’s book, but done in a different way. As such, the first part of the book is devoted to just that. Using the years of art developed, Frank and Ollie write out the story in a clean and simple way.

I personally didn’t care for this section, just because I knew the story, and wanted to get right to the story of how the film was made. That’s not to say it was bad, however. It’s a fantastic resource for looking at what kinds of paintings and sketches were done for the film. I’ll also say it’s an ingenious way to use that artwork without it feeling forced. I think from a flow standpoint, it might have been better at the end of the book, though.

The second part of this book, though, is where it shines. Delineated by year, Frank and Ollie take us through each phase of the development of Bambi, being perfectly frank and honest about what setbacks were suffered, why certain things fell away or came back and an idea of the despair that some of the artists felt trying to get this film done.

Much of the material in this section I covered in the Development of Bambi post, but there is such a wealth of knowledge here, that you really must read it for yourself. From the background paintings of Tyrus Wong, to the fun stories of Walt trying to make the best of all the work his staff had done.

Best of all, it doesn’t come from an impartial observer, although it is written that way. Instead, this comes from two people who were intimately involved in this film. If you don’t know about Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, you probably shouldn’t be reading this, but they were among the most instrumental animators ever. To have their perspective on this film is invaluable.

This book is out of print now, but you should be able to find a copy on eBay or Amazon. Do it. It’s well worth your time and money, and will give you incredible insight into a remarkable film.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.

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