The responsible critic is supposed to at least give a movie the chance to defend itself, and this I did not do with Bambi II: I approached it with knives drawn, and have only myself to blame for hating it as much as I had every intention of doing. This is not, after all, like other sequels to Disney's older movies, like Cinderella and Lady and the Tramp, films from the post-WWII era. The original Bambi is the oldest Disney animated feature to receive a DTV sequel (though in fairness, Bambi II was given a theatrical release in several countries, just not its home base in the U.S.A.), the only film from its particularly generation to be so "honored", what with Dumbo II having been thankfully killed in the womb. And the thing about that generation of Disney is, they are special films - they are different, even from the '50s productions. To admirers of mainstream American animation, the first five Disney features, of which Bambi is the last, are something akin to holy writ. Tampering with Cinderella, like tampering with The Hunchback of Notre Dame, is irritating as all hell, but it's not mortally offensive, not like this bastardly stain on the face of one of the most impeccably crafted pieces of representational animation in history. And, by any meaningful yardstick, Cinderella II: Dreams Come True and The Hunchback of Notre Dame II are still worse than Bambi II in every way that matters. They simply didn't leave me with the feeling that I'd been punched in the soul, is all.

What we have here is, once again, not a sequel, but a "midquel", a word that I've never liked and now hate like it stole my girlfriend and pissed on my couch: beginning seconds after Bambi's mother was fatally shot in the first movie, and whatever trauma you suffered as a child when that event happened, it's nothing on the trauma I felt as an adult watching the 72 minutes that succeed it. So now, Bambi (Alexander Gould, the titular fish of Finding Nemo) needs a home, and his father, the Great Prince of the Forest (Patrick Stewart, giving the film the illusion of far more integrity than it earns), wants to dump him off with the first available doe. He assigns his colleague in forest wisdom, Friend Owl (Keith Ferguson) to find a candidate for this job, but the bird pushes an agreement on him: not until spring has kicked into full gear. Until then, the father and son will have an opportunity to bond, the child learning lessons about how a great stag should act to lead his herd, the father learning that it can be manly to be a good parent.


Really? That's what Bambi needed? A story about the contentious emotional links between children and single parents? Let's not mince words, the story of what happened in that gap between the shooting and the appearance of a fully mature Bambi is not something that requires the telling - in 64 years, there were simply no cries of "but how did Bambi live in all those months!", not enough at any rate to necessitate and whole damn movie about it (let's further not mince words: the choice was made because that way the story could be told about the cuter, more marketable baby versions of the animal cast). He survived because he's a fucking wild animal in the forest, not that Bambi II leaves all that much dignity to its wild animals, despite the unspeakably overqualified Andreas Deja having been punished for his talent by serving as "consultant" to DisneyToon Studios, showing them how to animate realistic quadrupeds.

Anyway, even if we're going to concede that the narrative space filled by Bambi II needed the filling - and since the thing exists, I guess we might as well go right along and do that - surely there was a better story than this one. It feels cloying and pandering, like a PSA film made for family therapy sessions, to help kids cope better with emotionally distant dads. "See kids, if your friend Bambi could make it, so can you!" A noble fucking gesture, but hackneyed and barbarically clichéd, particularly for Disney (seriously, how many Disney characters just want to impress Mom/Dad!!!!? A lot of 'em, anyway). And in reducing the universe of Bambi to a straightforward family drama, the sequel humanises the protagonists something fierce. Humanises! It humanises deer! When the one absolute and incontestable triumph of the magnificent Bambi was its incredibly beautiful, detailed, observant, and above all morphologically accurate depiction of wildlife. It included virtually no shots of adult deer gazing down at baby deer with a gentle smile and a slightly hazy look to their eyes, because deer can't smile.

And so this character of Bambi, such a penetrating and precise study of animal movement, despite all the falling in love and ice-skating in the first movie, is turned into an annoying, chatty little kid, and while the established character model makes it impossible to anthropomorphise the protagonist, his newfound loquaciousness, and the generally modern feeling of the film's take on children's personalities, require that his hugely naturalistic design be bent into what feel like dozens and dozens of facial expressions that it cannot bear, every single one of them a new and fresh insult against what I'd claim to be, after Pinocchio, the most technically accomplished work of animation ever produced.

Though kudos, I guess, for hewing as close to the original models as they did; similar respect was not paid in Cinderella II, the previous record-holder for oldest movie to be graced with a DisneyToon sequel, and even in Bambi II, it's inconsistent: Bambi and the Owl are the best, but you get the impression that they weren't even trying with poor little Thumper (Brendon Baerg), who becomes a completely, irredeemably obnoxious comic relief character in this version (he was, of course, comic relief in the first movie as well, but in Bambi II, with its bright, breezy story, there's not as much to relieve and he is thus superfluous).

The whole thing is like a nightmarish looking-glass version of a Disney movie, trivial and dumb: it is the version of Bambi that we didn't get in 1942 solely because at that point Walt Disney still had it in his head that he'd be able to make real art, and not just family-friendly entertainment. "Family-friendly" is, to an appalling degree, exactly the order of the day in Bambi II, though that implies that the grown-ups having something to enjoy, and I won't credit that with actually being the case. At any rate, it is too wacky (haha, encounter with a surly porcupine!) too saccharine (aww, Bambi and his dad learn to love each other!), and in places, too fucking weird (the animals celebrate Groundhog Day, for some reason?), too bogged down in ludicrously bad folks songs performed by the like of Alison Krauss and Martina McBride, to seriously engage an adult viewer, but that's what the difference between '42 and '06 does for you: decades of neglect had left it difficult to imagine animation produced at the industrial level practiced by Disney that wasn't chiefly a vehicle for children's entertainment.

For Chrissakes, Bambi's dad blows a raspberry on his son's belly at one point, because SERIOUSLY I'VE BEEN TRYING NOT TO SHOUT BUT WHY DON'T YOU REALLY JUST FUCK OFF AND DIE, MOVIE. WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK.

There are some compensations. I can be nice and admit that. The animation and character drawings might be an epic disappointment, but the lighting, coloring, and backgrounds are all much nicer than they had any reason to be, so we have that meager compensation. And there are a couple of genuinely striking moments; like the stag fight in the first Bambi, both of them are moments of danger, because apparently this franchise only reaches its heights when it's freaking little kids out. But seriously, the use of color and abstraction in the scene where the Great Prince fights hunting dogs off of Bambi, it's genuinely beautiful. I can get behind it unabashedly, and suggest that the animators should feel very proud of their work.

That's really about it, though. Bambi II, honestly and truly, feels like an insult: it's stupid cartoon aesthetic, violating the impeccable artistry of the original; it's tedious little human kids in deer form chatting and quarreling and being annoying, in place of the nature study so exacting that when Bambi was admitted to the National Film Registry in 2011, it's contributions to ecology were cited as part of its significance.

I tend to look down with barely amused superiority at the phrase "raped my childhood", and the people who use it in all violation of taste and linguistic insight, but I know when I've been beaten. Bambi II, you raped my childhood. {REDACTED by reasonable request in comments]. I hope you're happy you awful fucking piece of shit.