To see how much mainstream animation has changed over the years, and the breadth of the medium's possibilities, you need only look at these two titles, both in THX-certified two-disc sets. The changes are not only in style and technology but also in tone and ambition.
Cuddly creatures were a safe bet in Disney's traditional animations, from early shorts starring Mickey Mouse to feature-length productions like Bambi. Then Pixar, with Disney's backing, updated the winning formula by using 3-D computer animation and a more wise-ass sense of humor to produce hip, dynamic, and highly profitable tales of toys, bugs, fish, and other assorted creatures. Now, with The Incredibles, Pixar has gone one step beyond, taking on its biggest challenge yet - humans.
Like Pinocchio's passion to be a real boy, The Incredibles seems driven by the desire to be a live-action movie - a really big one. And in its own goofily exaggerated way, it succeeds. So much plot, action, and comedy is crammed into its 121 minutes that the movie ends up being as good as - if not better than - most James Bond films. The early 007 classics were obviously a model for the Pixar moviemakers, and there are many homages to both the thrilling musical scores of John Barry and the awesome criminal lairs designed by Ken Adam, which are captured in ?uid shots that move freely and naturally in all three dimensions.
Initially, The Incredibles has the same retro look of the Toy Story movies, employing the pastels of the late 1950s and early '60s. But because there's such a vast selection of sets - where the earlier Pixar production Finding Nemo had 22 locations, The Incredibles has 130 - from lush vegetation to high-tech buildings, many different styles are used. The excellent contrast and detail reveal convincing textures and a realistic range of tones, helping give depth and roundness to the figures and objects. In the first half of the movie, the Dolby Digital EX soundtrack keeps things nicely separated across the front channels and uses the surrounds to bring everything a little more into the room. Once the major action sequences start, though, you're immersed in convincing environments with plenty of movement overhead.
Where The Incredibles strives to be a real live film, Bambi (1942) seeks the glories of art. With various techniques that were ingenious for animation of the time - shooting through multiple layers of painted cells, sharply rendering characters while blurring backgrounds, making use of mood "lighting" - it gives a thrilling impression of the world. Most memorable is the fight of the stags, shown expressionistically as deep-black silhouettes against the hellish reds, purples, and greens. However, Bambi isn't just a gorgeous visual experience. It has plenty of drama as the innocence of childhood gives way to the challenges and rewards of growing up, and it alternates tense scenes of dread - as when "Man is in the forest" - with relaxing ones of freedom and community.
For its restoration of this nearly 65-year-old film, Lowry Digital scanned each frame at very high resolution, removed all dirt and damage, and adjusted grain and contrast levels. The different color schemes of the changing seasons and moods were each replicated by matching hues to the original artwork. The result is a gorgeous Technicolor display. Meanwhile, the always-clear 5.1-channel mix - "enhanced for home theater" - keeps dialogue up front while surrounding you with Edward Plumb's evocative classical score. The Incredibles comes with one commentary by writer/director Brad Bird and producer John Walker and another by the animators. For Bambi's commentary, someone came up with the brilliant idea of having actual script-conference transcriptions voiced by actors playing Walt Disney and his team. Introduced and hosted by Patrick Stewart, the discussions accompany the relevant scenes, with additional inserted picture-inpicture drawings and photos.
On Disc 2 of each set, there are long making of documentaries and multiple featurettes that explain and celebrate every aspect of the production. Also included are unused storyboarded sequences (with dialogue, music, and effects). The Incredibles has two great Pixar shorts and a trippy fake vintage cartoon, The Adventures of Mr. Incredible, made even more goofy with an in-character commentary by Craig T. Nelson and Samuel L. Jackson. You also get the hilarious ramblings of Sarah Vowell, the historical writer who was recruited to play the teenage daughter Violet.
Bambi has the Oscar-winning Technicolor Silly Symphony short The Old Mill (1937), which was used to try out some of the techniques that were being developed for the feature. And there are extras galore for kids, including memory challenge games, an encyclopedia of forest animals with footage of the furry fellows, a readalong story, and a virtual forest that allows you to surround yourself with birds, beasts, and rustling trees. The Incredibles: [PG] English, French, and Spanish, Dolby Digital EX; letterboxed (2.35:1) and anamorphic widescreen; two dual-layer discs. Bambi: [G] English, Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital mono; French and Spanish, Dolby Digital 5.1; letterboxed (1.33:1); two dual-layer discs.
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