Exclusive Interview with Voices Behind Bambi and Thumper
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During a recent trip to LA, I had the privilege to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Disney’s Bambi and got the exclusive opportunity to interview the voices behind young Bambi ( Donald “Donnie” Dunagan ) and young Thumper ( Peter Behn ) which was moderated by Disney Archivist Becky Cline.
The Making of Disney’s Bambi
Disney’s Bambi, a film based on the book Bambi, A Life in the Woods by Felix Salten, was slightly altered from the book version. The original novel, aimed at an adult audience, was deemed too “grim” and “somber” for the young audience Disney was targeting. This led to a halt in production as Disney worked on adapting the novel and other works. Bambi, originally set to be the second animated film released after Snow White, ended up being released 5 years later due to these circumstances. To reduce production costs, Disney was also forced to cut 12 minutes from the film before final animation.
During the filming, the studio moved, World War II erupted, and a strike occurred, making the process of filming quite challenging!
Donnie Dunagan and Peter Behn: The Voices Behind Bambi and Thumper
Let’s travel back 75 years ago when Donnie Dunagan and Peter Behn recorded the voices of Bambi and Thumper. Interestingly, the two didn’t meet until about 10 years ago! Even Donnie’s wife didn’t know he was the voice of Bambi until she discovered a box of his mementos buried in the attic!
Peter’s father was a screenwriter from the 20s silent film era and a children’s book author. He met Walt Disney in the 30s which helped Peter launch his career. Peter initially auditioned for the part of Bambi but was told his voice wasn’t right for the role.
“My voice was right for the rabbit”
- Peter never auditioned for Thumper. After his audition for Bambi, they knew his voice was perfect for Thumper.
- As Peter grew up, he built houses and worked in real estate.
Q&A With Peter Behn
Q: Did you see the Bambi after you filmed?
A: “No, not for some time.”
Q: What was it like to work with Disney himself?
A: “I did meet him but not regularly. But I remember the Disney zoo where they had little deer so animators could watch the anatomy and movement of the deer to draw.”
Q: What was it like to work on a big Disney film as a child?
A: “I remember going into the sound booth with a voice director to read my lines. I would mimic him. The thing I remember most is the recording equipment was in the booth with us and I was fascinated. It was so mechanical.”
Q: What do you hope for Bambi’s Legacy?
A: “Disney was so ahead of his time. I think the movie was so far ahead of its time in terms of environmental protection. We have to do everything we can to keep the environment from worsening. I think as time goes on that aspect of the movie will resonate and become more important.”
Donnie’s Journey to Becoming Bambi
Donnie started filming Bambi when he was just 5 years old but his acting career began at the age of 3. Before the age of 5 1/2 yrs old, he was in 7 movies. As Donnie grew up, he joined the Marine Corps.
Q&A With Donnie Dunagan
Q: What was it like acting so much as a child?
A: “I was a little boy – sometimes I just wanted to be home riding my bike and playing with my puppy.”
Q: Did you see Bambi after you filmed?
A: “I saw it with Peter in theaters at the premiere.”
Q: What was it like seeing Walt Disney?
A: “When I first saw Mr. Disney I thought he’d get a broom and help clean up….he participated in things. Disney was successful bc he had such great leadership and participated in what was going on.”
Q: What did you do after Bambi?
A: ” I joined the US Marine Corps. In 1977 I was a battalion commander. I saw that Disney was going to re-release Bambi and I was horrified that my base would find out. I could imagine all of my soldiers saying that their battalion commander was Bambi!”
Q: What do you hope for Bambi’s Legacy?
A: “If I live to be 1000 years old I couldn’t say it better than Peter did. The environmental message is now taught to children in schools, and they pick up on that right away. I get letters from children all over the world about this every month.”
Chat with Disney Animator Paul Felix
During the day of celebration, we were also able to chat with Paul Felix, a Disney animator who worked on Bambi and was inspired by the original Disney Animator Tyrus Wong.
Q&A With Paul Felix
Q: How has animation changed over the years?
A: “Animation starts with hand drawing, that hasn’t changed much. Things need to be much richer now. The drawings from Bambi to Moana are all based on the same principles.”
Q: How did you become interested in art?
A: “I drew a lot as a child & always thought my older brother was the artist in the family.”
Q: What are some of the projects you’ve worked on here at Disney?
A: “Mulan, Bolt, Big Hero 6, Inner Workings”
Q: What was your favorite film to work on?
A: Lilo & Stitch. It is more about heart and storytelling than the effects although Big Hero 6 was the first time we could technologically add things to the film & use light.
“Designing Bambi is deceptively tricky! I’m known for designing environments instead of characters. I looked at some of Mark Davis’ drawing of deer for research. My first drawings Bambi looked more like a fox. But everyone has their own unique take.”
Q: Why do you think Bambi is such a popular film?
A: “Bambi is a cycle of life. It shares the beauty, mystery, & reality of the world. It’s zen. What’s more primal than the connection with a mother? Films are an extension of us.”
Paul Felix’s Tips for Aspiring Animators
- Make a Portfolio. (life drawing is a good talent)
- Don’t limit yourself to just drawing. Experiment with colors.
- Learn a sense of art history (eras, mediums, etc)
Bambi’s 75th Anniversary Release
Bambi, celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, joins the Collection on Digital HD and Disney Movies Anywhere on May 23, and on Blu-ray, DVD and On-Demand on June 6. The Collection release includes a variety of new bonus material, including recordings of Walt Disney discussing the challenges and triumphs during the production of Bambi; deleted scenes and characters; stories and effects that Bambi had on the studio, other films and artists; and much much more! Moreover, the Digital HD release includes an exclusive, heartfelt feature on the incredible artist, Tyus Wong, who inspired the film’s soft watercolor backgrounds and beautiful palette.
Bambi will be released on Digital HD 5/23 and Blu-ray & DVD 6/6. Follow
Q: Why was the original Bambi novel altered for the Disney film?
A: The original novel was targeted at an adult audience and was deemed too “grim” and “somber” for the young audience Disney was targeting. This led to a halt in production as Disney worked on adapting the novel to make it more appropriate for children.
Q: How long did it take to release Bambi after Snow White?
A: Bambi was originally set to be the second animated film released after Snow White, but ended up being released 5 years later due to the difficulties in adapting the novel and other production challenges.
Q: Did Donnie Dunagan and Peter Behn know each other during the filming of Bambi?
A: No, they didn’t meet until about 10 years ago.
Q: What did Peter Behn do after voicing Thumper?
A: Peter Behn built houses and worked in real estate as he grew up.
Q: What was Donnie Dunagan’s career after voicing Bambi?
A: Donnie Dunagan joined the Marine Corps.
Q: How has animation changed over the years according to Paul Felix?
A: Paul Felix says that animation starts with hand drawing, which hasn’t changed much. However, things need to be much richer now and the drawings from Bambi to Moana are all based on the same principles.
Q: When is Bambi’s 75th Anniversary Release?
A: Bambi, celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, joins the Collection on Digital HD and Disney Movies Anywhere on May 23, and on Blu-ray, DVD and On-Demand on June 6.
Q: What does the 75th Anniversary Release of Bambi include?
A: The Collection release includes a variety of new bonus material, including recordings of Walt Disney discussing the challenges and triumphs during the production of Bambi; deleted scenes and characters; stories and effects that Bambi had on the studio, other films and artists; and much much more!