I found out I would have the honor of interviewing the men behind the voices of Bambi and Thumper on my trip to LA which sounded really awesome to me since I had no idea they were still around. Becky Cline , Director of the Disney Archives, came in and sat with us while we interviewed them.
I think it finally hit me that Bambi is turning 75 years ago and these men did those voices when they were only children. Bambi arrives home on Digital HD and Disney Movies Anywhere on May 23, and on Blu-ray™, DVD and On-Demand on June 6 so it is so very cool to have this experience with meeting Donnie Dunagan and Peter Behn. Did you know that neither of them really knew each other as children? They spent most of their time with their voice coaches so they really didn’t meet until like 10 years ago. Can you believe that? And neither of them really ever told people about being in Bambi. Donnie’s wife didn’t even know until she was going through things and found some old memorabilia.
I absolutely loved every second of talking with with Donnie and Peter. They were so fun to talk to and they made me feel like I had known them for years. We got to ask them some questions in a quick roundtable. We found out about how they got involved in showbusiness. Donnie Dunagan was involved in a talent contest as a child and came in first which caught the attention of a movie talent scout. He made seven films between 1938 and 1941. Then he left entertainment to become a marine and had a long career in the marines. Peter Behn’s father was famed screenwriter Henry Behn and he heard that Disney was looking for voice actors for the voice of Bambi. Peter didn’t get Bambi because of his overly ambitious voice but he did land the role of Thumper. He did have some prior experience in three film shorts by humorist Pete Smith and then went into housebuilding and real estate. He was four when he first started working on Bambi. My four year still barely talks so I am pretty awestruck at Peter Behn and Donnie Dunagan.
Donnie Dunagan had us rolling with laughter talking about when Bambi first came out on VHS and he wasn’t all boastful about it. No he said he “hit the chicken card”‘ and didn’t tell anyone because he was a retired commander of the Marine Corps Boot Camp and he had all these drill instructors working for him and he was seeing them call their moms and say my commanding officer is Bambi. We told him Bambi was tough. He said, “Bambi was a champion guy, right? He beat up the bad dogs and everything. But most of the young people then had not seen it. You know, and they thought Bambi was a little crazy guy on the ice, you know kind of thing. I pushed my chicken button. I didn’t say nothing.”
Peter and Donnie bought had fond memories of meeting Walt Disney as well. They both said he didn’t interact with them too much. Peter said he showed him the little Disney zoo which sounds adorable. Donnie said that he worked on several films before Bambi and all the guys would whisper and stand up straight when the boss would come in which showed him about the leadership of those bosses and then went on to say that Walt Disney was not like that. He said he had his sleeves rolled up and he was working. He was participating and people were excited to see him. Thats real leadership and that according to Dunagan was why Disney was successful.
It was really neat getting to meet them. They had big personalities and it absolutely broke my heart when Donnie brought out pictures that he still receives every week from children. And the last question from Becky Cline was amazing and I am just going to lay it out.
Becky Cline – What do you envision and hope for the legacy of Bambi going forward? This is the 75th anniversary which is amazing to me. But going forward into the future, what do you see for Bambi? What do you hope it accomplishes in this world?
Peter Behn – Well, very frankly one of my strongest feelings about the movie is the amazing fact that back in the 30s, Walt Disney was so aware of his, far ahead of his time in the environmental concerns. I think the movie is truly a very strong statement in favor of protecting the environment and the concern that man was ruining it or even make it worse which unfortunately I personally believe. It’s one of my strong beliefs that we have to do everything we can to keep it from getting worse. But it’s just, it’s a forward awareness and thinking that Walt obviously brought to the movie. He had to know what he was doing. I think it was very strong. And I think as time goes on perhaps that aspect of the movie will resonate and become even more important. The people will be more aware of that aspect of the movie. At least I hope so.
Donnie Dunagan – If I live to be 1000 years old I couldn’t say it better than Peter did. The environmental profile, the forests, the reckless fire is spoken to by children in schools now. And I listen to them. And they pick up on that right away. Here’s an extension of Mr. Walt Disney’s Bambi, okay. I get one of these by children a month from all over the world. And a couple I have, I can’t spell correctly you know. One a month minimum, Christmas time a couple more. And at least 2 to 3 handwritten letters a week from children all over the world. To Disney who happens to be this old beat up fool back in the middle of West Texas, all right? To Disney, to Disney, to Disney, thank you Disney, thank you Disney. If this doesn’t tell people that Bambi is forever, I’ll do push-ups in that parking lot for you.
Bambi will be joining Walt Disney’s Signature Collection! It will be released on Blu-ray, DVD, and On-Demand on June 6th. The collection release will include a variety of bonus features. There is also a special deal going on right now. Disney Movie Rewards is offering a beautiful tank top featuring Paul Felix art inspired by BAMBI, for only $9.99 with every digital purchase/redemption of BAMBI.