75 years. That’s a long time, isn’t it? BAMBI has stood the test of time and to this day, 75 years later, it is still one of the most popular Disney classic animated features. Did you know that BAMBI is actually among the films selected for preservation in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry? To celebrate the 75th anniversary, not only is Disney releasing BAMBI as part of the Walt Disney Signature Collection (May 23 for Digital HD and June 6 for Blu-ray), but they also invited myself and 24 other bloggers to participate in a conversation with Donnie Dunagan (voice of “Bambi”) and Peter Behn (voice of “Thumper”), moderated by Disney Archivist Becky Cline! How amazing is that?
Words cannot truly describe how it feels to meet anyone from that classic Disney era. Much of the talent from those years is no longer for interviews and press junkets, such as the one I attended. It really was an honor to be able to speak with Donnie and Peter.
Now let’s start with a little background on each of the voice actors. Donnie entered show business at the young age of three-years-old, as he was taught to tap dance by a neighbor and entered a talent contest at the local Orpheum Theatre. Donnie won and talent scouts arranged for him to go to Hollywood. He made seven films between 1938 and 1941, making his film debut in Mother Carey’s Chickens (1938), playing the son of the Son of Frankenstein (1939). It was then in 1942 did his voice appear on the big screen as the voice of young Bambi in the Disney classic.
Later in life, Donnie entered the Marines, and later graduated with a degree in Civil Engineering. After graduation, Donnie returned to the Marines.
During the conversation, it was funny for Donnie to re-tell how he never informed his Marine comrades that he was the voice of Bambi. One time BAMBI was being shown on base, and Donnie knew he would be found out! These days Donnie embraces his legendary Hollywood role.
As for Peter, he was just four years old when his father, famed screenwriter Henry Behn, took him to audition for the voice of Bambi. While Peter lost the role to Donnie, animators Frank Thompson and Olli Johnston thought he would be perfect for the role of Thumper, Bambi’s rabbit sidekick.
In years following his debut as Thumper, Peter continued to do voiceover work for Disney. And what was Peter’s favorite Thumper line? “Eating greens is a special treat, it makes long ears and great big feet. But it sure is awful stuff to eat. I made that last part up myself.”
Later in life, Peter volunteered for the Army where he served in the Army Security Agency doing teletype interception as well as Morse code. He later became a real estate broker and homebuilder. Peter enjoys the “green” home aspects such in his creations, such as photovoltaic power, a wind generator, solar panels, rain harvesting system, vegetable garden, chickens, eggs and more!
Did you watch BAMBI over and over again its release?
Peter: I was at the premiere and then I didn’t see the film for quite some time. Back in those days I don’t think it was even out on any kind of media. So we didn’t have the opportunity of seeing it. Later of course, it came out on VHS and then it came out on DVDs and that sort of thing. So, I have seen it over the years a few times but not a lot.
What was it like working with Walt Disney himself?
Peter: I did meet him a couple of times but not on a regular basis. He wasn’t one dealing directly with me anyway. He showed me the little Disney zoo that they had. At one time they had deer and some rabbits and other creatures so the animators could actually see the anatomy of the animals and help them with their drawings.
Donnie: When I first saw him… he had his sleeves rolled up and he was working and they introduced us to him. We had a great time. Most of the time I saw him, he was participating in things. He was, “here comes Walt, here comes Mr. Disney, he’ll help.” Ask him about this. Ask him about that. That’s called leadership. Very different. And that’s why Disney was successful.
Can you tell me about the recording process?
Peter: What I remember is going into the sound booth where they have a voice director who informed my reading abilities weren’t all that good. So the director would read the lines with the inflection that was needed. And then I would say them back or mimic them, try to mimic them with the same kind of inflection.
Donnie: Remember when the mother is shot, right? When that recording was required I did not do it as well as I should have. My coach was a lady in the sound booth. And she said, your mother’s in trouble. Now, she didn’t tell me this is fun, right. She said your mother’s in trouble. Donnie, maybe your mother’s in trouble. You need to plead your mother. Call your mother, call your mother. That caught my attention pretty quick. You know I’m just a kid, right. Now, that took some doing with me. Peter was faster at this than I was. I took some coaching.
Photo Credit: www.justasplashofdiva.com
What do you envision and hope for the legacy of Bambi going forward?
Peter: One of my strongest feelings about the movie is the amazing fact that back in the 30s, Walt Disney was so aware… 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. 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.
Donnie: 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. (Holding up drawings of Bambi) Here’s an extension of Mr. Walt Disney’s Bambi. I get one of these by children a month from all over the world. If this doesn’t tell people that Bambi is forever, I’ll do push-ups in that parking lot for you.
After we chatted with Donnie and Peter, we met Bambi Walt Disney Signature Collection Disneygraph artist, Paul Felix. Felix serves as a production designer at Walt Disney Animation Studios. He most recently served as production designer for the 2016 short film, “Inner Workings,” which was released theatrically with the Oscar®-nominated MOANA. He also worked on films such as BIG HERO 6, WINNIE THE POOH, BOLT, BROTHER BEAR, MULAN, TARZAN, and LILO & STITCH just to name a few.
Photo Credit: www.momstart.com
Felix created the amazing Disneygraph of Bambi and Thumper, as seen below, in honor of the film’s 75th anniversary. He practiced creating several pencil sketches before submitting the final design.
Felix is a fan of the rich history of Bambi’s and Thumper’s partnership. That is the exact reason why he choose to feature a scene with the two.
So how did Felix study these characters to prepare for creating the Disneygraph? He browsed through old art books in the Archives, especially ones with the early drawings of famed Disney animator, Mark Davis.
What is his favorite film he worked on? Well, if had to pick one, it would probably be LILO & STICH. Felix pointed out that while many films these days push special effects, LILO & STITCH is focused more on heartfelt story-telling.
So if he could pick any live action film to turn into animation, what would he choose? “SAVING PRIVATE RYAN,” he joked! He then settled on possibly one of Stanley Kubrick’s films.
So any fun facts about BAMBI? Felix noted that BAMBI was actually suppose to be the Studios’ second film after SNOW WHITE. However due to World War II and a studio strike, BAMBI was pushed back and not released until 1942, becoming the fifth film from Disney.
What advice would Felix offer to someone hoping to become an animator? He noted that in reference to creating one’s portfolio, make sure you draw from life. Don’t just limit yourself to one tool. If you often sketch from pencil, make sure you add watercolors to your portfolio as well. Also it’s a great idea of learn a sense of art history.
What makes BAMBI so special? Felix thinks it is because the themes are quite broad, but simple at the same time. Featuring the circle of life, Felix finds BAMBI to be a profound film, with a zen-like quality to it.
In honor of the film’s 75th anniversary, right now Disney Movie Rewards is offering the opportunity to snag a tank top featuring the Paul Felix artwork inspired by BAMBI. The tank is available via the Rewards with every digital purchase / redemption of BAMBI!
Want to follow my adventures in LA? We can connect on Twitter (@AshBG) and on Instagram (@ashb4211). I’ll being posting lots of photos, so feel free to stalk! Make sure you follow the hashtags #PiratesLifeEvent and #BambiBluray.
While I’m attended an expense paid trip by Disney to Los Angeles, all opinions are 100% my own.