With the celebration of the 75th anniversary of Bambi, it’s only fitting to visit with the original voices of Bambi and Thumper. I had the privilege of sitting down with Donnie Dunagan and Peter Behn and chatting about their roles of Bambi and Thumper (voices). These guys are full of life and knowledge on acting during the depression, and as fellow military men!
Background on Donnie (Bambi) and Peter (Thumper):
Donnie Dunagan got picked up for movies by a talent scout, during the Great Depression. When he was 3 1/2 years old, Donnie’s mother took him down to the corner on Saturday, to watch a man tap dancing for pennies and nickels. Donnie decided to jump in and dance along (barefoot). People saw him to this and decided to put him in a talent contest, where he won the whole thing at age 4. A talent scout happened to be out from Los Angeles, visiting his mother, and saw Donnie’s performance. Within two weeks, Donnie’s family was moved out to LA and he was signed up for the movies. He costarred and acted in about 7 movies before he auditioned for Bambi at age 5.
Bambi was the first movie Peter Behn worked on, and he got the role as the son of the screenwriter. Peter originally auditioned for the role of Bambi, but after deciding his voice wasn’t quite right, they decided he was perfect as Thumper. Peter was only 4 years old when he began working on Bambi, but reports it was about a two year project.
What was it like working with Walt Disney?
Peter only recalls meeting Mr. Disney a couple of times, and reports him being very much a businessman. He had many projects he was working on. Mr. Disney did show Peter the Disney zoo, where they also had deer and rabbits brought in, for the animators to practice with.
Donnie had a bit of a different experience with Walt. He says most people are nervous when the boss walks in, and say, “here comes the boss, here comes the boss.” He found this to be very different with Mr. Disney. Walt would walk into a room with his sleeves rolled up, and always working on something. Rather than get uptight, people would say, “Here comes Mr. Disney, maybe he can help!” He was a kind man who truly knew what leadership meant.
What was the recording process like for Bambi?
“The voices are recorded first and then the animators take that and create what they feel will work with those voices.” -Peter Behn
Peter and Donnie recorded separately, and actually didn’t meet until about 10 years ago!!
Because reading abilities were not quite up to par, a voice director would go into the sound booth with Peter and read the lines with the appropriate inflection. Then Peter would mimic them. He was extremely fascinated with the mechanical equipment that did the recordings.
What do you hope for the legacy of Bambi?
“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.” -Peter Behn
Donnie receives drawings and handwritten letters every month, from children all over the world. This is a testament to him that Bambi is forever!
Visiting with Donnie and Peter was a real treat, and brought more meaning to Bambi, for me. I’m excited to watch the Signature Collection on Blu-ray, with my kids, and share with them the extra tidbits I’ve learned about Bambi and Thumper. Pick up your copy!
I was provided an all expense paid trip for the purpose of covering the new Pirates of the Caribbean and Bambi releases. All opinions expressed are my own.