To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the animated feature Bambi, Disney is adding the film to its Signature Collection (including recordings of Walt Disney discussing the film’s production, deleted scenes and characters, stories about the effects that the film had on the studio, and more) on Blu-ray, DVD and On-Demand. Commemorating the release, members of the media were invited to Disney Studios in Burbank, Calif. to chat with Donnie Dunagan (the voice of “Young Bambi”) and Peter Behn (the voice of “Young Thumper”), and to tour the restored offices that Walt Disney occupied at the studio, from 1940 until his death in 1966, in Suite 3H, which is very cool bit of nostalgia to step into and check out.
During an interview with Collider, Donnie Dunagan and Peter Behn, now both in their 80s, talked about what it’s meant to them to be a part of Bambi, the film’s lasting appeal, 75 years later, what it’s like for them when people find out about the characters that they voiced, the mementos they have, and what life has been like for them, since their moment in Hollywood.
Collider: What has it meant to you to be a part of Bambi, and to still be here talking about it, 75 years later?
PETER BEHN: In 75 years from now, they’ll still be talking about the movie, but I’m pretty sure I won’t be around for it. Maybe Donnie will, if he keeps doing push-ups. It is a remarkable thing about the movie, but it’s not surprising. When you’ve seen the movie and you understand what it says and the emotions that it gives people, it’s not surprising that it is still around and impacting people’s lives. It’s a very warm feeling and I’m honored to have been a part of such a legend, and realize that we’re still here and it’s still going and I’m sure it will be, for some time.
DONNIE DUNAGAN: From children, all over the world, I get [drawings of the characters]. When a child that’s 11 or 12 now, who sent me a drawing a month ago, is 40 and has fresh grandchildren, Bambi will still be there. Bambi is forever. Very few things in the film industry are forever and ever. Peter and I get drawings and letters, every week for the last eight or nine years, since the Blu-ray first came back out and folks found out that we were still alive. We’re the receivers of all the thank yous in the world for Bambi. We just happen to be around with an address.
BEHN: If it weren’t for the internet, we’d get one a month, at the most, but it’s easy for them to find us now.
It’s one thing to record the voices for young Bambi and young Thumper when you were kids, but it’s another thing entirely to have it sustain for so many years. Was there a time you realized that this wasn’t going away and that Bambi would forever be a part of your lives?
BEHN: Probably 10 or 15 years ago.
DUNAGAN: My wake-up call on this was after I got past the embarrassment. In 1977, when Mr. Disney’s studio announced that they were going to release it, for the first time in a long time, in reel-to-reel, I had not seen it as an adult, ever. I was in the Marine Corp. and I did not think about the film. In 1977, I was one of the commanders at Marine Corp. boot camp in San Diego, and then a newspaper said that Mr. Disney was going to release Bambi again and that it would have credits on it. In the story, Bambi was a very courageous, get-things-done, bang-bang feature, but it had not been out for years and years and years. For most of the young drill instructors and people that were working for me, their image of Bambi was as some cartoon about a crazy little deer sliding on the ice, and Thumper trying to coach him how to do it better. I had this terrible fear, and I even wrote it down in my journal, that if Mr. Disney put credits on it and they showed it in the base theater, all of these drill instructors were gonna write, “Dear mom, guess what? My commanding officer is Bambi!” So, I pushed my chicken button and didn’t say a word, and he didn’t release it with credits. But I went down and saw it right away because I hadn’t seen it in decades, and I was absolutely thrilled. There was standing room only, in San Diego, to buy tickets for it.
Peter, have you had any particularly funny experiences with people in your life finding out that you had voiced young Thumper?
BEHN: Some people get more of a kick out of it than others. One of the biggest fans, and a gal that I just love, is the front person for my dentist. At some point, I did what I occasionally do and I said, “Have you ever seen the movie Bambi?” I did it because I had gotten really friendly with this group of people and they’re wonderful. When I asked her if she’d seen it, she said, “Oh, yeah!” I said, “Do you remember Thumper?” She said, “Yeah!” So, I told her and she got all excited about it. And then, she told everybody in the office. We just have fun when I go to the dentist. Not everybody has a fun time when they go to the dentist, but I do because they’re all really friendly. Not that we talk about Thumper when I’m there, but it’s brought us closer together. I was recently at Universal Studios, and I was on the tram doing the backlot tour they give, and I was sitting next to two beautiful blonde girls and chatting with them. We were in a movie environment, so I didn’t feel uncomfortable asking the question. First, I asked where they were from, and they were from New Zealand. And then, I asked if they’d seen Bambi, and they said yes. And then, I asked them about Thumper, and they remembered Thumper. The point I’m making is that the movie has had an impact and everyone is aware of it, all over the world. It isn’t just here [in America].
What was it like for you guys to go through the experience of making Bambi as young kids, and were there any mementos that you got to keep from that time?
BEHN: Not really, other than a drawing that I still have, that was given to me and my parents, at the time, of Thumper. It was one of the pencil sketch idea test drawings of Thumper, and I do have that framed in my home. It’s lovely. I think it was drawn near the time that they pretty much decided what little Thumper was gonna look like because it’s pretty much the way Thumper is today. That’s really the only memento from that time. I have others now. The experience was unusual for me. The experience of recording voices for a movie that you haven’t seen yet because it doesn’t exist yet, since they do the movie later, was quite different from being on a live-action movie, which Donnie had done. I was actually in a movie when I was two years old, that was three short subjects and I was a little boy lost in the jungle who was found by two chimpanzees, and it was all of the antics that went on. They were 15-minute films, and they were used in the break between double features. In the old days, when they’d show two movies together, they’d show a news reel of the war that was going on, which was awful, and then they had a humorous short little movie, and I was in three of those. But I was even younger then, so it’s hard to remember the pictures and what was going on. Those were my impressions of the movie industry and my only contact in it. Since then, I was a normal everyday kid and citizen and I enjoyed life, but I didn’t have those experiences.
DUNAGAN: Pearl Harbor interrupted my family. I made seven films, as a child – a little runt kid with a lot of curly hair – but I did not talk about the films because Pearl Harbor changed everything pretty quick. I ended up in an orphanage for a bit of time, and in Ireland for a bit of time, and I never talked about the films. I probably did not think about it a lot, either. People are surprised to hear that, but we were busy with our lives and trying to get on. I wanted to be a medical doctor, desperately. It just wasn’t a preoccupation. So, when Disney found out that we were still alive, about a decade ago, I’d had some regrets about not mentioning it. I’ve been retired from the Marine Corp. for 40 years, but I’ve done several things since, and I’ve had some regrets about not saying anything about it. Since Disney has exposed us as Thumper and Bambi, we’ve been able to get more good things done because of Bambi than we could ever do in our private lives. When it first came out [that I voiced young Bambi], I was teased a lot. There were some old Marines that, when they found out about all of the movies, they focused in on Son of Frankenstein. One of them said, “We could have handled Frankenstein. We’ve called you worse than that! But, we would have loved to have known about Bambi!” Their image of Bambi was a little deer on the ice, and not the courageous, beat-the-bullies-up Bambi. But, it was a wonderful experience. I’d really like to do it again, to tell you the truth. It was a joy!
BEHN: What’s even more amazing than the movie persisting and going on is that the two of us are still alive and vertical!
The Bambi Signature Collection Blu-ray is available, starting on June 6th.