Movies, Books & Disney+

Original Voices of Bambi and Thumper, Donnie Dunagan and Peter Behn Talk “Bambi” During 75th Anniversary Home Video Event

Hi everyone!

We sent one of our California correspondents for the Bambi home video press day release that commemorated the 75th anniversary of the movie. The event featured the original Bambi and Thumper voice actors, Donald (Donnie) Dunagan and Peter Behn. It was one of those type of events that I wish I was in California for, but it’s really a treat to get to hear and see their conversation. The Bambi Signature Collection 75th anniversary Blu-ray releases on June 6th, 2017.

Becky Cline with Donnie Dunagan and Peter Behn

Becky Cline, director of the Walt Disney Archives, kept the conversation moving along as she moderated, making note that Dunagan and Behn may be the only two who worked on Bambi who are still surviving.

Video with Dunagan and Behn

Dunagan and Behn grew up very differently, with Peter Behn being the son of screenwriter Harry Behn, who wrote the screenplay for Hell’s Angels. Harry Behn was instrumental in getting Peter the job in Bambi, but didn’t want him to be a Hollywood actor past that.

Dunagan was born poor, and learned to tap dance on a street corner. He won a local talent competition, which was attended by a talent scout from RKO Studios. Within days, Dunagan and his parents packed up their one suitcase and were on their way to Los Angeles where he immediately started rehearsing for Mother Carey’s Chickens. What is interesting is that the book by the same name was also the basis for the Disney film Summer Magic.

Dunagan said that after Mother Carey’s Chickens – actually a number of films after – he was picked by Walt Disney to be a facial model for the Bambi character at the ripe old age of 5. He still sounds incredulous about it, and mentioned numerous times how hard a worker Walt Disney was. Dunagan had a lot more contact with Walt Disney than Behn, being that Dunagan began as the facial model before adding hs voice. Behn said that his recording sessions numbered about 8 in a 2 year period.

For Behn, the movie was his first contact with live animals. He didn’t spend much time with the animators or Walt. Dunagan had never seen a deer before, and was taken to Griffith Park where there was one lone deer. Dunagan tried feeding it to no avail, and declared the deer “boring”. Walt somehow heard about Dunagan’s comments, and then told the youngster, “Danny, don’t worry. Our Bambi will not be boring”.

Dunagan has pretty firm memories of Walt Disney, and said that Walt was always “busy, busy, busy”. Walt worked like he was “trying to impress somebody”, and led by example in that he expected everyone to work hard, but he also did the same.

While Dunagan is the more gregarious and talkative of the two men, Behn brought up the environmental aspect of Bambi. Behn said, “I felt for a long time that Bambi was a very strong environmental statement that becomes more meaningful as the years ago on…when you think back on it in the 1930s, I think Walt Disney was incredibly ahead of his time in terms of being aware that there was a need to look after our planet. The movie’s just a really strong statement in my opinion, one that will continue hopefully for a long time”.

Bambi will be out on June 6th, 2017. I look forward to watching it when it arrives, and will see some aspects of it a little differently after the interview.

This article contains affiliate links.