It’s been 75 years since the release of the Disney hit animated movie, Bambi.
The thought-provoking, timeless tale of the wide-eye fawn has been celebrated in families for generations since its release in 1942 during World War II. Bambi took over five years to make due to its exquisite hand-drawn artwork and attention to detail. This paid off, with Bambi now being beloved by millions. Bambi holds the No. 3 spot on the American Film Institute’s “10 Top 10,” honoring the 10 greatest animated films of all time.
The intriguing tale features an adorable young deer named Bambi who explores the wonders and challenges of the woods with his playful pal Thumper, the lovable skunk Flower, and wise Friend Owl – and ultimately fulfills his destiny as prince of the forest.
Donnie Dunagan, who voiced ‘Young Bambi,’ and Peter Behn, who voiced ‘Young Thumper,’ are still honored to be a part of such an iconic movie. While they were both very young during the creation of the film, they both fondly remember moments during this special time.
Dunagan and Behn sat down with Beliefnet about the legacy the movie has left behind, the impact it had on their lives, and the memories they still hold dear.
“I remember everything about it; I remember my first movie back in 1938. It’s part of my DNA or something.” Dunagan said right as the interview began.
Dunagan had already participated in a few films before he walked on the set of Bambi. He said that this movie, however, was always going to something unique.
“When I did Bambi I had been in 6-7 films already…working, working, working since the 4th grade…when I came to Disney I thought 'Ah this is the place where they make fun characters' this won’t be boring!”
Surprisingly, Dunagan was never supposed to voice the roll of Young Bambi. Originally, Dunagan was selected by Walt Disney to become the facial model for the baby deer’s expressions.
“I would sit on a stool for hours following directions; look left, look right, look happy, look afraid…one day I was sitting with my mother at a table eating ice cream…Mr. Disney came up and sat down with us… He asked mom if I would do the voice role. And we of course said yes!”
Behn was much younger when he worked on the movie – only four-years-old at the time. While he doesn’t remember quiet as much, he still has some positive memories of the time he spent on set.
“Certain things were hard to remember as a four year old. I remember sitting in the sound booth with someone giving me direction on how to speak and what to say…I also remember being taken around the studio and looking at the zoo they had with deer and rabbits and so on so the animators could appreciate their anatomy.”
Many years later, both Dunagan and Behn admitted that they weren’t aware of how large the movie would become or how it would change their lives.
Behn felt there was “no dramatic change [in his life] but proud to have been a part of something so big.” Behn never perused childhood acting after the movie, and is happy with his choice. He said it was great to have a “perfectly normal childhood,” since many actors that start as kids typically struggle as they grow older.
Dunagan, too, didn’t know it would become a classic saying “I wish I could say I knew, but I didn’t even know the story line until halfway through.”
After the film wrapped up, Dunagan also changed career paths and joined the marines. He put in 25 years of active service and remained private about his past as a childhood star. That was until 2004, when Bambi fans tracked him down. Since then, Dunagan has been open about his experience.
“I have some regret not telling others about Bambi. Through Bambi I have been able to do more good things for schools, my community, battered women shelters...than if I was the Prince of Whales! I don’t like people who like to boast and brag, but now whenever someone asks me if I was in Bambi I scream yes!”
Behn too, has been able to give back to his community through the movie. Behn is a huge advocate for the environment and protecting the earth. Throughout his life, he has worked to lessen the impact that man has had on the environment.
“I feel Bambi was an early statement on what is happening to our environment…I always have been impressed that Disney, back in the 30s, recognized that and was willing to make a strong statement.”
The movie had several important themes in it that many believe is the reason it has been so well-received. Dunagan to this day still hears about the films many positive lessons for families and children.
“Because of Bambi and Thumper…children today get more messages about life out of that film…they resonate with that film. All the time I hear about how the film is about birth and maturity.”
Dunagan was given a great lesson from the movie, as well.
When asked what their favorite scenes were, Dunagan and Behn both agreed that the ice skating scene with Bambi and Thumper was great for comedic relief. However, Dunagan holds a special place in his heart for another scene as well.
“When Bambi was shot, here comes his father standing over Bambi saying ‘Get up! Get Up! You must get up!”…I was shot several times for this country…once it was 2 o’clock in the morning and I was the only officer that could call for firewatch…I was down but another officer came over to me saying ‘Get up, Get Up!’”
Bambi is an inspiration to those who have seen Bambi, and those who worked on it so many years ago. With its important messages about family, friendship, and growing up, the movie will remain a beloved staple of families throughout the world for decades to come.