Home Disney Stepping Into the Past with Donnie Dunagan, Peter Behn, & Walt Disney

Stepping Into the Past with Donnie Dunagan, Peter Behn, & Walt Disney

by Heather

Photo Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios

I attended the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES #PiratesLifeEvent and #BambiBluray courtesy of Walt Disney Studios.  All opinions are strictly my own.

Last week, while in Los Angeles for the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES Red Carpet Premiere, we took a “timeout” to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Disney’s Bambi!

That’s right, Bambi will be joining the Walt Disney Signature Collection this year with a release that includes a variety of new bonus material, including recordings of Walt Disney discussing the challenges and triumphs during the production of “Bambi;” deleted scenes and characters; stories and effects that “Bambi” had on the Studio, other films and artists; and much, much more. The Digital HD release will also include an exclusive, heartfelt feature on the incredible artist, Tyrus Wong, who inspired the film’s soft watercolor backgrounds and beautiful palette.

Bambi arrives home on Digital HD and Disney Movies Anywhere on May 23, and on Blu-ray, DVD, and On-Demand on June 6.

So, how did we celebrate? By becoming a part of Bambi’s history. We sat down for a once in lifetime chat with the original voice cast of the film; Donald “Donnie” Dunagan (young voice of “Bambi”) and Peter Behn (young voice of “Thumper”) as well Visual Development Artist Paul Felix, who was inspired by Tyrus Wong’s work.

Bambi & Thumper

Photo Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios


Peter Behn was only 4 years old when he took on the role of “Thumper.” His father was a screenwriter that knew Walt Disney and when he heard there was a new, animated project coming up, he took son in for the chance to be part of it. As an adult, Peter worked building homes and in real estate.


Donnie Dunagan was taught to tap dance by a neighbor when he was three-years-old. He entered a local talent contest, won, and caught the attention of a movie talent scout in the audience. In three short years, he made seven films; including Bambi. He was only 5 years old when he voiced the role of “Bambi.”

After leaving the entertainment business, Donnie joined the United States Marine Corp and that is where he spent the majority of his career.

Here is a little bit of what we learned during our discussion with this amazing duo.

Sitting down with Donnie and Peter was more than I imagined it ever could or would be. When we went in to meet them, I had no idea what to expect, what state they would be in physically or mentally, and I questioned what they would really remember from a gig they held when they were still learning so much about life. I was pleasantly surprised, touched, and cried more than I care to admit. They were magnificent and I’m a better person for sitting in their company.

Photo Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios

Question: What was it like working with Disney himself?

Peter Behn: I met him a couple of times but not on a regular basis. 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. He was a very nice man.

Donnie Dunagan: Let me share with you a different bit of an experience than say along Peter’s excellent sharing with you. Only because I had been in seven other films as a young kid.

When I first saw Mr. Disney, I thought maybe he was going to get a broom or something. I mean, 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, I saw him often, he was participating in things. It wasn’t, oh my gosh, here comes the boss. It 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.

Photo Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios

Question: Can you talk about the process a little? It’s very different today.

Peter Behn: What I remember is going into the sound booth where they have a voice director who was 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.

Photo Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios

Becky Cline: You guys recorded separately?  You weren’t in the same room?

Peter Behn: We never knew one another. We never saw each other until what, 10 years ago?

Donnie Dunagan: We were older.

Photo Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios

Question: What was it like seeing your facial expressions on an animal? I know that they did some animation to try to make some of your facial expressions come through on Bambi.

Donnie Dunagan: Excellent question. Remember when the mother is shot, right? Thank goodness off-camera. I had the original copy of the book. Mr. Disney had followed the book verbatim, you know page for page. If you had seen it on camera, it’d have been terrible. It’s already bad enough. We hear about it all the time, the mother, the mother’s been shot, the mother’s been shot. When that recording was required I did not do it as well as I should have.

Mother, mother, mother. You know, I’m having the time of my life. You know, this cannot be a bad time. And my coach was a lady in the sound booth like Peter was discussing. And she said, no, do it again, do it again. Okay. Mother, mother. No, that’s not going to work. I met a very bright lady who said, your mother is in trouble. I’ll never forget it. She said, your mother’s in trouble.

Now, she didn’t tell me this, this is fun, right. She said your mother’s in trouble. Donnie, maybe your mother’s in trouble. You need to plead to your mother. Call your mother, call your mother. That caught my attention pretty quick. You know I’m just a kid, right. Mother, mother, mother. Now, that took some doing with me. Peter was faster at this than I was. I took some coaching.

Photo Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios

Donnie then spoke about his wife, for the longest time he did not share with her that he was the voice of Bambi… she found out on her own.

Donnie Dunagan: Even after the Marine Corps found out right before I retired, I never talked about it before. I was raised around some men who if you were brighter, that’s bad. If you had done things in your life, don’t boast, you know. If other people find out about it that’s fine but don’t walk around, look at me, look at me stuff. Then and now. So, we knew each other for a long, long time and were married. She finally found all seven or eight movies, hundreds of fan letters in cardboard boxes, and came in the house.

What’s this? You know and it’s true.

Photo Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios

Becky Cline: What do you envision and hope for the legacy of Bambi going forward? This is the 75th anniversary which is amazing to me. But going forward into the future, what do you see for Bambi? What do you hope it accomplishes in this world?

Peter Behn: Well, very frankly one of my strongest feelings about the movie is the amazing fact that back in the 30s, Walt Disney was so 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.

Photo Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios

It’s one of my strong beliefs that we have to do everything we can to keep it from getting worse. But 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 is was very strong. And I think as time goes on perhaps that aspects of the movie will resonate and become even more important and more people will be more aware of that aspect of the movie. At least I hope so.

Photo Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios

Donnie Dunagan: If I live to be 100 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. Here’s an extension of Mr. Walt Disney’s Bambi. I get one of these by children a month from all over the world. One a month minimum, Christmas time a couple more. And at least 2 ½ to 3 handwritten letters a week from children all over the world. To Disney, thank you Disney, thank you Disney. If this doesn’t tell people that that Bambi is forever, I’ll do push-ups in the parking lot for you.

Peter Behn
Donnie Dunagan
Peter Behn
Photo Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios
Photo Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios
Donnie Dunagan with Mickey
Photo Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios
Photo Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios
Photo Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios
Photo Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios
Photo Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios
Photo Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios


As mentioned, we also sat down with Bambi Walt Disney Signature Collection Disneygraph artist, Paul Felix and discussed his work with the studio.

Photo Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios

Question: How did you become interested in art?

Paul Felix: I drew a lot as a child and always thought my older brother was the artist in the family.

Question: How has animation changed over the years?

Paul Felix: Animation starts with hand drawing, that hasn’t changed much. Things need to be much richer now. The drawings from Bambi to Moana are all from the same principles.

Question: What are some of the projects you’ve worked on here at Disney? What was your favorite film to work on?

Paul Felix: Mulan, Bolt, Big Hero 6, Inner Workings … Lilo & Stitch was my favorite. It is more about heart and storytelling than the effects although Big Hero 6 was the first time we could technologically add things to the film and use light.

Photo Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios

Question: Why do you think Bambi is such a popular film?

Paul Felix: Bambi is a cycle of life. It shares the beauty, mystery, and reality of the world. It’s zen. What’s more primal than the connection with a mother? This relationship plays a key role in our films. Films are an extension of us.

Paul Felix’s Recommendations to new art students:

  1. Make a Portfolio.
  2. Don’t limit yourself to just drawing. Try colors.
  3. Learn a sense of art history.

My daughter loves to draw but she is only 7, I plan to hold on to advice that Paul provided until she is old enough to understand and apply this new knowledge base. My niece, on the other hand, is in high school and draws beautifully. I can’t wait for her to read this and learn more about the possibilities that are out there as long as she continues to use her imagination and grow.


“Bambi” was released in 1942 during World War II and took over five years to make due to its exquisite hand-drawn artwork and attention to detail. Beloved by generations, “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 timeless 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.




Do you have Disney Movie Rewards? If you answered yes to that question and plan on purchasing Bambi, you will be given the option to purchase this special tank top featuring artwork by Paul Felix that was inspired by Bambi. To learn more about this offer and pick up a copy of the movie, simply click here. Please note, this offer ends July 31, 2017


We spent the day in yesteryear learning about a classic that I grew up with. A film that my parents loved to watch with us, even though were some really scary, difficult subjects that were approached in the process.

As we were taking a look back and heard so much about Walt Disney, it was only fitting that we were also given the opportunity to tour his office.

We didn’t go in for deep discussion about Walt Disney’s working quarters, we were simply given permission to walk through, in small groups, and take in everything as it was when Walt worked at the Studios. There was a Disney Archivist on hand, Keven Kern, should we have any questions along with a few other employees that were happy to discuss everything Walt Disney with us. However, they also respected those of us that wished to walk through in silence, breathe in the air, and try to imagine what it was like when Walt and his presence filled the room.

I’m not sure I am able to put into words what I felt as I walked through but it moved me. There were moments when I found a stray tear or two streaming down my cheeks. I could feel him there, wish us, reminding us that he still graces the hallways and keeps his imagination in the building. I couldn’t help but stare intently at the trinkets that sat on his desk, the books that filled his shelves, and the couch that he would lounge on after a long day of work instead of going home.

I don’t know if you will be able to feel the magic through pictures but before going any further, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and think about walking the halls of Walt Disney Studios between the 1940s and 1960s when Walt Disney was still with us.

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1 comment

Dongyu Xu May 25, 2017 - 6:03 pm
Love it

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