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    A Discussion With Donnie Dunagun: The Voice Of Bambi


    MouseInfo had the opportunity to chat with the voice of Bambi, Donnie Dunagan, in celebration of the March 1st release of Bambi: Diamond Edition.


    MouseInfo: How old were you when you got the role of Bambi?

    Donnie Dunagan: I want to share good specifics with everyone, on my wonderful life story. But on your question I must guess some. My agent got some feeler contact months before Disney reached my mother. I was just six years old in the fall of 1940 when production started on the film and my trips to the Disney studio to work on it extended into early 1941.


    MI: What was the hardest part about playing Bambi?

    DD: If I had spoken of this while working on the film, I might have been fired! The hardest part was being serious. I loved the studio. The people were very different. I had a great time. Animators and all of the different people at Disney offered to show me how certain things worked, and the ice cream in the dining room was great.


    MI: Do you still feel connected to the character of Bambi?

    DD: Yes, in many ways. Bambi had to fend largely for himself, rather young, and so did I. He had to learn some hard realities at a young age and stand-up to threats and real danger. So did I. He made it, despite much and tried to stand as an example. I hope I have too.





    MI: Did you have to record many takes before finding the right tone?

    DD: I do not think so. I remember that I was encouraged to just be myself, a real, natural kid. I suspect Thumper had the same instructions given to him, be honest, natural kids. If you listen to Thumper, he sounds just like some kid playing second base on a dirt field in New Jersey, very real...wonderful. Walt Disney was way ahead of his time in respecting the use of age appropriate voices for his characters.


    MI: After all these years, do people still ask you to do recitations from Bambi?

    DD: Yes. Boy, did that get me by surprise! Kids always ask. At first I had to modify my long developed adult voice and get all the Marine tones out of it, in order to say "bird," "flower" and so on. With some practice I have been able to do it!


    MI: What was a recording session like, for you?

    DD: It was a relaxed atmosphere in the sound booth with one or two Disney crew people there, plus my Mother. It was easy does it. I thought it would be harder, since there wasn't any on-camera work. I recall there was very little pre-recording rehearsal time. The microphones were rather basic back then, one was in a small bird-cage on a stand. It was easier than one might suspect.





    MI: What kind of interaction with Walt Disney did you have during the voice recording and live action staging. Also, did you keep in touch with Mr. Disney during the next decades after making the movie?

    DD: There was no follow-up with Mr. Disney. The start of WWII for America changed the country and life-styles more radically than younger generations can think possible.


    MI: What would you say you’ve gained from your childhood career in film?

    Dunagan: How to quickly identify reality from fantasy, and how to enjoy both but realize the difference.


    MI: How do you feel now in 2011 about being the original voice of Bambi?

    DD: Wonderful. Not many would understand this, if they had a clue of even half of my teen and long adult life. The reality is, at age 77, it is pure joy that both children and 80 year-olds can enjoy the film together. I could be working in the White House and children could care less. But let someone say, “that dude over there was the face, or voice of Bambi,” and I am an immediate adopted grandfather to them. That is just an unmatchable joy, and a real responsibility.





    MI: Do you have a favorite scene from Bambi?

    DD: The young deer kiss, while Bambi was feeling sorry for himself, sitting in a thicket. I had to pretend to have taken a double-dose of Castor oil, grim stuff for a kid, in order to make such an unhappy face with angry eyes. Boys at that age do not want to be kissed by a cute girl. I am glad that I grew-out of that phase!


    MI: Did you ever go hunting yourself?

    DD: Yes, but with a camera only.


    MI: Do you recall any aspects of Bambi that your mother recognized as being similar to you?

    DD: Nothing I can recall now. But I will share with you something… the drive between our home in West Los Angeles and Disney Studios was a drag! Boring! We learned to play spelling bee in the car, each one challenging the other. I had been reading newspapers since age 5 and could spell reasonably. One time I challenged my Mom that I could spell Disney “better” than she could. I remember her response,” How can you spell anything better than the correct spelling?" “Mom, bet I can....bet you a quarter.” 'OK' she said, thinking me a bit silly. She then spelled it D.I.S.N.E.Y., and then she said, “OK, smarty, how can you spell that better for a quarter?” My spelling of Disney was 'F. U. N.' She smiled, laughed and gave me a quarter.





    MI: Why did you never talk about being the voice of Bambi even when you were still a child? Haven't you been excited to show off with your Hollywood-adventures in front of your friends?

    DD: During WWII, and into early teens, my thoughts were focused on just getting by. I totally supported myself from age 13 and ½ on. While I did many school plays, and later was awarded many times for being a leading instructor at the Marine officer's colleges, I had such a dislike for 'show-offs,' and those that boasted about themselves, that I became a very poor self-promoter. Now, in my 70s, I am having a ball with young and old people loving Mr. Disney's Bambi with them and it is an honor to be a part of it.


    MI: Have you had an interest in going back into voice acting at all?

    DD: Yes. I would do it in a flash. Moreover, I would love to get a shot at a real challenging on-camera character role. Send me that leading role and I will do 20 push-ups in the snow for you!


    MI: Were you excited about being in a Disney film? Had you seen any of their films before entering the studio?

    DD: I was so excited to learn we were going to the Disney studio that I constantly pestered my poor Mom. I had not yet seen a Disney film when I was chosen to do Bambi. We seldom went to the movies. Time was always pressed with practicing dancing, singing, language, and on and on. But I knew of the Disney studio and was thrilled to do it.





    MI: What would Bambi's fans find in this new Diamond edition Blu-ray?

    DD: Fans should put their senses on “Happy Alert.” Bambi on Blu-ray will knock your socks off. The Blu-ray technology is a visual atmosphere all its own, thanks to Mr. Disney's insistence that even the background of the forest and the rain drops be painted in real oil paints. Stand-by for joy.


    MI: What started your career in the film industry?

    DD: In Memphis, TN, late 1938. My parents and thousands of other in Tennessee were poor as dirt. My Mother entered me into a talent show contest. The theater was loaded with people. There was no TV yet and talent contests and even spelling bees drew large gatherings. I had learned to do some fun tap dances and songs. At not quite age 4, I won the contest. A real talent-scout was in the Memphis theater. He visited with my parents and a couple of days later we were put on a train to Hollywood. Within a month I was acting in the film Mother Carey's Chickens for a wonderful director named Mr. Rowland Lee, who then took me into two other movies with co-star billing within half a year.


    MI: How did you go about obtaining the role of Young Bambi? Did you have an agent as a child actor?

    DD: Yes. I had an agent when I met Walt Disney. But in the end, I know my Mother got a call from the Studio and was excited, as was I. Interestingly, I fired my first agent. He then said that I was too young to fire him. He had been rude to
    my Mother thinking she was not a college graduate, and she was. So at age 5 and ½ I fired him.





    MI: Were you afraid at any time whilst first watching Bambi as a child?

    DD: Yes, while I had some sense of the story-line, nothing could prepare my Mother and I for the scope and power of Bambi the first few times we saw it. I had very wet eyes when Bambi’s mother was killed by hunters off-camera. Someone at the studio told us that the original drawings had her killed on-camera and that Mr. Disney had the very good taste to direct that to be changed.


    MI: Bambi never dies, it is ageless, what do you think is the secret of this magical feeling? Is it the rhythm of the movie? Is it the voices? Is it the color and the photography?

    DD: Your question is darn bright and like some of the best questions in life, self-answering. Bambi is truly unmatched in visual animation. It is like the lead song...."Love is a story that will never end"... Bambi has so much story, so many real-life emotions, and beautiful animation. It is a love song to all of us, and it will never end.




    MI: Can you tell me about the direction you get for the recording of Bambi desperately calling for his dead mother?

    DD: I remember this well. When I was told to say, with some stress, "Mother....Mother," I must have not had the tone of fear that the story needed. A coach, I think it was a nice lady at the studio, asked me how I would cry out loud if my own real Mother was lost and in great danger. That made it easy.....thus, the fear-tone of ""Mother...Mother..."


    MI: Donnie, can you share with us any final thoughts on Bambi?

    DD: This animated film has been with us for almost 70 years now. It has additional dimensions that one may not see or feel in the first viewing. Bambi touches us, in many good humanist ways. Disney and Bambi are truly spelled F.U.N. I was a super lucky-duck kid to have been any part of it. And to this day, I feel indebted to Mr. Disney.

    Last edited by dlfreak; 02-25-2011 at 12:38 AM.
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