This past week, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences celebrated the upcoming 75th anniversary of Disney's classic film Bambi with a special screening and panel. As part of the event, film critic and historian Leonard Maltin moderated a discussion with Donnie Dunagan (voice of young Bambi), Peter Behn (voice of young Thumper), Andreas Deja (Disney Legend, Animator) and Paul Felix (Production Designer at Walt Disney Animation Studios). Even 75 years later, there was a lot I learned about this beautiful film during this panel.
From Leonard Maltin’s introduction, Bambi was the beginning of animator training by Chouinard Art Institute's Don Graham to educate to improve the product. Improving the artist’s talent through education was driven by Walt’s passion for improving the medium, not by the marketplace.
Another interesting note was that Bambi’s characters needed a distinctly different look than those seen in Snow White or the characters would be lost in the heavy forest scenes. Walt sought a happy medium in combining the believability of wild animals movement and cartoon characters.
In terms of production stories, according to Andreas Dejas, Frank Thomas fought to have the ice skating scene included into the movie for comedic moments. Additionally, like Ollie Johnston, Frank got into the character and movement of Bambi to tell the story.
It was also fascinating hearing the stories of the voice actors for young Bambi, Donnie Dunagan, and Thumper, Peter Behn. Donnie, at age five, fired his talent agent in order to accept the role of Bambi. He also says that, to this day 75 years later, he receives at least two letters a week featuring hand drawings of Bambi from children around the world. Later in life, Donnie joined the military and says his CIA file had his screen credit as Bambi listed. As for Peter, he revealed that he attended Bambi’s premiere and was fascinated by the searchlights, but frightened by the fire scene.
Back on the subject of production, Andreas Deja noted that, with many artists, each with individual talents and strong personalities, required teamwork to produce cohesive results. He related a Marc Davis, animator story that Walt Disney had the skill to encourage the animators to work together without killing one another. Walt kept the politics out of the animation so that the studio could produce great things.
Finally, it was shared that Bambi production was sent to a separate building focus solely on this project. On the way up to the second floor work area, there was an uneven step. So, when they heard Walt stumble on the stair, the animators knew that “man was in the forest” and he was on his way to inspect their progress.
To relive Disney's animated classic Bambi for yourself, be sure to pick-up the Walt Disney Signature Collection release of the film arriving in stores May 23rd.