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The Boy Who Spoke for Bambi: Catching Up with Actor Donnie Dunagan title graphic

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Do you have a quote from the film you like the most?

Donnie Dunagan: It was little Flower saying, "That's okay, he can call me Flower if he wants to." I have seen children understand that real well. It says a lot if we pause and reflect on it.

How long did it take to do the recording of the Bambi's voice?

Donnie Dunagan: I am not too certain.
My mother drove me there at least four times in slow LA city traffic. We would be at the studio for no more than two hours each recording session.

Did your voice acting in Bambi make you a famous movie star?

Donnie Dunagan: I had been in major roles as a little kid. I co-starred in six films before Bambi. I was a trained actor at age 6 going on 18. Bambi is the best known and loved of all of them and being any part of it is the joy of my working life today.

By any chance, was there any memorabilia that you have from your work on Bambi that you have kept for yourself and treasured all these years?

Donnie Dunagan: Yes. Photos were taken at the studio that we still treasure.

Were you able to attend the film premiere of Bambi? If so, what memories do you have?

Donnie Dunagan: Yes. In 1942, my mother took me to what I thought was some Los Angeles, California nearby desert town and we saw it. I was overpowered. I was so bright as a child that I thought I had it figured out. I was wrong. Nothing could have prepped me or anyone for the grand visuals and happy, emotive story of Bambi. My Mother cried.

Did you like Bambi the first time you saw it as a child or did your opinion of the movie change with the time?

Donnie Dunagan: Loved it. The first time, I could not believe anyone could make animations and backgrounds like Bambi. As I have grown older, I’ve listened to people talk about it when they did not know I was a part of it. I grew to realize that Mr. Disney had let me become part of a never-ending love story in this world. My debt to him is great.

Not counting Bambi, what is your favorite Disney movie?

Donnie Dunagan: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is my favorite Disney film. I wanted to be one of the rogue Dwarfs; they were having a great time.

Did you ever regret that you didn't pursue a career in Hollywood?

Donnie Dunagan: I do now. If you are loaded with bright ideas of how I can get a producer or director interested in an older gunfighter/character actor with several voices, send me your tips. This old jock is ready.

How have your early years in show business affected your life?

Donnie Dunagan: Now that fans know I am still alive -- I was discovered about 6 years ago, I am having a great time with it. The Second World War changed Disney studios and all of our lives greatly. That was my last film work. From about age 9 until 6 years ago (I am approaching 77 now), I never talked about being in those great classics. If I could get another role now, it would be the "Longest Comeback in All Film History."

Your first role was in the 1938 film Mother Carey's Chickens. What memories do you have of working with Anne Shirley, Ruby Keeler, Fay Bainter, Walter Brennan or Margaret Hamilton (known to many as the wicked witch of The Wizard of Oz)?

Donnie Dunagan: It was great fun. I have specific memories of that initial event. First, it took my parents out of the grim economics of 1938. I sensed that and I was proud to know that I helped change that. Walter Brennan treated me like a grandson. Ruby Keller was a gentle queen. I think she just played her norm, all gracious and kind self. Fay Bainter contacted my mother several times after the release and we went to a top-end hotel for dinner with her and others. I do not have reportable memories of the others.

Donnie Dunagan's favorite line from the film comes in this scene in which Bambi meets the skunk he names Flower. During his long, proficient career in the United States Marine Corps, Donnie Dunagan kept his Hollywood child stardom a secret from his fellow officers.

What is your fondest or happiest memory of your Hollywood career?

Donnie Dunagan: To be candid, Bambi leads as one of my best memories of working in Hollywood. Look now at 70 years later, the film is still loved all over the world. I hear from children in foreign countries even today raving about it, and the joy they have from it watching it.

What's your favorite message in Bambi? Dealing with the pain of loss? The friendship? Respect for your family and friends?

Donnie Dunagan: Bambi tells the story of life in realistic cycles of which evokes comedy, adventure, fantasy, courage, danger, emotions, laughter. Very much like the score, Bambi is a song that will never end.

You said that if your fellow Marines ever found out you were the voice of Bambi, your career would have been finished. Do you regret not telling your Marine Corps friends about your past?

Donnie Dunagan: I had been promoted quickly and always in a leadership position. From a 21-year-old Senior Sergeant, an 18-year-old drill instructor at Boot Camp. The Corps was my life and it was good.
When I would think about it, the idea of some young strong corporal and others finding out that I was the voice of Bambi (even though Bambi was also a character of courage), I was worried that some would write home to say, “Mom, guess who my commanding office is?....Major....Captain...Lt. Bambi! I did not think that it would add to our combat readiness!

Did you get involved in theatre during college or later in your adult life?

Donnie Dunagan: Yes. But remember that from age 9 forward, I just never talked about being in seven movies. My wife of near 19 years did not know of the films until nearly our third year together. I ate some peanut butter for meals for a couple of days for that non-disclosure. During my stateside time in 25 marine years, I took some personal time off and did three live-stage theatre roles, mostly non-profit. I loved it.

As Bambi is celebrating its 70th anniversary on Blu-ray and DVD in 2011, what comes to your mind when you know a new generation of children will be watching this film that you took part in. Does it surprise you? Especially since the film is so iconic and so much of a part of American pop culture and movie history.

Donnie Dunagan: Bambi has a unique persona in the sense that he embraced something different in human values, laughter, lasting feelings about life like nobody else in this world has experienced or ever seen. It is really a pleasure to view the movie on Blu-ray. My children, grandchildren and my 88-year-old neighbor have all seen it and savored the story. It's a refreshing tale that still is a beloved classic. Mr. Disney insisted on all the backgrounds in the forest being done in actual oil paints, that as opposed to the convention of water colors. It is those original visuals of Bambi that allow the engineering of Blu-ray to just put you in a different atmosphere when you watch it.

Bambi has entertained generations for 70 years, but looking back, when did you first actually realize that your vocal role would touch so many people and continue to reach out from generation to generation?

Donnie Dunagan: I would love to tell you I had that sense all the time. I wish that was so. Candor is that when Disney was about to re-release Bambi in double DVD six years ago and my life leaked out as part of it. The response from people in six countries and in America just overpowered me. Children or their parents in even hospitals would write me, e-mail me -- that in itself was an honor that I am not or never sure I deserve.

Now that Bambi is being re-released, do you think the film still has a message to the new generations? And what kind of message?

Donnie Dunagan: Yes. If Bambi did not have the magic and story line character all these 70 years, we would not be having these interviews, and people of all ages would not always be eager to see it again and again. The Blu-ray release will take that great story and artwork to such a level that if I lived until 106 years, we will be talking and loving Bambi.

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Why do you think Bambi has stood the test of time?

Donnie Dunagan: The caliber of animation in 1942 is absolutely stunning. It would not achieve that without being a story that is realistic about the cycle of life. Look at the closing emotions of Bambi. He stands on the rock platform next to his dad, who then retires the responsibility of the forest to Bambi. And, after lots of comedy, laughter, love, adventure, courage, life goes on. We all see some of ourselves in Bambi's story.

Did you see the new Diamond edition of Bambi in Blu-ray HD? What is your impression about the sound and the voices in this digital restoration?

Donnie Dunagan: Blu-ray Bambi will give more joy to young and tired eyes than anything else even on film from any camera. The colors are so sharp and the dimensions will capture you with loving arms. I wish Mr. Disney and his champion art teams could see this work of theirs, so loved by so many for so long, and it's now in Blu-ray.

Donnie, any final thoughts as we complete this virtual roundtable?

Donnie Dunagan: Bambi's Diamond Edition Blu-ray will extend this love story to many generations, with colors never seen before and the story. It is, after all, Mr. Disney's visual sense of the classic story that is with us now 70 years young. Bambi is laced with emotions and joys we all have in our natural life. That is the magic bond with us and Bambi. We are there, in the forest with him and his friends. Thanks for letting this old warrior and Disney lover share this with you.

Bambi: Diamond Edition 2-Disc Blu-ray + DVD Combo cover art
Disney's Bambi will make its Blu-ray debut in a Diamond Edition combo pack on March 1st.
Preorder from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Disc 1 of DVD • New 2-Disc DVD (available April 19th)

Related Interviews - Disney Voice Actors:
Don Dunagan (February 2005) • Kathryn Beaumont (voice of Alice in Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan's Wendy)
Mary Costa (voice of Sleeping Beauty) • Irene Bedard (voice of Pocahontas) • Ilene Woods (voice of Cinderella)
Moira Kelly (voice of Nala in The Lion King) • John Ratzenberger (voice in every Pixar film)

Related Reviews:
New: Alice in Wonderland (60th Anniversary Blu-ray + DVD) • The Last Unicorn (Blu-ray + DVD) • Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2
Disney's Diamond Edition Blu-ray + DVD Combos: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs • Beauty and the Beast
Fantasia & Fantasia 2000 (2 Movie Collection) • Saludos Amigos & The Three Caballeros (Classic Caballeros Collection)
Platinum Editions: Sleeping Beauty • Lady and the Tramp • Cinderella • The Jungle Book • Peter Pan • 101 Dalmatians
Pinocchio (Platinum Edition) • Walt & El Grupo • Waking Sleeping Beauty • Bambi: Platinum Edition DVD • Bambi II

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Posted February 22, 2011. Interview conducted February 17, 2011.