Peter Behn talks giving Thumper a voice

Peter Behn was a child actor in Hollywood whose one and only gig made an impression that has lasted nearly 70 years.    He was one of the lead characters in Bambi, now being released for the first time in a special Blu-Ray and DVD set.
It was in 1942 at the Disney studios in California, that Behn voiced Bambi’s woodland friend Thumper, a foot-stomping, woodland optimist who provided comic relief for Walt’s rather dark film.  Behn was just six when he got the part and he made such a good impression that the animators based Thumper’s personality in part on his vocal performance. 

Initially Behn didn’t receive an onscreen credited for his work, but that oversight is being remedied now as he tours  North America with Donnie Dunagan, the voice of Bambi, launching the new double disc version of the beloved Disney classic. Monsters and Critics spoke with Behn about his unique place in cinema history.

M&C: You’re a star again 69 years later for the same film. That’s pretty cool.

Behn: It’s pretty amazing; we’ve been having a good time.  It is amazing.

M&C: Bambi is ranked #3 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 10 greatest animated films and two asteroids have been named after Bambi and Thumper.  You must get a kick out of these tributes that have come over the years.

Behn: I think after all these years it’s finally hit me as to what an enduring legacy it is.  It keeps coming back and I have finally recognized that were part of history and Donnie and I were just doing our thing in those days.  It’s fabulous.

M&C: I saw The Search on TCM recently, a WWII film about a young Holocaust survivor who only opened up when he was shown a picture of Bambi. How old were you when you realized the film and its characters were known all over the world?

Behn: I guess I was in my 20s or 30sbefore I focused on that.  I hadn’t really thought or talked much about it prior to that. It was just something that was just part of my youth and I didn’t go around telling everybody I had done this film. 

But as I got older I realized it have people pleasure to find out that they were talking with Thumper.  I would be less restrained about it.

M&C: The shooting death of Bambi’s mother made a lasting impression on the culture; how did it affect you?

Behn: Don’t you think the fire was even worse? It’s interesting that contemporary current films and animation have certain amount of violence in them and yet this is more impactful somehow. It just gets you in your heart a little quicker.  Don’t you think there is a strong environmental message?

M&C: There really is, the love of nature and man’s encroachment on the woods and animals.

Behn: Environmentally Bambi was way ahead of its time.  I felt for a long time that Walt Disney was an early environmentalist and may have had some impact on setting the direction people would take in looking at the environment and the issues around it.

M&C: Did you spend enough time with Walt Disney to form any impressions of him?

Behn: Two times I met him and I felt he was gentle kind man but as a four or five-year-old it was difficult for me to comprehend his importance.

M&C: Why didn’t you pursue acting after Bambi?

Behn: My father left Hollywood.  At that time he had been a screenwriter and worked for Howard Hughes wrote Hell’s Angels, which is what The Aviator was about.  He decided he would leave Hollywood although he had been there quite a few years. 

We went to Tucson and he became a college professor.  Consequently, I wasn’t in Hollywood and he didn’t really want me to pursue anything in Hollywood.  He though I would be better off as an ordinary citizen.

M&C: Is it true that you actually lived in Warren, Vermont?

Behn: Yes I did! I was living in Warren when Disney finally found me.  They’d written some articles about the re-release of Bambi and one of the few people who knew I had been Thumper read them in Florida and contacted me.  I got a hold of Howard Green at Disney and now they’ve kept track of me.  For thirty years they didn’t know where I was.  [Behn also had pet rabbits!]

M&C: You were on The View, what else will you be doing o your tour?

Behn: I go home for a day and then I’ll be in the studio in Burbank and for a signing for the employees at Disney with Donnie. We just finished signing at Disney store in NY and I’m on my way to the airport.

Visit the DVD database for more information on Bambi (Two-Disc Diamond Edition Blu-ray/DVD Combo).

Note the date on this article may be incorrect due to importing it from our old system.