Peter Behn was only 4 years old when he got offered the chance to voice the adorable rabbit Thumper in Walt Disney’s Bambi. By the time he was done his recording duties two years later, Behn and his family had moved away from Hollywood, and his ambitions to continue acting were gone. As he got older he rarely talked about portraying the iconic character, and only on occasion did it come up amongst friends and loved ones. With Bambi celebrating its 78th anniversary this year, Behn, opened up about his part in Disney history and how it all came to be.
Bamcat.com spoke with Behn during his press tour in Toronto. Read our Q&A below.
Bamcat.com: Do you remember how you got the role of Thumper?
Peter Behn: My father was a screenwriter in Hollywood working for Howard Hughes. He wrote the screenplay for Hell’s Angels and heard that Disney was having a major production forthcoming, and that they were auditioning for the part of Bambi. He took me over to audition, but my voice was not great for Bambi. The animators heard it and felt my voice would be perfect for the rabbit.
Bamcat: You were quite young at the time, were you a fan of Disney films?
PB: I was 4 to 6 during the making of the movie. I was just a kid and didn’t really know about them at the time. I had seen Mickey Mouse.
Basmcat: How was the experience for you at the time?
PB: I just know that when I was in the recording studio with the director, who was reading the lines with me, I was sort of copying them back at him and we made a game out of everything. The whole experience was like play and fun instead of work. I was a perky kid I guess and that’s what made my voice so good for Thumper.
Bamcat: Did your friends at the time know you were working on an animated film?
PB: Most of my friends didn’t know about it. It wasn’t something that was a subject that came up much and I didn’t talk about it. It was only later in life that I’ve been willing to talk about it. My friends now think it’s kind of cool, but not much is made of it.
Bamcat: What was your reaction to the film when you first saw it?
PB: I was pretty young and even though it was my voice I was hearing, I thought the movie was pretty exciting and scary at the end.
Bamcat: Does it surprise you the movie has lived on over the course of 70 years?
PB: In retrospect, it’s not so surprising. It really does have an enduring quality to it that seems to work for each generation of kids that comes along. And this latest version on Blu-ray, particularly if you compare it to the previous DVD or VHS releases, they were able to bring the quality of the movie up to current standards. Considering its 78 years old it’s pretty amazing. There is something captivating about the way it was drawn and scripted, and the voices, it has all held together and is very rewarding for me to be part of that legacy.
Bamcat: Thumper became an iconic character after the film came out, why did you not stick with voice work or acting?
PB: My father had decided to leave Hollywood. He was disenchanted with what he felt was the direction of Hollywood’s life and he didn’t want me to become a Hollywood brat. So he went back to academia. He was a college professor at the University of Arizona in Tuscan for a number of years after we left and then we moved East and he became a writer again. He took me away from it so there was no temptation for me to continue and I never went back to it.
Bamcat: If someone offered you a role now would you take it?
PB: At my age? I don’t think so. I would do a voice thing happily.
Bamcat: How has doing the voice of Thumper changed your life, if at all?
PB: Actually, until recently it really hasn’t. I no longer hide my existence as Thumper, but I don’t go around bragging about it. If people talk about it or want to talk about it, I will. And it does bring some joy to people who feel they have “met Thumper”. But really it has not changed my life.
Bambi is now available on Blu-ray in Bambi I and Bambi II. Please enjoy the trailer below: