The DL with Andreas Deja and Donnie Dunagan

I recently had the honor of being able to sit down and talk with two men that are very important in the Disney lineage; Donnie Dunagan and Andreas Deja.

Donnie Dunagan is best known for something he did when he was just a little kid; he provided the voice for Bambi.   But there is so much more to this man’s impressive life, while he may be humble about those achievements, we at iratefilms were nonplussed to find out so much more about the classic “young prince”.

Andreas Deja has been working for Disney for multiple decades now, and has drawn some of the more well-known characters of recent memory. Andreas was in charge of overseeing the restoration process for the release of this timeless classic to Blu Ray on March 1st. The interview covers topics ranging from Bambi, War, CGI, and Disney itself; I hope you develop a greater understanding and knowledge of who these two iconic men are and enjoy our conversation – just like I did.

David Limacher: I wanted to start off by thanking both of you for taking the time to sit down with me and discuss the release of Bambi on Blu Ray, as well as other possible topics.

Donnie Dunagan: This is just a real treat for me to be able to talk about something that means so much to so many people. This movie is something special and with the new technology of today the fact we’re still talking about it is amazing to me.

Andreas Deja: I am very proud to be able to present this movie in a new format to a new generation. We did this restoration at the right time as well; the negatives are almost obsolete. We used the original film negatives to capture the original design and feel that the movie had.  If Disney had waited another 10 years, or so, the negatives would have been beyond the point of restoration. This project is something I can take pride in having worked on, and I hope once again Bambi captures the love and imagination of an entirely new audience as well.

DL: I was wondering what it feels like for each of you to work with such an important company as Disney, and both be a major part of the landscape of the company?

DD: I never really thought about it before, to be honest. The fact I was Bambi at such a young age, and the experiences I’ve had through my life didn’t really make me think about my past. There were periods of 10-13 years at a time that I didn’t even think about Bambi, or being the voice of Bambi.

I also never really talked about it to anyone as well. It wasn’t too long ago that I told my wife of many years about the fact I provided the voice for Bambi, and she’s a major part of my life. Today I get the opportunity to go to children’s hospitals and talk to these kids who are sick and who have little to no reason to smile and see their faces LIGHT UP when they hear they get to meet BAMBI! I will sit down and talk to these children and watch the movie with them and see how much enjoyment they get from watching such a classic movie.

AD: I wanted to start off by saying that there was almost NOT a Disney Animation department by the time I would’ve been ready and able to contribute. There was a period of time where Disney placed the future of the Animation Department on the success of Cinderella. Had Cinderella failed at the box office, then Disney would have folded up the animation department and I would not be talking with you today.

There were other flops such as Sleeping Beauty that raised concern, but it was the figure heads of the “9 Old Men” that kept the studio up and running. My mentor was a man named Alex Larson (who drew Owl in Bambi) who took me under his wing and helped guide me to become a better artist. I still tremble with amazement every time I enter the Animation Studio, because I can look and go “That was Walt Disney’s office, and this is where they drew Snow White and Bambi, there are the offices where the ‘9 Old Men” used to discuss projects” and it makes me feel proud to be where I am today.

DL: I was curious how it feels for each of you, Donnie with your original contribution, and Andreas with you overseeing the restoration, to be involved with a movie such as Bambi?

DD: One word, humbling! I told you about the children’s hospitals and seeing how the kids react and it really makes me feel like I did something special. The movie has actually given me a sense of responsibility as well. I feel that because of what I did, and what I’ve learned through my years that I should give back and remain humble.

AD: I agree that the restoration was humbling. I got to see all the hard work and attention to detail that went into making each individual slide. The fact the animators did all this hard work showed that they were ahead of their time in so many ways. The restoration gave me a chance and opportunity to learn more and take away more knowledge from the original art work as well. There were few mistakes, and we got to touch those up and fix them.

These minor mistakes didn’t really show up being shot with the 35 mm camera, but with the transition to Blu Ray we were able to go through and correct the mistakes to the point where people will be seeing the movie the way it was always intended. I also like to believe that people who have seen the movie multiple times will be seeing it in a different way that it will be like seeing it for the very first time all over again.

DL: Donnie, I was wondering if being the voice of Bambi had any bearing in your life?

DD: WOW! That’s a great question and let me attempt to describe it to you. I did the voice of Bambi at a really young age, and from the age of 13 I lived in boarding houses and schools so I had more on my mind than Bambi. I reached a certain age where I decided that it was my duty to enlist in the Marine Corps. I look at the fact that I served in the Marine Corps, and my promotions were like a machine gun (he makes a sound effect like a machine gun) to the point where I was the youngest Drill Instructor in the history of the Marines.

I was taught humility by my Commanding Officer Clyde P. Ford who had more medals than most people who spent three lifetimes in the Corps would have and he NEVER showed them off. I was in a parade with him and I saw all the medals and asked why he didn’t ever wear them. I was told simply, “Don’t brag.” Those words are something I will never forget, “I don’t need to show off what I’ve accomplished to be considered a good leader!” I learned from that moment on that medals are just something you put on when told to do so. I remember being in the jungle and getting a flesh wound during active duty and receiving a Purple Heart. This was my third Purple Heart, but I didn’t want the recognition for something that took a medic 5 minutes to patch up. I watched a guy die not more than 2 feet away from me and he received no commendation, yet I get a flesh wound and they give me a medal!

I don’t need a medal to do my job. I’ve got more holes in my body than God ever intended me to have, but looking back on it I wouldn’t trade any of it for anything. The fact I can now look back at my past and finally live up to being the voice of Bambi means a lot for me. I’m still amazed that so many years later this movie is still held so closely to people’s hearts that it is still being recognized today is something special for me. I’m 77 years old and I’ve lived a great life, but the fact I can now do more being the voice of Bambi and sharing it with younger generations is something I treasure.

The thing I take away the most from Bambi now is how the story shows kids and adults the trials of life starting at an early age. I find it also shows that perseverance, friendship, and growth are important parts of life for everything and everyone. I think about how people share differing opinions on things presented throughout their lives, BUT everybody loves BAMBI!

DL: Wow, thank you for that answer and your insight into everything!

DD: My pleasure, and thank you for the question.

DL: Andreas, you have drawn some of the most well-known characters in recent memory for Disney including Scar, Jafar, and Lilo. I was wondering if working on the restoration of Bambi allowed you to see how work was done in the past and did you take anything away from this experience?

AD: I took a lot away from everything. When I first started with Disney I was just a kid straight out of Art School. The group that I started with all had various different talents, and we felt like we had a new voice to offer the people. The first movie we ever did was a terrible movie called “The Black Cauldron”.

DL: I LOVED that movie!

AD: Kids DO love that movie, and that still makes me proud, but the fact remains we had so much talent we just didn’t know how to utilize it at that time. With restoring Bambi, we got to work with the animation of the originals and see their art and learn from it as well. I took away that animation of that time was so special and I have been given the opportunity to keep this masterpiece around for generations to come as well. When I step into the Disney Archives I can look at, develop my skills, and learn from some of the greatest artists of the last century.

Also, one of the great things about the Blu Ray of Bambi is that a person can take their iPad or computer and draw a scene by tracing over the image. It gives the user a greater understanding of the time and effort each artist put into their work. I like the feature because after a person completes the drawing on their own, they can press play and see their own animation come to life. It gives everyone a greater understanding and also a sense of accomplishment that they drew the scene for their own viewing pleasure as well!

DL: Wow, I look forward to attempting that myself.

AD: It’s a really neat feature and something that everyone can enjoy!

DL: Speaking of technology, I was wondering how both of you feel about the animation of today being done with computers and the use of CGI in animation?

DD: Animation of today is too easy. I can say that due to my personal life experiences and the history of my life. We are the product of our input. Every detail was hand drawn, and people put their heart into each drawing. When I go to see the kids at the children’s hospitals I tell them about how each cell was hand drawn and they are just AMAZED!

The kids want to see the same scenes over and over again because they become so enthralled with the hard work these people put into making this movie something special. I tell them about how the animation was authentic and earned and it gives them a new respect for animation of the past, and makes them want to see more. This release gives the chance for kids to see how art truly was and respect the work of those that came before computers made everyone an artist.

AD: I grew up with hand drawing animation. I learned the love and respect of each drawing that was made. I actually have tried to do some computer animation and I’m sure over time I could develop the skills to make it work, but I am not a fan of CG. I love the fact Disney is releasing these movies that were hand drawn, and I believe the greater understanding of the work will earn the respect of those who take it for granted.

There is still a need and demand for hand drawn animation, but once again it needs to be developed for people to understand what they are missing out on.

DL: I just wanted to thank you both once again for your time and answering my questions. This was a special experience for me and something I will always remember.

DD: Thank you for your questions, and I really enjoyed talking with you today.

AD: Yes, thank you so much, and I hope you and your readers enjoy Bambi and share it with those around you as well.

We only really scratched the surface on what makes these men so special, and I encourage you to check out their bios here:  Donnie Dunagan (Voice of Bambi and one hell of a patriot) Andreas Deja (Polish boy with a dream that he never stopped pursuing) Each men’s stories offer inspiration, and one can almost hear the whisper of Walt himself behind each man’s purpose.

“Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things… and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”  Walt Disney

I think this new release of Walt’s beloved tale of the forest creatures’ path is definitely worth adding to your personal Disney collection!


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