This article is about the fictional character. For the rapper, see King L.
King Louie is a fictional character in Disney's 1967 animated musical adaptation of The Jungle Book. He is voiced by Louis Prima in the film. Initially, the producers considered Louis Armstrong for the role, but to avoid the likely controversy that would surround casting a black person to voice an ape, they instead chose Prima.
Conception and creation:
As the Disney movie is "inspired by" rather than "based on" the Kipling stories, the character King Louie does not appear in Rudyard Kipling's original book, as orangutans are not native to India. Also, Kipling insists that the Bandar-log, or monkeys, have no king, or any effective leadership. In the book, Mowgli is abducted by a band of nameless and leaderless Bandar-log (monkeys), but the rest of the scene plays out very differently from Disney's version. Bill Peet's original story for the film did not feature King Louie, but did have a bigger Bandar without a tail, who was perhaps meant to be their king. Peet left the Disney company due to a dispute he had with Walt Disney regarding the contents of his script, so his ultimate vision for the king of the Bandar-log remains unknown. Development of the story continued following Peet's departure, with his darker story giving way to a new emphasis on lightheartedness and jazzy tunes. In this company milieu King Louie eventually came into being, given life through the voice and personality of popular performer Louis Prima. Personality was also given to Louie by Milt Kahl, Frank Thomas, and John Lounsbery, three of Disney's Nine Old Men who animated the character. Kahl animated Louie's interaction with Mowgli, Thomas his solo song and dance portions, while Lounsbery animated his memorable scat duet with a disguised Baloo.
Famed Sicilian-American and New Orleans native Louis Prima portrayed King Louie in the film. Louis Prima considered playing King Louie as one of the highlights of his career and felt he had become "immortal" thanks to Walt Disney and the entire studio.
In the Disney animated television series TaleSpin, Louie (voiced by Jim Cummings) is a fun-loving orangutan who wears a Hawaiian shirt, a straw hat, and a lei. He owns an island nightclub and motel called "Louie's Place", located near but outside the protection of the city of Cape Suzette. It also serves as a refueling station/pit stop area for pilots. Louie is Baloo's best friend (unlike in The Jungle Book, but like in the later Jungle Cubs) but sometimes can be competitive with him when it comes to women, treasure-hunting and, on occasion, in business and monetary matters. His hold on the island is somewhat tenuous, though through his own ingenuity and the aid of his friends he has managed to avoid losing it (in the episode "Louie's Last Stand").
In the Disney animated television series Jungle Cubs, Louie (voiced by Jason Marsden in Season 1, and Cree Summer in Season 2) is a juvenile orangutan and Baloo's best friend. He is very physically active, spending a great deal of his time in trees and eating bananas. Prince Louie (as he is referred to in the show) wants to become king of the jungle one day, and when any man-made objects turn up he immediately shows great interest.
Appearances in other media:
A slightly different version of the character appeared in the Disney 1994 live-action movie Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book starring Jason Scott Lee. Once again he is an orangutan, and the 'leader' of a group of monkeys that make their home in an abandoned human city. His name arises in this version from the vast wealth that humans left behind in the city, and in particular to his habit of wearing a crown similar in appearance to that worn by the King of France, Louis XIV. Kaa appeared to serve him, being summoned with a clap of his hands, Louie using Kaa to ward off or even kill intruders, the latter for his own amusement. At first, he acts a rival to Mowgli, but later warms up to him after seeing him defeat Kaa. Louie would later on appear during the battle between Mowgli and Captain William Boone (the villain of the film), as he is seen cheering for Mowgli. Following the defeat of Boone, Louie happily summons Kaa, who then kills Boone in the moat.
King Louie did not appear in The Jungle Book 2 due to a legal dispute with Louis Prima's widowed wife Gia Maione (though a shadow puppet of him can be seen at the very beginning of the movie, and Baloo implies that he left the jungle).
Q.T., an orangutan who looks very similar to King Louie, is one of the main characters in Dumbo's Circus.
Louie's very identical twin brother Larry appeared in an episode of House of Mouse.
King Louie appears in the Fables comic series published by Vertigo Comics. He is one of the revolutionaries who wish to overthrow the Fabletown government out of resentment at the apparent second-class status of Fables. Due to his peripheral involvement, he is given a sentence of hard labor---twenty years, reduced to five years conditional on good behavior.
In Fables, Louie is wrongly described as a "Kipling" character; on his official forums, Fables author Bill Willingham cited Louie's appearance in Fables as "a very good example on why it's best to go back to the source material before one embarks on a major story, rather than rely on often faulty memory of which characters were original canon and which weren't."
The characterization of King Louie has frequently been cited as an example of racial stereotyping in Disney films. However, in his 2004 book The Gospel According to Disney, Mark Pinsky asserts that a child in the current environment (as opposed to in the late 1960s) would not discern any racial dimension to the portrayal. Pinsky also relates Orlando Sentinel's film critic Jay Bogar's assertion that "the primates could be perceived as representing African Americans in a time of turmoil, but that Bogar saw no racism in the portrayal."