The Movie Walt Wanted

Look at this marvelous cel setup. This is original art created for Walt Disney's final animated motion picture, “The Jungle Book.” The painted cel of Mowgli and the monkeys are in remarkably good shape as is the beautiful painted Al Dempster background. I actually touched this original Disney art and I wasn't even wearing white gloves. Naughty me.

Anyway, I had the opportunity to chat with composer Richard Sherman about “The Jungle Book” while we were filming in San Francisco last week. A good part of our conversation was about this particular sequence. Mowgli is kidnapped by the monkeys and taken to their leader, King Louie. Richard told me a bit about the creative process the Sherman Brothers used. Such as, what do apes and monkeys do? Well, one of the things they do is, swing from trees. Richard said that inspired him to think of King Louie as “The King of the Swingers.” Of course the song, “I Wanna Be Like You” is full of fun references like that. We also remembered the fun day Louie Prima and his band, Sam Butera and the Witnesses came to the Walt Disney Studios to record the song. Of course, how Walt Disney happen to choose Louie Prima was another story.

It seems Walt Disney overheard the jovial, Phil Harris at a party and decided he would be perfect as the voice of Baloo the Bear. Once the Old Maestro had talked Phil Harris into voicing Baloo, the story team began to consider other celebrity voices. Eventually, that led to Las Vegas and the signing of Louie Prima to perform the wild and crazy, “King Louie.” Prima already had a reputation of being pretty wild and his Vegas lounge act could sometimes be explosive. If you've never seen Louie Prima perform in person you've truly missed something special. We wanted to bring that same energy and vitality to the “Ape Temple” sequence of “The Jungle Book,” and the Las Vegas showman didn't disappoint. Naturally, for the final film we had to tone down the crazy performance. Walt knew that Louie Prima and his band performing at full tilt was probably too much for middle American audiences.

What a delight to share this moment with Richard Sherman and remember the glorious time we both had working on “The Jungle Book.” It was The Old Maestro's final motion picture and I know he enjoyed it as well. There are a number of animation professionals who don't care for this particular Disney motion picture, and that's cool. It may not be your cup of tea, and there are other Disney films more to your liking. However, it was the story Walt wanted us to tell. It was the movie he wanted us to make. We gave the boss what he wanted before he passed on, and I can't think of anything more important than that.