King Louie Goes Vegas

It was late afternoon at the Walt Disney Studio back in 1966. The door to D-Wing swung open, and a crowd of animators came stomping through the door and down the hallway laughing their heads off. A new animated motion picture was in production and the directing animators had just returned from a recording session. However, this recording session was different because you would have thought the animators had just returned from a party. Actually, they had done just that.

If you were lucky enough to have been a guest on Disney’s recording stage A back in the sixties you would have seen and heard Louie Prima and his band “tear up the place.” Prima had been selected to be the voice of King Louie, the orangutan Mowgli encounters in the jungle. However, when tapped for the gig, Louie Prima didn't show up alone for his recording session, he decided to bring his band along as well. And, who could blame the musicians? Las Vegas can be the adult playground, but it can't hold a candle to the fun over at Walt Disney's cartoon factory in Burbank. 

Directed by composers, Robert and Richard Sherman, Louie Prima began to rehearse the wacky ape song. Once into it, the Las Vegas showman could no longer stand still. It would appear the energy in the music was just too high. Suddenly, Prima began to channel his inner orangutan and became, King Louie. As the music grew in intensity the band couldn't help but join in. With Prima in the lead, the musicians marched single file behind the king as he made his musical plea to the amused Mancub, Mowgli. Most of you have probably never seen Louie Prima’s Las Vegas lounge club act. I can assure you it’s one of the wildest performances you’ll ever see. Louie Prima’s infectious high energy practically explodes full force on the stage. I’m sure this is why Walt Disney tapped the popular entertainer for a role in his film. Of course, this is a music track I doubt you’ll ever hear. Like most vocal performers at the Walt Disney Studios back then, Louis Prima's voice was isolated on a separate track. This is so film composer, George Bruns could make musical revisions later. You see, the original music tracks recorded by Louie Prima and his band were more Las Vegas than Anaheim. Clearly, Walt Disney wanted high energy…just not that much energy. And, I don't exaggerate when I say Louie Prima and his band totally freaked out and practically blew out the recording equipment on Stage A. The final tracks you’ve heard on the completed film’s soundtrack have been toned down. And, I mean way, way down. Louis Prima and his band at full “Las Vegas tilt” was a lot more than moviegoers of the sixties would have been able to handle. At least that's what Walt Disney thought.

Then again, maybe Walt Disney was wrong about movie audiences of the nineteen sixties. People might have liked the music. I’ll add that a few cranky old animators thought the stuff was pretty darn cool. However, it gets even better. The Old Maestro thought we might consider an up and coming rock band to perform the voices of the Vultures. After purchasing a stack of the bands’ record albums, Walt Disney changed his mind and killed the idea. After all, who’s going to remember an obscure 60’s rock band known as the Beatles?

Louie Prima's King Louie. The ape was just a little too hip for the room back in 1966.

Louie Prima's King Louie. The ape was just a little too hip for the room back in 1966.