Monkey status: Monkeys are featured in this film
The Jungle Book features some of Disney’s most famous depictions on non-human primates. They even show us a rudimentary society comprising only monkeykind, living in what looks like the ruins of Angkor Wat in the days before it was filled with guys in Bintang singlets.
Mowgli’s story of trying to find his place in the jungle was based on Rudyard Kipling’s experiences in India. It follows that most of the animals in the film are indeed animals found on the Indian sub-continent. The monkey scene, however, throws that way out of wack.
King Louie is obviously an orang-utan, so what is he doing in India? Was he an exile from some distant kingdom in the Sumatran jungle? Was he the survivor of a foiled regicide attempt, forced to leave his land forever with only a cohor
t of his most loyal? He waits in his temple in the Indian jungle like Napolean on St. Helena, craving the red flower of the man-cub’s fire to launch an attack back on his homeland.
In that sense he’s kind of like Danaerys Targaryen – a denied ruler wanting to return to their ancestral homeland with weapons of flame and destruction. Obviously George RR Martin cribbed a lot from this movie.
For some reason, he didn’t carry over the whole jazz influence. Louie is voiced and named after Louis Prima, and Prima wasted no time adding whole pages of scatting to the script. Apparently they initially modeled and named the character after Louis Armstrong, but then thought that they would come under fire for casting a black man as an ape.
Imagine the gruff-voiced Armstrong as King Louie. I can imagine it lending a far more sinister air to Mowgli’s whole encounter with the monkey exiles.
Other notable monkeys in the scene include the white-haired monkey who plays a big leaf like a lute. Most of the monkeys seem to have shocks of human hair, or maybe they are just wearing wigs.
Either way the scene with the monkeys adds a lot of question and subtext to this old Disney classic in a way that only a scene with a bunch of monkeys can. What does it mean? We’ll probably never know. Why do the monkeys want to be like Mowgli anyway? He himself is rejecting his humanity through most of the film. The monkeys, unlike Bagheera and Baloo, have their own community and microcosm of a society. The only thing they are lacking is fire, which they only need for – oh, right. Revenge. All themonkeys want is revenge. A dish best served banana-flavoured.