Why is King Louie's brother (Larry) allowed to drop in at "House of Mouse," but not King Louie himself? Jim Hill exposed some of the pitfalls involved with suing the Walt Disney Company.
(Editors note here: I know that it's fashionable for hardcore Disneyana fans to bash "House of Mouse" nowdays. Me personally? I can't say that I've seen every single episode yet, but I can tell you that I've found a lot to like in the large number of shows that I've seen to date. I know, I know. The quality of the animation DOES vary wildly from moment to moment in "House of Mouse." But that still doesn't take away from the crisp writing & the totally off-the-wall gags that regularly turn up in the non "Now it's time for another cartoon" portion of the program. I mean, where else can you see Daisy Duck attempt to use the Black Cauldron - Yes, THAT Black Cauldron - as a fondue pot? Do yourself a favor. Check out the reruns of "House of Mouse" that run daily on the Disney Channel as well as Toon Disney. You won't be sorry. Anyway ...)
So I'm sitting there, watching Mickey frolic with King Louie as the two cartoon icons perform the orangutan's signature number, "I Wanna Be Like You" from Disney's 1967 feature length animated classic, "The Jungle Book." Only I keep thinking that the Nyquil must be stronger than I thought, because I keep hearing Mickey calling King Louie "King Larry."
Well, as it turns out, there was nothing wrong with my hearing. For this episode of "House of Mouse" (and probably for any other future programs that Disney decides to use the orangutan from "The Jungle Book" in), King Louie will be known as King Larry. Why for? Because Louis Prima's widow, Gia, sued the Walt Disney Company back in 1999.
Why did Gia sue Disney? Because of the terms of the contract that the veteran nightclub performer signed with Walt Disney Productions back in 1965. According to Prima's agreement with the studio, Louis was supposed to be paid $1500 a day (with a guaranteed minimum of $7500) for every day that he did voice work on "The Jungle Book."
But Prima was additionally supposed to receive royalties from the sale of recordings of "The Jungle Book." Which Gia and her lawyers interpreted as including any monies that Disney made off of the sale of the film on video & DVD.
Disney settled with the Prima family back in May 2001 for an undisclosed sum. But the ripple effect from this behind-closed-doors deal continued to roll through the company.
First, King Louie's upcoming appearance on "House of Mouse" had to be reworked. Why for? Because if Jim Cummings (the noted voice-over artist who has been voicing the animated orang since Prima passed away back in 1978) ever again imitated Louis Prima's distinct voice, that act alone would potentially open Disney up to for yet another onslaught by Gia's attorneys. So - just to play it safe - Disney's lawyers told the "House of Mouse" production team that they weren't allowed to use the King Louie character on their program.
The only problem is, the "House of Mouse" crew really wanted to have King Louie appear on their show. They had fallen in love with the idea of Louie - dressed in Mickey's trademark red shorts & wearing mouse ears - singing "I Wanna Be Like You" to the Mouse. But - if they couldn't use King Louie himself - what was the point of using the character's signature song on their program?
After a somewhat labored negotiation, a compromise was reached. Disney's lawyers agreed that "House of Mouse" could have a King Louie look-alike appear on their program and sing "I Wanna Be Like You" with Mickey Mouse. But ONLY if the viewing audience was repeatedly reminded that the character they were seeing WASN'T King Louie, but an entirely different character. Which is how King Larry was born.
Of course, just to tweak Disney's lawyers, the "House of Mouse" production team insisted on hiring Jim Cummings to provide a voice for King Larry. Wanting to please his bosses at Disney Television Animation but - at the same time - not tick off the corporation's attorneys, Cummings came up with a new voice for King Larry. One that sort of sounded like Louis Prima. Sort of. But - at the same time - protected the Walt Disney Company from any further legal action from Gia Prima's attorneys.
As for "Jungle Book II" - Disney Television Animation's next theatrical release (which is due to hit multiplexes in February 2003) -- all of the colorful characters from the 1967 film will be back ... except, of course, King Louie.
In this case, it was felt that including a character that even looked like Louie would open the Walt Disney Company to further legal action from the Prima family. So - in this situation - the safest course of action seemed to be to go forward with a King Louie-free version of the film.
Where does this leave us? With a relatively well animated but still somewhat tame follow-up to the 1967 feature length cartoon. Those folks who have already seen the work-in-progress version of "Jungle Book II" say that the sequel (which started out as a direct-to-video project) could use some of the energy that the King Louie sequence brought to the original film. But - with the Walt Disney Company determined not to give Gia Prima or her attorneys any more money - that's obviously not going to happen.