The Jungle Book, another Disney classic, isn’t much better. Remember the lively King Louie and his band of apes? They’re caricatures of 1960s black Americans.
It doesn’t take a hard look to figure this out. The apes all have black accents, prominent lips, and perform catchy jazz numbers. King Louie even shares the name of the King of Jazz, black musician Louis Armstrong.
Moreover, the “kingdom” Louie rules over is really a slum in the “man-village ruins”, not unlike an inner city or black ghetto. Most alarming about this movie, however, is the message of the jazzy “I Wan’na Be Like You”. In it, Louie sings to Mowgli:
Ooh-bi-doo, I wan’na be like you
I want to walk like you, talk like you, too
You see it’s true, an ape like me
Can learn to be like you, too.
An ape like Louie—that is, a black person—can learn to be a man. Disney’s basically saying that black people aren’t really people.
But, once again, those were different times. What was acceptable in 1967 isn’t acceptable today, and probably wasn’t even acceptable 20 years ago. Or was it?
Exhibit C: The Lion King (1994)