In 2009 I hosted an on-stage event with Disney legend Richard Sherman.
The co-writer (with his brother Robert) of classic songs like It’s a Small World (After All), Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and the Oscar winning Chim Chim Cher-ee, was seated behind a piano and after regaling us with stories from his career, asked if anyone had any song requests.
I took advantage of my position as host and butted in, asking if he’d sing the hippest children’s song ever written, I Wan’na Be like You (The Monkey Song) from The Jungle Book.
As his fingers danced across the keyboard, he began, “Now, I’m the King of the Swinger’s Ball, a Jungle V.I.P…” and I was transported back to being a kid, wearing the grooves off the soundtrack record, playing it over and over. I was reminded of that memorable moment earlier this week as I watched the new, updated version of The Jungle Book. The song gets a remake, this time sung by Christopher Walken, but the magic is still there.
In the animated 1967 original, Louis Prima — playing the raucous orangutan King Louie — sang the upbeat tune but Richard Sherman says when they wrote the song they didn’t have Prima in mind.
Walt Disney hired them to help “Disnify” Rudyard Kipling’s original stories about a feral child raised in the jungle by wolves.
“Our assignment was to find crazy ways of having fun with it,” says Sherman.
For King Louie’s big moment the brothers went with a New Orleans inspired musical arrangement, complete with scat-singing.
They played the swingin’ song at a story conference and it was decided the singer should be the most swingin’ jazz act in the country. “When we first got an idea for I Wan’na Be Like You, we said an ape swings from a tree, and he’s the king of apes. We’ll make him ‘the king of the swingers.’ That’s the idea, we’ll make him a jazz man.”
The brothers presented the song to Prima who reportedly said, “You want to make a monkey out of me? You got me!”
It was a perfect marriage of performer to character, so much so that Disney animators filmed Prima live on a soundstage as a guide to animate his movements in the movie.
The I Wan’na Be like You (The Monkey Song) sequence is a standout in a film filled with great songs and has made a lasting impression on a generation or two of musicians.
Everyone from Phish and Voodoo Glow Skulls to Los Lobos and Fall Out Boy have covered the song. There’s a Hungarian version called Egy ilyen majom embernek való by Gyula Bodrogi & László Csákányi. And O Rei do Iê-Iê-Iê was a hit in Brazil for Márcio Simões & Mauro Ramos.
Of all the covers, Sherman says he likes the version by Smash Mouth featured in The Jungle Book 2. Almost 50 years after he originally co-wrote the song Richard Sherman revisited the tune. On the red carpet at The Jungle Book’s premier last week Sherman said he wrote new lyrics, “because it’s not the King Louie you saw in the first movie. This is a gigantopithecus, the greatest ape there ever was.”
Louis Prima’s version will always be the classic, at least for me, but Sherman says, “Chris Walken does a great job (on the song).”
Chefs are the Food Network’s stock in trade. From Bobby Flay to Giada De Laurentiis, and Iron Chef to Top Chef, the delicious channel has created a cult of celebrity around the people who make our food.
A new film, Chef, takes a celebrity, actor Jon Favreau, and casts him as a restaurateur who has lost his way and desperately wants to reclaim his cooking cred.
In the film, he plays Carl Casper, a Los Angeles chef who hightails it to his Miami hometown when his fancy restaurant gets a scathing review from an online food critic (Oliver Platt). There he buys El Jefe Cubanos, a food truck he plans on driving across the country with his son (Emjay Anthony).
High on food porn — there’s even a shrimp scampi seduction scene — and Cuban sandwich recipes, Chef is a movie that may whet audience appetites for other movies about the people that make our food.
In The Big Night, Stanley Tucci plays Secondo, owner of an Italian restaurant called Paradise. The place is slowly going broke but may get a boost from a visit by singer Louis Prima. If Prima shows up, the restaurant will have a big night and be saved from bankruptcy.
It’s not only one of the greatest food movies ever made (you’ll want to go for risotto afterward) but it also features what Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers called “an unforgettable acting duet” between Tucci and Tony Shalhoub, who plays his temperamental chef brother, “that is as richly authentic as the food.”
Ratatouille takes a different approach. An unusual cross between America’s Next Top Chef and Willard, the Pixar movie does something no other film has been able to (not that a lot have tried): It makes rats cute. Lovable, even.
The story of a cooking rat is chef and TV presenter Anthony Bourdain’s favourite food film. “They got the food, the reactions to food, and tiny details to food really right,” said The Taste host, “down to the barely noticeable pink burns on one of the character’s forearms. I really thought it captured a passionate love of food in a way that very few other films have.”
Real chefs are featured in the documentary Spinning Plates. Weaving together three stories from a trio of very different restaurateurs, the film shows the personal and professional side of the food biz as well as the connection to the community that’s so important for success.
It cuts through the Food Network’s simplistic food-family-and-feelings approach with a tagline that sums up its philosophy: “It’s not what you cook. It’s why.”