- “Why, you hairy little thief...”
- ―Aladdin, affectionately to Abu
In the episode of the Aladdin television series, "Seems Like Old Crimes", it is revealed that, long before the events of the first film, Abu originally worked for a traveling circus of thieves, consisting of himself, a duo named Minos and Fatima, and Aziz. Abu served as the group's pickpocket and actually met Aladdin after making an attempt to steal his money. After an adventure together, the two eventually became friends.
In Howard Ashman's original story treatment for Aladdin, Aladdin's companions were a trio of human thieves (named Omar, Babkak, and Kassim) whom, when paired with Aladdin, acted as a vaudevillian quartet. These characters were dropped when the story oversaw major revisions. In Linda Woolverton's version of the story, there was an elderly man called "Blind Abu", named after a thief in the 1940 film The Thief of Bagdad. John Musker and Ron Clements, who joined the Aladdin project as directors, felt that Woolverton's screenplay was better suited for live-action, featured too many humans, and lacked characters that could take advantage of the medium of animation. To remedy the issue, Musker and Clements added a monkey sidekick for Aladdin, named "Abu"—after the scrapped character from Woolverton's treatment. Abu was developed as somewhere between realistic and anthropomorphic; he does not speak full sentences, but occasionally utters broken phrases and displays human emotions.
Unlike Aladdin, who steals to survive, Abu is a talented kleptomaniac, with unshakable urges to steal whatever catches his interests, be it riches, food, or anything else. This can land him into quite a bit of trouble and appears to even frustrate Aladdin from time to time. Abu can also be quite selfish in this regard, as he takes more than he needs. Nevertheless, the monkey has redeemable qualities, and at his core is a soft heart. When he and Aladdin noticed two starving children, Abu initially showed disgust towards the idea of donating his food, but he came around fairly quickly, being both influenced by Aladdin's kindness and his own sense of morality.
Despite his antagonistic traits, Abu is amongst Aladdin's most loyal and loving companions. The two share mutual admiration for one another, and so much so on Abu's part that the monkey can become rather jealous when Aladdin's attention is given to someone else, as seen when he and the street-rat first met the beautiful Princess Jasmine. For the sake of Aladdin's happiness, however, Abu is willing to put up with quite a bit of nonsense, such as being turned into an elephant to disguise himself as Aladdin's extravagant mode of transportation in hopes of winning over Jasmine and her father, the Sultan.
In the television series, Abu is often paired with the far more antagonistic and greedy Iago, whose over-the-top actions often force Abu to act as a "voice of reason", a trait not seen in the original film. This indicates Abu's ability to grow and mature. Even so, Abu has had occasional instances of slipping back into his thieving tendencies, which was the center of the episode "To Cure a Thief".
Abu is first seen escaping the royal guards alongside Aladdin, after stealing a loaf of bread. The two evade the security force after much hassle, but shortly after finding time to rest and enjoy their food, Aladdin and Abu encounter a pair of hungry children. Poor and apparently orphaned, the children seem to be in search of something to eat, prompting Aladdin to donate his share of the bread. Abu is initially against doing so, believing his hard work should be rewarded, but after witnessing Aladdin's selflessness, he is motivated to follow suit. The two children playfully thank Abu, who seems happy to have been of help, just before the children find themselves nearly whipped in public by the snooty Prince Achmed; a suitor for Princess Jasmine. Aladdin defends the children, but both he and Abu are publicly humiliated as punishment. Downhearted, Aladdin and Abu return to their hovel of a home. As Aladdin laments his desire to experience a better life for both himself and Abu, the latter falls asleep soundly.
The next day, Aladdin and Abu plot to steal a watermelon for breakfast. As they eat, Aladdin spots a beautiful woman in the marketplace and instantly becomes infatuated. When the woman has a disastrous encounter with a vendor, Aladdin steps in to save her and claims her to be his mentally-ill sister—so ill, that she believes Abu to be the Sultan. The plan works for a period of time, though, Abu's pick-pocketing reveals it to be a ruse—the trio manage to escape, nevertheless.
Back at their home, Aladdin and the woman start to form a relationship, much to Abu's disgust (as he feels jealous of Aladdin's scattered attention), but the guards arrive and arrest Aladdin. The woman reveals herself to be Princess Jasmine, but she is unable to free Aladdin as the order for his arrest was given by her father's vizier, Jafar. Aladdin is taken to the dungeon, but Abu arrives that night and frees him from his chains, though not before scolding his friend for getting himself into trouble over Jasmine. The two then meet a lowly beggar who offers Aladdin freedom in exchange for carrying out an assignment that could end in his wealth.
They travel to the Cave of Wonders to retrieve the magic lamp; along the way, Abu meets a sentient carpet who guides them to the lamp's chamber. While Aladdin retrieves the lamp, Abu's greedy sights are set on one of the cave's forbidden treasures, forgetting the cave's warning of not touching anything except the lamp. Though Carpet and Aladdin try to stop him, Abu grabs the gem, only to then realize his error too late when the tiger guardian erupts in fury, causing the cave to collapse around them. He and Aladdin try to make their escape on Carpet, but the beggar (who is actually Jafar in disguise) seizes the lamp from Aladdin and proceeds to kill him. Abu thwarts Jafar by biting him on the arm, though he still throws Aladdin and Abu back into the dissolving cave. There, Abu reveals to have stolen the lamp back from Jafar, and Aladdin accidentally releases an all-powerful genie. After being freed, Aladdin wishes to become a prince so that he may be eligible to form a relationship with Jasmine. Abu is turned into a massive elephant to act as Aladdin's luxurious mode-of-transportation, and the group travels to the palace to meet the Sultan.
Over time, Aladdin and Jasmine fall in love, but Jafar steals the lamp and takes control of the city. After being turned back into a monkey by Jafar's magic, Abu is banished to the ends of the earth along with Aladdin and Carpet. Although he nearly dies from hypothermia, Abu is rescued by Aladdin and they soon find and recover Carpet. The trio then makes their return to Agrabah. As Aladdin reaches for the lamp, Abu tackles Jafar's parrot, Iago, to prevent him from revealing their presence. Once Jafar is notified, however, he attacks; Abu is turned into a cymbal-banging monkey toy by Jafar's magic, but after Aladdin manages to trick Jafar into wishing to become a genie—trapping him within his own lamp—the sorcerer's magic is undone. Abu is freed from his curse, as well as the city itself.
Abu is last seen joining Aladdin and Jasmine (who are now allowed to wed due to the Sultan abolishing the law that had separated them) in bidding farewell to the freed Genie.
Abu and Aladdin enter a secret lair where they battle Abis Mal and his gang and rescue a collection of jewels and a jeweled flower that they had attempted to steal. On the way back to Agrabah, they give the riches to poor folk in Agrabah and the jeweled flower to Jasmine, something Abu isn't too happy about but eases up when he realizes Aladdin and Jasmine's strong relationship. Abu and Aladdin go out the palace on a stroll and find Iago. Like Aladdin, Abu is very suspicious about the parrot and regrets taking him in even after he saves their lives from Abis Mal and his gang.
Later on after Genie returns from his world tour, Abu is given the job to guard Iago while Aladdin tries to explain his presence to Jasmine and the Sultan. While watching him, Iago pleads for freedom making rude monkey impersonations. Wanting to have a little fun with Iago, Abu opens the cage while Rajah is near as a way to scare him. Unfortunately, the joke backfires as Rajah then destroys the cage and chases Iago into the palace, accidentally ruining the palace dinner and exposing Iago to the royals. Aladdin is ordered to watch Iago by the Sultan. That night, Aladdin and Jasmine settle their differences on Iago. The next morning Aladdin and the Sultan go for a ride on Carpet while Genie and Abu enjoy a picnic.
During the picnic, Abu spots a spider which soon leads to dozens of spiders. The spiders come together and form the revenge-seeking Jafar. Abu and Genie are tormented until finally being placed in captivity. The group is rescued by Iago and they set off to battle Jafar. At this time Iago is nearly killed and after defeating Jafar is thought to be dead. He proves himself alive and Abu finally accepts Iago as a friend.
Abu makes regular appearances in this television series, often paired with Iago. Although he is still a casual thief, he has shown definite signs of a conscience. Aladdin and Abu are shown to still have a strong friendship, but Aladdin sometimes becomes rather annoyed at Abu's thievery. Where on one occasion when Abu stole a golden gauntlet from the royal treasury and accidentally made Aladdin look like the thief, Aladdin became so mad that Abu was particularly heartbroken when he thought Aladdin wanted him to leave forever because of it. However, whatever troubles they are in, they always work it out and they become closer than ever.
Through nearly all adventures, Abu is constantly paired up with Iago. Together, they often leave the mission to search and/or steal treasure from a nearby area. They are sometimes the cause of the trouble. An example of this is in the episode "Smolder and Wiser" where Aladdin attempts to take a powerful weapon from Abis Mal, only to be discovered after Abu and Iago tried to steal a bag of gold, causing said gold to fall out, thus causing noise.
An important part of Abu's role is the fact that he has a pick that unlocks any lock which is handy when Aladdin and the group are being held captive in an area.
In the final installment of the Aladdin film series, Abu plays a fairly minor role compared to the previous films, providing very little to the plot. Like the rest of the characters, however, Abu is excited to finally see the day his best friend and Jasmine wed. Underneath all the joy, Aladdin is anxious and nervous being that he never had a father figure and Abu feels for his friend. When they discover his father is alive, Abu joins Aladdin, Carpet, and Iago to see him. As soon as they arrive, Abu is captured and held hostage. In order to be freed, Aladdin must defeat one of the many thieves. He does successfully and meets his father Cassim.
Later on, after the thieves betray Cassim, Abu joins the group in the rescue and after attends the wedding. He stays back at the palace with Genie, Carpet, and the Sultan while Iago goes off adventuring with Cassim and Aladdin and Jasmine enjoy their honeymoon. According to Iago, Abu cried when the former bid his farewells to his friends in the palace, which in turn, made Iago emotional.
In the animated special, "Hercules and the Arabian Night", Jafar teams up with the Lord of the Underworld, Hades, in hopes of combining their power to eliminate Aladdin and the young Demi-God, Hercules. To do so, Hades sends his goons, Pain and Panic, to kidnap Abu, whilst Jafar kidnaps Hercules' companion, Icarus. The two are held captive in the Underworld, but eventually, both Aladdin and Hercules catch on, and the two rush to rescue their friends. By the end of the adventure, Abu and Icarus become fine acquaintances.
Here, Abu, Iago, and Carpet stayed in Agrabah with Jasmine while Aladdin and Genie went away for a few days. Abu and Iago tend to hang out at the horses' stable. One morning the Sultan's prized horse Sahara mysteriously escaped the stable. It was unknown how and the possible outcome could be that the horse-keeper loses his job. Jasmine tries to learn what happened before he does and during the investigation, she finds a fig.
Figs are Abu's favorite snack and she and Iago begin to question him. Abu hesitates at first but soon reveals what happens. He ate one of the figs and became sick from it. He began to feel dizzy and fell from the horse gate. His tail was holding onto the lock and as he fell, he unleashed the lock letting Sahara out. Abu, Iago, and Jasmine search the desert and finally finds an oasis. At the oasis is the horse and Jasmine's only way of getting it back is by riding back. Iago reminds her all the people who ever tried to ride him were thrown off by the horse itself and the only person to successfully ride it was Jasmine's mother.
Though the thought of losing Jasmine worries Abu, the princess calms him down, eventually rides the horse home, and all is well again.
Abu makes several appearances in the series House of Mouse. Abu is usually seen with Iago, Genie or Jafar. Abu's most notable role in the series in which in the episode "Gone Goofy" where Iago tells him to taste the Evil Queen's poisoned apple. In "Rent Day", he was one of the few guests that showed enjoyment in Mickey's light show.
An emoticon version of Abu appeared in the Aladdn entry of the As Told by Emoji short series.
Abu appears in the live-action remake. Portrayed as a computer-animated Tufted capuchin monkey, he plays a similar role to his animated counterpart as Aladdin's sidekick. As was the case in the animated film, Abu was changed into an elephant when Aladdin wished to become a prince, but unlike the original, was changed back shortly to it's normal form, after Prince Ali's introduction.
In the Sega Genesis adaptation of Aladdin by Virgin Interactive, Abu has a mini-game which involves catching apples; this is reached by finding the Abu token which appears in three levels of the game. He is also referenced in that in the Cave of Wonders level, Aladdin must touch Monkey Idols identical to the one Abu touched to continue to the next level.
In the Super NES version by Capcom, Abu follows Aladdin throughout the early levels of the game. Notably, the game includes a pyramid level which Abu wanders into, so Aladdin has to find him in there. He finds Abu in the treasure room at the end of the level.
For certain levels of the game, the player would switch from Aladdin to Abu to complete a specific mission on the quest to defeat Jafar's evil sister, Nasira.
Along with many other characters from the film, Abu appears in a few installments of the Kingdom Hearts franchise. In the original game, Abu makes a minor appearance in Agrabah by Aladdin's side. He does, however, assist Sora and the others when they journey into the Cave of Wonders, activating the gem on several statues that Sora can't reach himself with the Keyblade.
Abu's role is expanded in Kingdom Hearts II, where Jafar's lamp is uncovered by a cheap peddler. Abu steals it from him to prevent Jafar's freedom, but Aladdin returns it, not realizing it was Jafar's lamp until a newly reformed Iago tells him otherwise. The friends then head to the peddler's shop to retrieve it but are forced to journey into the Cave of Wonders to find vast treasure in exchange for the lamp. Aladdin, Abu, and the others do so, but by the time they return, the lamp is stolen by Pete. After Pete's defeat and Jafar is sealed away, Abu and the others welcome Iago into the palace.
Abu appears once again in Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, where he was causing mischief in the marketplace, causing him to soon be scolded by Aladdin.
An unlocked costume of Abu is featured as a playable character in Disney Universe.
Abu is also seen in Disney INFINITY as rare power disc. He is a mount, due to the fact that he's in the elephant form.
An animatronic Abu can be seen before Aladdin's float in Mickey's Soundsational Parade.
Abu can also be seen in the Aladdin Enchanted Window display on Main Street, U.S.A..
Abu is one of the characters set to be part of Garden of the Twelve Friends at Shanghai Disneyland, representing the Chinese Zodiac symbol of the Monkey. A statue of Abu is additionally displayed in Aladdin's scene in Voyage to the Crystal Grotto. Abu is also represented along the wall of horseshoes in the Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure queue (Abu's inclusion references his brief transformation into a horse during the movie).
- "Abu" means "Father" and is an epithet for men in Arabic.
- Abu is the only significant character to be absent from the musical adaptation. His role is filled by Babkak, Omar, and Kassim, three street urchin friends of Aladdin. He does, however, make a cameo appearance during "Prince Ali".
- Abu is Ancient Egyptian for "elephant". In the first movie, he gets turned into an elephant. He gets turned into an elephant again in the episode "Web of Fear".
- The artists studied movements of Capuchin monkeys at the Los Angeles Zoo to help design Abu.
- When a screening of Aladdin was shown to the director, Steven Spielberg, Spielberg said he enjoyed Abu's character, as he felt the character helped balance the tone of the movie whenever it got too dark or serious.
- Abu's origins in A Whole New World (A Twisted Tale) differs from the basic premise featured in previous books and the television series; here, he was a gift to Aladdin from his mother.