- “Nonsense, Winifred, old girl. An elephant never forgets.”
- ―Hathi to his mate
At some point in the past, Hathi was a tame elephant, as he recalls fighting in the Maharajah's 5th Pachyderm Brigade. During his time with the brigade, Hathi was awarded the Victoria Cross, for bravery above and beyond the call of duty. At some point, he was released back into the wild where overtime, he built up a contempt for mankind.
Colonel Hathi is the leader of a herd of Indian elephants, which he runs similarly to a military squadron. Every day from dawn, Hathi has his unwilling herd march all over the jungle. However, his strict orders and constant marching sometimes cause members to consider a "transfer to another herd". Hathi also has a mate called Winifred and a calf called Hathi, Jr., with both appearing to be part of the army.
Hathi is portrayed as a pompous, buffoonish, stereotypical British soldier who is not too bright. Hathi can be petty at times, criticizing one elephant for having dust in his trunk and another for smiling too widely. He also refuses to help search for Mowgli as it would interfere with his marching. Hathi believes himself to have an excellent memory, despite his frequent forgetfulness. Later on he is destructive, crushing trees the second time he and the Jungle Patrol sing their song again. However, despite his strict orders he seems quite charismatic and gets command of the Jungle Patrol.
Hathi first appears when he and his troops are marching. Mowgli, a "man-cub" wakes up when he feels the tree shake and hears chanting. Mowgli marches with them for a while until Hathi conducts an inspection. He is surprised when he discovers Mowgli is a man-cub due to his resentment towards humans. Bagheera calms Hathi down by assuring him that he is bringing Mowgli to the Man Village.
Hathi reappears when his marching disturbs Shere Khan's hunting. Bagheera goes to Hathi and asks his help in looking for Mowgli. Hathi at first refuses, but changes his mind when Winifred threatens to take over command and Junior begs him to look for Mowgli. Hathi organizes the herd into a search party which then marches into the deep jungle, knocking over every tree in their path.
Hathi doesn't appear again, but it's very likely at some point, Bagheera told them Mowgli was safe in the Man Village and that they could stop looking.
Hathi and his troop appear when Bagheera calls for "Plan B" to stop Baloo from going to the Man Village. They corner him on a log where he jumps into the water. The other elephants search for Baloo. During this, Hathi walks onto the log and it breaks under his weight. A few moments later, Baloo escapes. Later, Hathi and the other elephants are seen stampeding into a cave with Bagheera saying, "Oh, no, not again!" As the elephants crash, Hathi tells Bagheera that man was in the jungle. After Bagheera finds out what he's looking for, Hathi doesn't appear for the rest of the movie.
Hathi appeared as a young elephant in the spin-off series, Jungle Cubs, voiced by Rob Paulsen in the first season and Stephen Furst in the second. He is shown to be friendly with the other cubs Baloo, Bagheera, Kaa, Shere Khan, and Prince Louie. He usually attempts to keep order but is known to stammer when stressed. Early in the show, he meets his future mate, Winifred, and later develops a crush on her. He also has a habit of mixing up his words throughout the show.
During the second season, while still being friends with the rest of the cubs, Hathi begins to spend more time with Winifred and, additionally, becomes slightly bigger by stature and has lighter skin.
In Jungle Cubs: Born to Be Wild DVD, Hathi, as an adult, was in the field when Mowgli, Baloo, and Bagheera were traveling to the Man Village.
Hathi appears playing a similar role as he did in the film. Here, Junior wishes to have Mowgli join the Jungle Patrol ranks. To test, Hathi challenges Mowgli to a dance-off.
In Kinect: Disneyland Adventures, Colonel Hathi is briefly mentioned by Mowgli but not seen.
Surprisingly, Colonel Hathi did make appearances in the parks in the past. He was a meetable character and was seen in some parades. Hathi has since retired and only comes out on special occasions.
Colonel Hathi also has a spell card known as "Colonel Hathi's Righteous Stomp" in the attraction Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom.
Differences from the source material
- In the original novel by Rudyard Kipling, Hathi was actually an old elephant and the de facto ruler of the jungle. He hated humans as a result of him being severely injured by a spike trap he fell into when he was young, although he did tolerate Mowgli to an extent. When the villagers cast Mowgli out, believing him to be an evil sorcerer, and planned to execute Messua for caring for him, Mowgli convinced Hathi to help him destroy the village in order to save Messua. While in the Disney version, Hathi was depicted more comically but nevertheless shared his book counterpart's prejudice towards humans and was outraged by Mowgli's presence there.
- In the book, Hathi had three sons. In the Disney version, he had only one.
- Hathi's animation was used as a reference for animator Sergio Pablos when he animated Tantor in Tarzan.
- Hathi's name actually means "elephant" in Hindi.
- Although Hathi is supposed to be an Asian elephant, the book Disney Animals: The Essential Guide for some reason incorrectly claimed that Hathi was from Africa.
- Hathi's design was actually reused from that of Goliath I's from Goliath II.
- Hathi is the only character to break the fourth wall in the first Jungle Book film. He speaks directly to the audience when he mentions discipline, though it can be argued he may be speaking to his army (or to himself).
- Hathi is one of three Jungle Book characters to speak with an American accent as a child and an English accent as an adult. The other two being Bagheera and Shere Khan.
- Hathi appears scared when Winifred threatens him to take the lead of the herd herself: this is due to the fact that real life elephants have a matriarcal society, which makes Winifred's claim a legitimate one.
- Hathi is the only animal character that doesn't appear in the 1994 remake.
- Mowgli: "There's a parade? I gotta tell Colonel Hathi."