- “I'm your mother. I know everything. Now, where have you been?”
- ―Kala to Tarzan
Kala is calm, gentle, kind, and loving. She loves her son Tarzan so unconditionally, although she said that she knew Tarzan wouldn't replace her firstborn son who was killed by Sabor. Although she is usually a gentle person, Kala is capable of aggression when necessary and is also very brave, like when she was fighting against the deadly leopard Sabor in order to protect the baby, Tarzan. Kala often disagreed with her mate Kerchak but despite this, they did love each other, and Kala was sad when Kerchak died.
- “She's beautiful!”
- ―Jane meets Kala for the first time
Kala is an adult, female gorilla with brown fur and brown eyes. Her skin, visible on her toes, the soles of her feet, fingers, the palms of her hands, face, and belly, is light tan in coloration.
In the movie, Kala is a member of a troop of gorillas and is the mate of Kerchak, the leader. At the beginning of the film, she has a son with Kerchak, but their baby is killed by a leopard. Devastated at the loss of their son, Kala sobs in Kerchak's arms as he comforts her.
A day later, Kala hears a crying baby. She follows the noise to a treehouse, where she discovers a human baby. Sabor suddenly appears and attempts to kill the baby, but she is stopped by Kala, who correctly assumes that Sabor killed the baby's parents (by noticing their dead bodies and Sabor's bloodied paw prints.), and takes the baby back to her home. Kerchak allows her to keep the baby after confirming that there were no other humans around but notes that the baby will never replace the one they lost. When Kala tells Kerchak that she knows the baby will be a good son, Kerchak sternly says 'I said he could stay. That doesn't make him my son'. She is hurt when Kerchak refuses to accept the baby as his son. Kala chooses to name her new son Tarzan.
Tarzan grows into a young boy but is aware that there are differences between him and the other gorillas. One day, while playing with Kala's niece, Terk, Tarzan unintentionally causes a stampede of elephants. The stampede runs through the gorilla nests, putting a baby gorilla in danger. Kerchak is angered and berates Kala for defending him. Kerchak tells Tarzan that he will never be one of the gorillas, which hurts Tarzan. However, Kala consoles Tarzan by telling him that he is the same as them because their hearts are the same. Inspired, Tarzan vows to be the best ape ever, and she playfully responds by tickling him all over.
Tarzan improves himself, and as an adult kills Sabor, which makes Kala and the other gorillas very happy. Later on, Kala rushes off to find that Tarzan is with another group of humans who have come to the jungle. Kala, along with Kerchak, escorts Tarzan away. Kala asks Tarzan to listen to Kerchak's warning to stay away from the humans, but Tarzan gets angry with Kala and asks her why she never told him that there were creatures who looked like him (this is the only time in the Tarzan-franchise where Tarzan's actually mad at Kala for something).
Later on, Tarzan brings the humans: Jane Porter and her father, who have come to study the gorillas and meet them. Kala is afraid of them at first but accepts them after seeing Jane play with some baby gorillas. Kala is surprised when Tarzan teaches Jane to speak the gorilla language and wants her to stay with him. However, Kerchak arrives and attempts to attack the humans, but Tarzan holds him off. Kerchak then berates Tarzan for betraying the gorillas and disowns him. In response, Kala reveals to Tarzan the treehouse she found him in as a baby. Kala shows Tarzan the picture of his birth parents and tells him that she wants him to be happy wherever he decides to go. Before Tarzan leaves, however, he tells Kala no matter where he goes, she would always be his mother. In tears, Kala replies back that he would always be in her heart.
Tarzan chooses to go to London with Jane, whom he has come to love, and he sadly says goodbye to Kala, reassuring her that she will always be his mother. After he leaves, Kala, along with the other gorillas, is captured by Clayton, who had secretly intended to capture the gorillas to sell. However, Tarzan soon arrives, and with assistance from Jane, Mr. Porter, Terk, Tantor, and others rescue Kala and the gorillas and defeat Clayton. Unfortunately, Kerchak is shot by Clayton during the fight and is fatally wounded. As he dies, Kerchak apologizes and accepts Tarzan as his successor. Tarzan chooses to stay in the jungle, alongside his gorilla family. Jane and her father also stay and are accepted by Kala and the other gorillas. The final scene shows Kala receiving flowers from Jane and Tarzan.
The midquel, Tarzan II, goes in-depth into Tarzan's childhood. One night, at bedtime, before and after explaining to Tarzan about how different certain families can be, she ticklishly plays with his toes. An accident leads Kala to assume that Tarzan had died, and this news devastates her. Later on, she learns that Tarzan has survived but has run away, as he had overheard some gorillas talking about how glad they were that he was gone. Kala goes on a journey to find him. She finds Tarzan at the home of Mama Gunda, another female ape. Kala is able to convince Tarzan to come home, but she is attacked by Gunda's son Kago. Thankfully, Tarzan is able to rescue her, which helps Tarzan to realize that he is part of the family, Kala then returns home with Tarzan.
Kala has no prominent storyline or even lines of dialogue in Tarzan & Jane, but appears at the end of the film during the celebration of Tarzan and Jane's first anniversary.
In the series, The Legend of Tarzan, Kala serves as an advisor to Tarzan. A sympathetic ear when Tarzan needs someone wise to talk to, Kala acts as the voice of the apes, always reminding Tarzan of his unique obligations to the family. Despite Kerchak's death, she is highly respected for her wisdom. She is also Jane's closest confidant. The two share a warm, strong bond, and Jane regards her mother-in-law as her only kindred spirit in the jungle. From Kala's point of view, Jane is the human daughter she never had.
Kala has a minor role in the game, staying by Kerchak's side while Tarzan asks them to trust Jane, Sora, Donald, and Goofy. Later, Kala is captured by Clayton and the Heartless but is saved by Sora and Tarzan. She never speaks any lines.
In 2013, Kala made her first appearance as a walk-around character during the Florida portion of the Disney Dreamers Everywhere! event.
- In the original novels, Kala was the mate of Tublat, not Kerchak who was more violent and also responsible for the death of Tarzan's father and Kala's son instead of Sabor in the film (Tarzan's mother died of natural causes in the books). Kala was killed by a native hunter, who, in turn, was killed by Tarzan for revenge whereas she is still alive in the film.
- Sigourney Weaver was considered for Kala before Glenn Close was cast.