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Review of The Jungle Book: The Mowgli Stories from Audible Studios

You may know the Disney classic in all its tuneful color. And you may have watched the 2016 live action remake, tuned down and actioned up. ...

You may know the Disney classic in all its tuneful color. And you may have watched the 2016 live action remake, tuned down and actioned up. You might even be familiar with other media incarnations, of which there are many. But the real question is: have you tasted the classic Jungle Book adventure stories from the pen of the author – Rudyard Kipling himself? I hadn’t, so I decided to check out Audible Studio’s 2016 audio drama production The Jungle Book: The Mowgli Stories in hopes that I would get a taste of the original story while enjoying a great audio drama.


On entering this retelling of Rudyard Kipling’s classic tale, I found myself in a world far removed from Disney’s happy jungle of singing animals. This is a world of “talon and tusk and claw” - and the story that takes place here is deeper than a fun jungle adventure. In Disney’s rendering, we feel darker themes hiding in the shadows. But in this audio adaptation, we see them come into full view. Little boy Mowgli – raised in the jungle by wolves from birth – has his fun as a child, guarded by the warmly majestic black panther Bagheera and taught by the lovably stern Baloo the bear. He swims in the rivers, learns how to hunt like an animal and follow the jungle law, and has many jungle escapades. But as he grows into a man, he is tossed into a life or death struggle with the man-eating tiger Shere Khan. Worse, he finds himself an outcast – both of the animal kingdom and the world of men. Trapped between two worlds, and hunted by a vengeful tiger, the wolf-boy Mowgli is forced to make his own path through the jungle.

This Audie Award winning audio production chronicles Mowgli’s journey in nine 15-20 minute episodes. These chapters of Mowgli’s life were originally scattered out of order as short stories throughout the first and second Jungle Books, but are here reassembled and woven together, taking the listener on one continuous up-down ride through the wolf-boy’s jungle adventures. The ride is slow at times - Kipling’s classic tale isn’t exactly a page turner - but the jungle setting, wild characters, and brain-scratcher themes make it a worthwhile journey.

Richard E. Grant, voice of Kaa
Image: https://www.richard-e-grant.com/
The story is breathed to life by a sturdy narrator and an ensemble of excellent British and Indian actors. Especially stand out was Colin Salmon’s warm and stately performance as Bagheera and Richard E Grant’s slippery but friendly portrayal of Kaa. But even with such a great cast, some acting disappointments hit along the way. Lizzy Waterworth-Santo did a competent job as young Mowgli, but I guessed pretty quickly that the voice did not belong to a young boy. There were also some moments of weird voice work – including attempts to mimic natural animal sounds. These rarely came off without a cringe on my part.

But despite its faux-animal noise cringiness, this drama also uses real animal sounds in its sound design to immerse the listener in an exotic soundscape – making the jungle atmosphere tangible. The ethnic score adds to this effect. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the sound design overall. The voices sound too close – not grounded in the jungle world beyond. I did not feel as though I was hearing animals interact in the jungle, but rather that I was listening to voice actors pretend to be animals into microphones. No matter how wonderful the voice work itself, I did not feel like it was attached to living, breathing creatures. This is not to say that the sound design is bad – it is blue-sky clear and uses background noises to create an immersive jungle soundscape – but it lacks the three-dimensional depth that we find in world class dramas like those from Radio Theatre and BBC. (And speaking of that bastion of British media, they have their own audio drama version of the Jungle Book, though I cannot vouch for it having not given it a listen.)

Colin Salmon, voice of Bagheera, in the studio

I enjoyed this audio adaptation of Kipling’s classic story, so when I finished listening, I decided to read some of the Mowgli stories for myself. I was pleased to find that Audible’s adaptation compares very favorably. Some characters are swapped out for others, narration is condensed, dialogue is shortened – but even so, this drama faithfully follows the prose, dialogue, characters, storyline, and themes of the original. Listeners will hear Kipling’s narrative voice, get to know his characters, be pulled along on Mowgli’s journey, and uncover provoking themes. Despite its mediocre sound design and some cringe acting moments, The Jungle Book: The Mowgli Stories gives listeners a full-orbed taste of Kipling’s storytelling performed by great actors to the tune of an exotic jungle atmosphere.

What Parents Should Know:
Parents may want to know that this audio drama does contain a good bit of animal violence. If you have seen Disney’s live action Jungle Book, that about does it justice. Vast hordes of small animals get eaten (though we leave the scene before this actually occurs). One animal gets trampled to death. However, this story does not glorify violence. At one point, Mowgli says, “I will never kill, save for food.” As to other possible content issues: one scene involves some of our protagonists telling a “white lie” to convince another character to help them. But, on the whole, this drama should be safe for the entire family – given a few caveats for younger children who may be frightened of animal violence.

Behind the Scenes of Audible's The Jungle Book



This audio drama is included with a subscription to Audible Plus and is available for purchase at Audible.com. If you get a hankering for more, you can always listen to the unabridged Mowgli Stories and the full Jungle Book (Book 1 and Book 2) for FREE over at Librivox, read aloud by volunteers. Or, if its more audio drama you want, check out this article by my fellow ATC contributor Robert Thacker reviewing LifeHouse Theater-on-the-Air's adaptation of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi - one of the Jungle Book's more famous tales. And if you really want to nerd out, you could even read “In the Rukh” – the last of the Mowgli stories, but which Kipling wrote first. This story is not included in the audio drama, and the author himself excluded it from his classic book, explaining that it “is a story for grown-ups” and publishing it elsewhere.


Besides being an audio drama junky, Joah Pearson is a son, older sibling to 8, aspiring content communicator, and big-time consumer of pizza, podcasts, books, movies, and Gra
y Havens music. At bottom, though, he is a junkyard being gloriously overhauled by King Jesus. He lives in Georgia and posts stuff at kingsrecorder.wordpress.com

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