Jungle Book has become a familiar story: a boy (or “man-cub”) is abandoned in the jungle to be raised by wild animals, and as he grows older he must learn to navigate between the jungle he knows and the village of man, which is full of people who are just like him.

By Cindy Case

Disney Animation Mowgli
Mowgli and Baloo in one of their most familiar appearances.

Many of us were first introduced through Walt Disney’s 1967 adaptation, but Mowgli and his wild-animal friends have a history extending all the way back to when Rudyard Kipling first published the original stories in 1894. Kipling, born in Bombay and named for the lake where his parents first courted, spent the first six years of his life in India. The Jungle Book shows the strong impression those years made on him.

The loosely-connected stories have been popular for adaptation for many years—so popular that Disney has adapted it twice! The 1967 adaptation was the last film that Walt Disney supervised before his death, and was make-or-break for the future of Disney’s animation department. Fortunately for all of us, it was a huge box-office success. The 2016 remake saw a star-studded cast that included Bill Murray, Idris Elba, and Scarlett Johansson.

illustrations for both The Jungle Book in 1894
Rudyard Kipling’s father, John Lockwood Kipling, did the illustrations for both The Jungle Book in 1894 and The Second Jungle Book in 1895.

Filmmakers aren’t the only ones who’ve been inspired by The Jungle Book: In the 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein replaced the wolves who raise Mowgli with Martians, and contemporary author Neil Gaiman did the same thing with ghosts in 2008’s The Graveyard Book. Even a few ballet companies have gotten in on the action, though it’s still much less common than familiar story ballets like Sleeping Beauty and Giselle. This season, San Diego Ballet joins a small group of companies who have brought Kipling’s tale to the stage.

Shere Kan supports the sinuous Kaa
Did You Know? Many of the character names in Jungle Book come straight from the Hindi word for their animal. Here, Shere Kan supports the sinuous Kaa.

The San Diego Ballet version would not be the same without our Skip Martin jazz score. Martin, an American saxophonist, clarinetist, and music arranger, created a concept album called Scheherajazz in 1959, adapting Rimsky-Korsakov’s well-known symphonic suite. Martin’s version is at turns jazzy, sexy, and startlingly affecting, and effortlessly blends jazz rhythms for Mowgli and his pals with a symphonic sound drawn from Rimsky-Korsakov’s original. Our Jungle Book may be perfect for families, but jazz and classical music lovers of all ages will enjoy the sound and sensibility of this theater-going experience.