A human child raised by wolves must face off against a menacing tiger named Shere Khan, as well as his own origins.
Shere Khan (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) begins slaughtering all humans living near the jungle. The panther Bagheera (voiced by Christian Bale) saves a human child named Mowgli as Shere Khan slaughters Mowgli’s parents. Bagheera, who is a member of a wolf pack, brings Mowgli to the wolf couple Nisha (voiced by Naomie Harris) and Vihaan (voiced by Eddie Marsan) who have just had a litter of cubs. Nisha and Vihaan ask the pack to adopt Mowgli as one of their own. Although debate is intense, pack leader Akela (voiced by Peter Mullan) convinces the pack to raise the “man cub.”
Time passes. Although some of the wolves accept the now teenaged Mowgli (Rohan Chand), most of the wolves still mock him as an outsider and freak. His best friend besides Bagheera is an albino wolf named Bhoot (voiced by Louis Ashbourne Serkis) who is also largely ostracized by the pack. Mowgli and the other young wolves receive training from another adopted pack member, a bear named Baloo (voiced by Andy Serkis). They are preparing to enter into an annual right of passage that, if they pass, allows them to hunt with the pack. Shere Khan returns to the jungle and threatens to attack the pack if they don’t give him Mowgli. Many wolves wish to accede to Shere Khan’s demands, but Akela convinces them to let Mowgli complete the right of passage to earn his spot amongst the wolves. The rite requires that all the wolves (and Mowgli) evade Bagheera’s pursuit. Baloo begins giving Mowgli extra training sessions and encourages to use his human traits to his benefit (such as swinging from trees and running on two legs).
Meanwhile, a nearby village hires a hunter named Lockwood (Matthew Rhys) to track and kill Shere Khan (who is brutally murdering their cattle). Mowgli observes the villagers, and one day witnesses fire burn one of Shere Khan’s minions.
Bagheera becomes convinced that the only way to truly protect Mowgli is to force him out of the jungle. The rite of passage begins and Mowgli not only manages to evade Bagheera’s initial attack, but takes the lead to cross the finish line first. Just before Mowgli reaches the end, Bagheera pounces on him, causing Mowgli to fail the test. It is clear that Bagheera specifically chose to take out Mowgli as he could just as easily have taken out any of the other wolves sprinting to the finish.
Mowgli runs angrily into the jungle and is captured by a group of monkeys that bring him to Shere Khan. The tiger approaches Mowgli and fights with Baloo and Bagheera when show up to rescue the boy. Mowgli is only rescued when the ancient giant python Kaa (voiced by Cate Blanchett) intervenes. Kaa explains that she has foreseen a future where Mowgli will speak before man and animal and saved him so she can witness what he will do. Angry at his failures and being captured, Mowgli later calls Bhoot a freak and causes Bhoot to run away in sadness. That night, Shere Khan convinces members of the wolf pack to challenge Akela for pack leader. Realizing Akela will ultimately be killed in he challenge, Mowgli grabs fire and uses it to end the challenge and chase away Shere Khan. Embarrassed by Mowgli interrupting the challenge and using man’s fire against the pack, Akela banishes Mowgli.
Mowgli is eventually captured by the local villagers. Ultimately, he comes to love being in their village, bonding with Lockwood and a mother-like figure named Messua (Freida Pinto). Lockwood asks Mowgli to join him in hunting Shere Khan, while one of Mowgli’s wolf brothers asks Mowgli to return as Shere Khan eventually deposed Akela and is wreaking havoc in the forest. Mowgli refuses to return to the jungle and seemingly embraces the life of the village. One night, however, Mowgli ventures into Lockwood’s personal quarters and learns that Lockwood is really a sport hunter (the laws of the Jungle state that any hunter for sport – like Shere Khan and now Lockwood – are the worst type of people as all life is sacred and shouldn’t be cavalierly taken). Amongst Lockwood’s trophy collection is a tusk from an ancient elephant residing in the jungle…. and Bhoot (likely killed after running away due to Mowgli’s insult). Mowgli weeps at the fate of his friend.
After much thought, Mowgli returns to the jungle. He tells the elephants he knows who took their leader’s tusk and they agree to help him fight Shere Khan. In exchange, Mowgli will deliver Lockwood to them. Mowgli also asks Akela (who still resides over a small group of loyal pack members, including Mowgli’s wolf parents and brothers, Baloo and Bagheera) for help, but is rebuffed.
Mowgli calls out Shere Khan at the edge of the village. The tiger arrives and is attacked by the elephants. The commotion attracts the villagers and Lockwood, who grabs his gun to try and shoot Shere Khan. Mowgli (armed with a knife) corners Shere Khan amongst the elephants and attacks him honorably in hand-to-paw combat (whereas Lockwood maintains his distance and shoots at Shere Khan with his gun). Shere Khan is fatally stabbed by Mowgli, but manages to pin the boy down. Before Shere Khan can deliver a killing blow, Akela and his pack attack and drive Shere Khan away. Akela is killed in the struggle, but not before apologizing to Mowgli. Lockwood takes aim at the animals, but is trampled by the elephants before he can fire. Mowgli then tracks Shere Khan into the jungle and honors the tiger’s spirit as Shere Khan dies. The villagers and jungle animals (including Kaa), having witnessed the struggle, realize that Mowgli now rules the jungle for both man and beast. Kaa narrates that so long as Mowgli lived, he ruled as king of the jungle and maintained peace between man and animal his entire life.
The film opens with a group of humans fleeing the fearsome tiger with a lame paw named Shere Khan (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). The panther Bagheera (voiced by Christian Bale) witnesses Shere Khan’s slaughter and finds and rescues a baby boy, a “man cub” named Mowgli (played by Nirvayesh Chakravorty Thanendra and Adiyan Ahmed Choudhury), from Shere Khan’s wrath. Bagheera carries Mowgli to a wolf couple named Nisha (voiced by Naomie Harris) and Vihaan (voiced by Eddie Marsan) who have just given birth to a litter of pups. The couple decide to adopt Mowgli and present their proposal to the pack for approval. Though many of the pack members object, pack leader Akela (voiced by Peter Mullan) allows the pair to keep and raise the man cub. Shere Khan’s lackey, a hyena named Tabaqui (Tom Hollander) reports these events back to Shere Khan.
Some time later, Mowgli (now portrayed by Rohan Chand) continues to live amongst the wolves. Bagheera and a bear named Baloo (voiced by Andy Serkis) appear to be honorary pack members. Baloo trains the young wolves for a rite of passage they must pass to become full-fledged members of the pack. Bagheera shares a brother-like bond with Mowgli, and Baloo does his best to train Mowgli in the ways of the pack. Although many in the pack regard Mowgli as a freak, he is loved by his wolf parents, his wolf Brother (voiced by Jack Reynor), and an albino wolf named Bhoot (voiced by Louis Ashbourne Serkis) who is also considered a freak. Mowgli trains hard to be a wolf, but is clearly slower and weaker.
Shere Khan’s return to the jungle is signified when he leaves a slaughtered bull just outside the pack’s home. In killing humans and their cattle, Shere Khan violates the sacred law of the jungle that no one is to be killed for sport. Bagheera explains to Mowgli that while hunting is essential, the hunter should always respect the soul of its prey and watch them die so that the prey does not die alone. Akeela states that with Shere Khan threatening the pack due to their protection of Mowgli, it is essential that Mowgli pass the rite of passage (which no wolf has ever failed).
Baloo gives additional training to Mowgli, and has Mowgli embrace his human traits (such as Mowgli’s ability to swing through trees). While running through the jungle, Mowgli falls into a pit trap set by a hunter. An ancient elephant with a broken tusk helps Mowgli out of the pit. Meanwhile, the villagers living next to the forest hire a hunter named Lockwood (Matthew Rhys) to find and kill Shere Khan who continues to attack them and their crops. Baloo and Bagheera also argue over whether it is right to keep Mowgli in the jungle. Baloo argues the jungle is Mowgli’s home, while Bagheera says that the jungle is far too dangerous for Mowgli. Meanwhile, Mowgli observes Tabaqui get burned by fire at the nearby village and realizes all animals fear man’s fire.
The rite of passage arrives that requires the wolf cubs such as Brother (and Mowgli) to race to a certain point without Bagheera catching them. The rite begins and Mowgli begins using his human attributes (jumping in the trees and running on two legs) to excel. Mowgli evades an initial attack from Bagheera and even takes the lead in the race. The finish line is in sight with Mowgli about to cross it when Bagheera pounces on him (notably singling him out as Bagheera could easily have pounced on any of the wolves behind Mowgli). Mowgli thus is the first to fail the rite of passage and his failure increases the tension amongst the pack. Bagheera and Baloo fight as Baloo realizes Bagheera purposefully ensured that Mowgli fail the test in hopes that Mowgli would leave the jungle.
Bhoot watches as Mowgli is captured by monkeys (who have no respect for the laws of the jungle) and alerts Bagheera and Baloo to the situation. The pair stop fighting and run after Mowgli. The monkeys deliver Mowgli to Shere Khan, who claws his arm. Though Shere Khan says he wants to spare Mowgli for now so that more discord can spread through the pack, his bloodlust takes over and he goes to “taste” Mowgli. Baloo and Bagheera arrive and try to fight of Shere Khan and the monkeys. The pair are overwhelmed when the ancient giant python Kaa (voiced by Cate Blanchett) appears and rescues Mowgli.
The man cub is returned to his pack, angry at Bagheera’s seeming betrayal and his own failure. When Bhoot tries to comfort Mowgli, the boy loses his temper and calls Bhoot a freak. Bhoot runs off into the jungle before Mowgli can apologize. Mowgli then seeks out Kaa and asks why she saved him. Kaa responds it was because she foresees a time that Mowgli will speak to the world of man and beast, and she wants to know what he will say.
That night, encouraged by Shere Khan, a group of pack members challenge Akela’s leadership. Although Akela fends off the first few attackers, Mowgli realizes that eventually, Akela will fall. Mowgli runs to the village, steals some fire, and returns to the pack where he interrupts the challenge and uses the fire to chase off Shere Khan and fend off the challengers. Disgraced by Mowgli’s actions in using man’s weapon against the pack (and not allowing the challenge to be finished), Akela banishes Mowgli. The boy is eventually found and caged by the villagers.
Bagheera visits Mowgli and rebuffs the boy’s request that Bagheera rescue him. Bagheera explains that he used to be a pet panther and eventually came to enjoy his domestication. The panther tearfully says Mowgli will also grow to love humans and departs for the jungle. Eventually, Bagheera’s prediction comes to pass as Mowgli is slowly integrated into the village. He becomes especially close to the hunter Lockwood and a motherly figure named Messua (Freida Pinto). One day, Brother approaches Mowgli and asks him for help. Brother explains that Shere Khan took over the pack and banished Akela and those (like Brother, Bagheera, Baloo, and Mowgli’s parents) who were loyal to Akela. Mowgli says he will not help as the pack abandoned him.
One night, Lockwood gets drunk and Mowgli helps him to his tent. Therein, Mowgli discovers that Lockwood is a trophy/sport hunter. In his tent, Mowgli finds the tusk of the ancient elephant (that Lockwood shot off) and a stuffed Bhoot (implying Lockwood found and killed Bhoot after Mowgli caused him to run off). Mowgli cries that he has been betrayed by man and animal alike (and his culpability in Bhoot’s death). He then grabs the tusk and runs into the jungle.
Mowgli approaches the elephant and returns its tusk. He strikes a deal that if the elephants help him face Shere Khan, he will ensure that the elephant can take revenge against Lockwood. Mowgli approaches Akela and his followers and asks for their help too. Akela, still angered, refuses.
The next day, Mowgli calls out Shere Khan at the edge of the jungle near the human village. Shere Khan arrives and is ambushed and beaten up by the elephants as Mowgli approaches with a knife. When Akela’s followers hear the commotion, they change their minds and run to assist Mowgli. The villagers also gather to watch the battle, with Lockwood shooting at Shere Khan (and in so doing, injuring Mowgli). Kaa also observes, as this is the moment she had foretold. During the fight, Mowgli manages to fatally wound Shere Khan. Being in close range, however, Shere Khan pins Mowgli and almost kills him when Akela intervenes. Akela is fatally wounded, but forgives Mowgli before he passes. The elephants also stampede and crush Lockwood to death.
Mowgli follows the trail of Shere Khan’s blood into the jungle. He honors Shere Khan by looking him in the eyes as he dies. Having defeated the tiger and Lockwood in front of both humans and animals, Mowgli rides the elephants back into the jungle. The humans and animals accept Mowgli as the king of the jungle as he returns to where his pack lives. Kaa narrates that for as long as Mowgli lived, he ensured peace in the jungle between man and beast.