In the jungles of India, in the 1890s, Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is an orphan boy raised by a wolf named Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) in a pack led by Akela (Giancarlo Esposito). He was brought to the pack by the black panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), who trains Mowgli to understand the ways of the wolves, but Mowgli finds it hard to keep up with his lupine brothers. Akela is disturbed when Mowgli does human things like using tools.
During the dry season, all the animals gather in a truce at the water hole, until a Bengal Tiger named Shere Khan (Idris Elba) detects Mowgli’s scent. Shere Khan bears the burns of an attack by humans and declares he will kill Mowgli at the end of the drought. Mowgli decides to leave for the safety of the pack and Bagheera volunteers to guide him to the man-village.
Shere Khan ambushes them on the way but Mowgli loses him in a buffalo stampede. Then he meets a huge python named Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), who hypnotizes him. He sees a vision of his father (Ritesh Rajan) being killed by Shere Khan. Kaa is prevented from swallowing Mowgli by a bear named Baloo (Bill Murray) who takes him away. Mowgli awakes and obtains honey for Baloo from a bees nest on a cliff, hard for a bear to climb, but easy for a young human. He decides to stay with Baloo until the winter. Meanwhile, Shere Khan kills Akela and harasses the pack, still trying to get at Mowgli.
Bagheera finds Mowgli and Baloo and is disturbed to find that Mowgli has not joined the humans, but Baloo calms him down. During the night, Mowgli finds a herd of elephants trying to get their baby out of a ditch, which Mowgli accomplishes with vines. Baloo and Bagheera are impressed, but Baloo realizes he cannot protect Mowgli from Shere Khan. He pushes Mowgli away to get him to join the humans.
Mowgli is kidnapped by a monkey-gang called the Bandar-Log, who take him before the huge and quite insane Gigantopithecus named King Louie (Christopher Walken). Believing that Mowgli has the human secret of making the red flower—fire—he offers Mowgli protection from Shere Khan. Baloo distracts King Louie and Bagheera attempts to sneak Mowgli out of the abandoned temple in which the pack lives. Chasing him through the temple, King Louie tells Mowgli of Akela’s death, but Mowgli doesn’t believe it. Eventually, the temple collapses and buries King Louie. Bagheera and Baloo confirm thar Shere Khan killed Akela.
Furious, Mowgli goes to confront Shere Khan. He steals a torch from the man-village and accidently starts a wildfire. He confronts Shere Khan, who says that Mowgli has thus made himself the enemy of the wolves. Mowgli throws the torch into the river, gaining their trust again. Baloo, Bagheera, and the wolf pack do what they can to head off Shere Khan to allow Mowgli to escape. Shere Khan follows Mowgli up a dead tree but a branch breaks beneath him and he falls into the fire. Mowgli shows the elephants how to divert the river and put out the fire. Raksha becomes the new leader of the pack. Mowgli stays in the jungle with Baloo and Bagheera.
The film was directed and produced by Jon Favreau, written by Justin Marks, based on Disney’s animated film of 1967, and Rudyard Kipling’s story of 1906, combining elements from both versions. It won visual effects awards at the Oscars, the Critics Choice Awards, and BAFTA. Favreau tried to recreate the buoyant spirit of the first film with realism and peril. The jungle is a dreamlike, magical place and the creatures were computer created but their features were inspired by those of the voice-actors. Jim Henson’s Creature shop created puppets for the actors to interact with to help them with the voice work. The film was what they call a sleeper hit and received 94% on Rotten Tomatoes.
One of the treasures in King Louis’ temple is the genie’s lamp from Aladdin. Neal Sethi got in the mood to play Mowgli by listen and dancing to Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars. When King Louie first appears, it is an homage to Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now (1979). Much of the music comes from the 1967 Jungle Book. Shere Khan bears a bit of a resemblance to Scar in The Lion King, also by Jon Favreau. The film is beautiful, exciting, funny, and deeply emotional. The collection of fine actors and the brilliant special effects bring the creatures to life.