As I go through this process of enumerating awesome Disney villains, I realize how many Disney movies I either never saw or simply didn’t like. The Jungle Book falls into the latter. I ain’t like this one.
The Jungle Book is based on Rudyard Kipling’s stories and tells the story of Mowgli, an abandoned boy raised in an Indian jungle by wolves. Now, I’m not going to even focus on similarities between the Jungle Book and Tarzan; I think they’re two different ideas and two very different stories that both begin with a human baby raised in an exceptionally hostile environment by a group of animals. That’s about it.
In the Jungle Book movie, Mowgli has wolves for brothers, a bear for a friend (there are bears in the jungle? Seriously?), and a black panther as a mentor. I mean, who doesn’t? Besides, this isn’t about Mowgli; this is about the awesome villain of the story, the tiger, Shere Khan.
I automatically like anybody whose name is Khan, and Shere Khan is as sexy as Ricardo Montalban. My man is truly a force to be reckoned with: he moves around the jungle as its resident monarch, is fearless (except for a couple things, which we’ll talk about soon), and is immune to the effects of the only other predator in the movie. Shere Khan is kinda raw.
Let’s break this one down a little. Yes, the jungle is scared of Shere Khan, and they should be. Have you ever seen a tiger? I know we like to think lions are awesome and best predators but check out tigers. They hunt alone (lions don’t), they swim proficiently (lions don’t, at least not often), and have a long and storied history of eating people. Tigers are no joke. The animals in the Jungle Book are not only scared of Shere Khan because of what he is, but they’re also scared FOR Mowgli because they know he’ll be a hot pocket if Shere Khan catches him.
Shere Khan has two real and rational fears: guns and fire. The only things that will kill him. He hates Mowgli because the boy represents both things Shere Khan fears. This idea makes you look at the tiger a little differently: he has a reason for his villainy. He actually has a couple. First, the law of the jungle is a survival of the fittest. That a bunch of wolves took in a human baby and a bear and a panther protect violates that order. When Baloo tries to protect Mowgli, Shere Khan damn near kills him for it. Second, human beings are the authors of the destruction of their environments and the wholesale slaughter of tigers worldwide. Shere Khan has a reason to be mad.
Like Magneto and Hades, Shere Khan has a rationale for what he does. Mowgli, by his very nature, represents a real threat to the social and physical order of the jungle. The protagonist of the story is the real villain, no matter how Kipling or Disney spin it. Shere Khan is doing what tigers do, being what tigers are. That he tries to kill both Mowgli and the animals that protect him is not only warranted, it’s expected. It’s right.
We have one more villain to go out in Day One of the Mad, Mad Weekend: Yzma, from The Emperor’s New Groove.