Otherwise Known As: King of the Jungle (By the Vultures)
Premiered in: Jungle Book (1967)
Voiced By: George Sanders
Shere Khan is, quite easily, my favorite non-human Disney Villain. Admittedly, a good number of Disney Villains are human/humanoid but still, my point stands that, as far as the animal kingdom is concerned, Shere Khan is truly King of the Jungle. Why, Shere Khan is one of the few villains that I can honestly see myself getting along with as far as casual conversation is concerned. With cast iron bars between us of course but really, aside from his rational fear/hatred of man, Shere Khan is not really as evil as most make him out to be. Sure, he hates Mowgli and fears what he may eventually grow up into but considering that Shere Khan is of a species that is even to this day, heavily hunted and in the red zone of endangered species, I think he’s quite justified in trying to rid the jungle of its only human resident.
That’s actually Shere Khan’s one and only motivation throughout The Jungle Book and he does it surprisingly well. Sure, it took him a while and being tricked by a certain hypnotic serpent by name of Kaa but Shere Khan did eventually catch up to Mowgli. What’s rather surprising was that he even offered the boy the sporting chance of being allowed to run when the lad impressed Shere Khan with his, admittedly rather stupid, spirit. True, he did say that it made it more fun for him but considering that Shere Khan hates man so much as to have it italicized when written down, well, you’d expect him to do everything but give Mowgli the chance to run/defend himself.
As far as minions go, Shere Khan has no need of them. The closest thing he has to a minion is a mutual acquaintance, the python Kaa. The two of them respect each other but it’s easily evident that Shere Khan holds himself higher on the food chain than Kaa as he is the only one to be immune to Kaa’s hypnosis. Something that puts the snake into quite the nervous twitter the likes of which is both amusing and sad at the same time to watch as he tries to make his excuses and slither away at the first chance.
In the end, following in the tide of most Disney Villains as of late, Shere Khan suffers a humiliating defeat at the hands of Mowgli who ties a burning branch upon his tail. Of course, Mowgli would not have had the chance to do this is he hadn’t had the help of the Vultures and Baloo but that’s neither here nor there. Though I refuse to speak of the sequel I shall say this, had The Jungle Book 2 done well enough and the third film had been made, there were plans to not only “redeem” Shere Khan but to actually make him and Mowgli friends. Yeah, thank goodness that didn’t happen. Shere Khan getting along with a human? Why, that’s like saying he and all the other Jungle Book characters hung out as cubs.
Technically speaking, Shere Khan has the most diverse interpretations of his character out of all the Disney Villains. In the cartoon series “prequel” Jungle Cubs, he’s a rough-around-the-edges kind of cub who boasts of his wickedness at every opportunity but is surprisingly loyal to his friends and those he cares about. In the animated series spin-off TaleSpin, he’s a businessman whose wealth is only outmatched by his ruthlessness when it comes to running smaller business down into the ground though he does show a surprising amount of respect towards those he deems worthy of it. Lastly, in the live action remake of The Jungle Book, Shere Khan is made into a freaking anti-hero insomuch that he is a defender of the jungle, killing any and all who break its laws especially any humans who dare to harm those under his protection. Heck, he even goes so far as to freaking avenge Baloo after the poor bear had gotten shot, though that honor ended up going to Kaa.
But that’s a tale for another day so let us continue on to the next generation of films, and boy, it’s a doozy. For now, with Walt Disney’s death, we leave the Golden Age of Disney Animation and descend into what is unanimously labeled as The Dark Ages. For the next few films, villainy takes a severe nosedive.