In a 19th century Indian village, the annual Festival of Lights, Diwali, is being celebrated with song and dance. Suddenly Shere Kahn the tiger bounds into the dancers' midst and singles out a woman named Messua and her baby Nathoo, who are the "easiest prey." Though the villagers try to protect her, Messua soon finds herself alone in the jungle. She hides her baby and defeats Shere Kahn by burning his paw with a torch. To her great grief, she realizes that while she was battling the tiger, a Mother Wolf had heard the baby's cries and carried him away for protection. A wounded Shere Kahn follows the baby's scent to Mother Wolf's cave and demands the child as retribution for his burnt paw. Mother Wolf refuses and calls on the pack to frighten Shere Kahn. He leaves, but vows revenge.

Ten years later the boy, renamed Mowgli, is a healthy child who is much loved by his adopted wolf family. One day, after a raucous lesson about Jungle Law with Baloo and Bagheera, a band of monkeys called the Bandar Log kidnap him. Baloo and Bagheera ask Kaa the Python for help. Kaa hypnotizes the Bandars and leads them away from Mowgli. Now free, Mowgli learns that Shere Kahn tricked Mother Wolf into a man-trap and is demanding that Mowgli fight him alone at the rock. On Baloo's council, Mowgli goes to the man-village to get fire.

Mowgli enters the village during the Festival of Diwali, and surprises the villagers in the middle of the celebration. His mother, Messua, instantly recognizes him. They find a way to communicate and she gives him a flame from her Diwali candle.

Defeated by the fire, Shere Kahn is put on trial. He is banished and Mowgli resolves to travel the world to warn all creatures of his evil heart.