Mowgli, a young orphan boy, is found in a basket in the deep jungles of India by Bagheera, a black panther who promptly takes him to a mother wolf who has just had cubs. She raises him along with her own cubs and the man cub soon becomes well acquainted with jungle life. The man cub is shown ten years later, playing with his wolf siblings.
One night, when the wolf tribe learns that an elderly human named Shere Khan is taking a hunting trip to the jungle, they realize that Mowgli must be taken to the "Man-Village" for his own safety. Bagheera volunteers to escort him back. They leave that very night, but Mowgli is determined to stay in the jungle. He and Bagheera rest in a tree for the night, where Kaa, a hungry python who was hired by Shere Khan to kill Mowgli, tries to devour the man cub, but Bagheera intervenes. The next morning, Mowgli tries to join the elephant patrol led by Colonel Hathi and his wife Winifred. Bagheera finds Mowgli, but after a fight decides to leave the man cub on his own. Mowgli soon meets up with the laid-back, fun-loving bear Baloo, who promises to raise Mowgli himself and never take him back to the Man-Village.
Shortly afterwards, a group of monkeys kidnap Mowgli and take him to their leader, King Louie the orangutan. King Louie offers to help Mowgli stay in the jungle if he will tell Louie how to make fire like other humans. However, since he was not raised by humans, Mowgli does not know how to make fire. Bagheera and Baloo arrive to rescue Mowgli and in the ensuing chaos, King Louie's palace is demolished to rubble. Bagheera speaks to Baloo that night and convinces him that the jungle will never be safe for Mowgli so long as Shere Khan is there. In the morning, Baloo reluctantly explains to Mowgli that the Man-Village is best for the boy, but Mowgli accuses him of breaking his promise and runs away. As Baloo sets off in search of Mowgli, Bagheera rallies the help of Hathi and his patrol. However, Shere Khan who is revealed to be a Bengal tiger, who was eavesdropping on Bagheera and Hathi's conversation, is now determined to hunt and kill Mowgli himself.
Meanwhile, Mowgli has encountered Kaa once again, but thanks to the unwitting intervention of the suspicious Shere Khan, Mowgli escapes. As a storm gathers, a depressed Mowgli encounters a group of friendly vultures who accept Mowgli as a fellow outcast. Shere Khan appears shortly after, scaring off the vultures and confronting Mowgli. Baloo rushes to the rescue and tries to keep Shere Khan away from Mowgli, but is injured. When lightning strikes a nearby tree and sets it ablaze, the vultures swoop in to distract Shere Khan while Mowgli gathers flaming branches and ties them to Shere Khan's tail. Terrified of fire, the tiger panics and runs off.
Bagheera and Baloo take Mowgli to the edge of the Man-Village, but Mowgli is still hesitant to go there. His mind soon changes when he is smitten by a beautiful young girl from the village who is coming down by the riverside to fetch water. After noticing Mowgli, she "accidentally" drops her water pot. Mowgli retrieves it for her and follows her into the Man-Village. After Mowgli chooses to stay in the Man-Village, Baloo and Bagheera decide to head home, content that Mowgli is safe and happy with his own kind.