Shere Khan – Exploring the Character Of The Legendary Disney Villain

Talking about the amazing antagonist characters portrayed in Disney’s movies, it’s impossible not to mention Shere Khan. This dangerous predator, the true king of the jungle, evokes fear not only in the eyes of animals but also in men. Previously, he was a best friend of Baloo, Louile, Hathi, Bagheera, and Kaa. But something went wrong, something turned him into this egotistical leader, turning all his power to intimidate others. He was a loving grandchild, a good friend, but it all changed dramatically. Maybe it all was born out of the thought that if Shere Kahn showed weakness, other animals wouldn’t respect him.

Being a true friend to his party, and taking on numerous adventures, saving lives he probably seen the world from a new perspective, understanding things about himself he never thought of. He had some evil cracks in his persona along the way, but only when he had turned to his dark side he became as intimidating, as he always wanted to be, instilling fear just by his presence. This is a great and deep character, having good qualities, but driven by his own lust for power he turned to this villain. That’s probably why he takes such a big part in the Disney universe, and we still mention his character, despite the fact that the world first saw him over fifty years ago!

Shere Khan

Shere Khan’s Jungle Book origins

Of course, long before Disney Shere Khan originated in Rudyard Kipling’s short story Mowgli’s Brothers in the end 19th century, that’s a true testament to the longevity of this character. He has actually had a good reason to be miserable, in Kipling’s lore Shere Khan was born with a crippled leg (this disability was never mentioned in future Disney adaptations and making a big difference in the motivation of the character). His own mother was mocking him, calling him “Lungry”, which stood for “The Lame One”. Maybe that was driven him in the original story, to overcompensate his disability with power and control over the other animals. Or probably he just wanted to be loved and choose evil ways to achieve. In any case, he was set to become the rightful lord of the jungle no matter the cost. The only animal who believed in his way to live, was a Tabaqui, a golden jackal. Tabaqui was despised by the other inhabitants of the jungle for his cowardliness. With no true friends by his side, Shere Khan was set to bring his arrogance and cruelty to achieve dominance above others and bring other creatures down, like a real bully he actually is, according to original Rudyard Kipling’s plot.

What does Shere Khan mean?

Despite sounding really cool by its own the name Shere Khan actually have a real meaning behind it, strengthen the character. It is a translation of the English name of the Bengal tiger – “Royal Tiger” into the Hindi language. There are numerous ways to understand the exact translation and real meaning, and they are all fun. “Shere” could mean “tiger” and also “lion”, not only in Hindi but also in Persian, Punjabi, Kurdish, and Azerbaijani. The meaning of “Khan” may also vary, it is a Mongol word that stands for “king” but at the same time the name of an Indian family of Moghul rulers.

According to the original Kipling’s plot the word “shere”, which can also be spelled like “shir”, stands for “tiger” (sorry lion fans), while khan is a title that separates this character from other creatures in the jungle. When you used it together – Shere Khan, that indicated that he is the leader among other tigers, the most important one. Without a shadow of a doubt, this name is perfect for the character and it’s hard, nearly impossible to imagine for entire generations calling this villain some other the name – it will just don’t work as it does. What a great effort by Kipling to get over his idea starting with the name.

What about Shere Khan’s personality?

Going back to the Disney’s vision of this character, Shere Khan is always projecting his might and calmness. Why not? He is a Lord of The Jungle here, and he has every right to think so. Shere Khan knows that he is a cruel, manipulative, confident and aggressive ruler, being a ruthless Bengal tiger. He carries on a particular sense of pride and awareness of his power. Shere Khan always speaks with his victims calmly, don’t rush anything, knowing that he could kill the victim with one strike. But in most instances he doesn’t even need to do so – the creatures are already terrified of him, and Shere Khan has control over their minds with the help of fear. Does he really need to torment his prey? Probably not, but his personality has some sadistic tendencies as well, making him even more dangerous.

In Disney’s The Jungle Book 2, Shere Khan changes the personality. Now he’s not that calm anymore, he doesn’t speak much, preferring fast actions over long words. Shere Khan in a sequel is blowing off after the slightest annoyance, showing that he is losing control, become unstable, and even more dangerous and intimidating as before. Like this character wasn’t bad enough before, now the villainous tendencies are in the full force.

What is Shere Khan afraid of?

Such deadly character also has its weaknesses, hatred for humanity will be a good place to start. Shere Khan believes that humans are the real threat to nature and is on the mission to kill anyone who dares to enter his territory. Shere Khan is afraid of two things – guns and fire, with the second one being the most dominant. This fear is so strong, that the sight of fire makes mighty tiger panic and this phobia disarms him completely. Shere Khan goes crazy when he sees a human, and is willing to kill it without the slightest hesitation because humans are the ones that could bring fire and gunshots to his jungle. The motivation here is quite obvious, Shere Khan doesn’t want to show other animals his weakness, and when he sees fire, he is weak, losing all his power and composure when being terrified. That is also where the desire to kill Mowgli comes from –  Shere Khan doesn’t really need his death, but what he needs is maintaining the alpha male status, and nothing less. In the same way, the fate of any animals who are willing to help humans is to die, in the eyes of Shere Khan, because they could dispose of him as scared and weak. Those two qualities do definitely not describe the true leader of the pack.

With such anger and rage, Shere Khan’s normally somber and collected demeanor can become murderous, bloodthirsty, and feral in a matter of moments, as seen during his first confrontation with Mowgli in the original film, as he was willing to kill both the man-cub and any animal who dared to protect him, without hesitation.

 

How big is Shere Khan?

We can safely say that Shere Khan is definitely a Bengal tiger, so let’s look for some real-life measurement to assume the actual size. In the 1930s the heavy male specimen was shot in India and had the weight  570 lb (259 kg), but the heaviest male was killed by David Hassinger in 1967, and it weighed 388.7 kg (857 lb). But this one had a great dinner, and eaten a buffalo calf, without it the tiger would probably weigh at least 324.3 kg (715 lb). You can check this particular one in the Mammals Hall of the Smithsonian Institution.

Going back to our topic: Shere Khan is big, but it must be less than 1000 pounds because he must be able to climb the trees without breaking them. At the same time, Shere Khan should be heavy enough to break the branch tree that Mowgli was on. Summing up all this information, the tiger could weigh around 800 pounds to match both reality and epic proportions of the tale.

As far as the length goes, he is probably somewhere between 10.5 to 11 feet long, it’s hard to determine more precisely. Shere Khan is much bigger than Bagheera, a melanistic Indian leopard, so we should keep in mind that too. Despite the story taking place in the imaginary world of Rudyard Kipling, it holds up to the real facts quite well, and as a result, is believable in this aspect.

 

Shere Khan vs Scar. Are there really any parallels?

Comparing Shere Khan with another famous character from The Lion King franchise – Scar, there are a couple interesting facts popping up. First, no, Scar is not a Shere Khan ripoff, not in the slightest way. Andreas Deja, the lead animator, as well as a designer, of The Lion King, purposely ignored watching The Jungle Book to not draw any inspiration from it, creating his own character. Andreas aimed to be original, being “inspired by” simply did not cut for him. The other interesting thing is, that if you actually compare Disney’s Shere Khan and Scar from The Lion King to the original tiger from The Jungle Book, Scar is definitely more similar. The deal is that Scar is sly and manipulative, rather than destructive and powerful, just as original Shere Khan, which has one bad leg and also needs to rely on brain power. Summing up, this is not the case of plagiarism, because Scar and Shere Khan characters have their own distinct personalities, qualities, and roles in the setting of their respective stories. That’s why besides the visual comprising, there is not much in common between these two characters.

Scar Lion King

Original Shere Khan death that almost happened

The character of Shere Khan died a few times during the long history of Disney’s The Jungle Book franchise. He is the main antagonist, that’s what he must do, right? With all destruction he had caused, the evil tiger must eventually pay for his terror and in that way, the viewer will get his happy end. That fate was waiting for Shere Khan in the ending of 1994 movie Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, but then things changed. In the final scene, Khan kills the hunter Buldeo, and Mowgli left the last one standing against the tiger. In the original scenario, Mowgli was going to shoot Shere Khan in the head and kill him, but Disney decided it would be too scary for children watching and decided to change this final scene.

The actors behind Shere Khan voice

Over the years the voice actors are one of the major part of The Jungle Book Franchise success. They are the ones who brought life to all characters, and in Shere Khan in particular. Here is the list of those people, who made our beloved antagonist so real:

  1. George Sanders voiced Shere Khan in 1967 animated musical comedy film “The Jungle Book”.
  2. Tony Jay took the role in 2003 animated film “The Jungle Book 2”, as well as many Disney appearances, like TV show “Tale Spin” in 1990.
  3. Corey Burton replaced Tony Jay for Disney appearances in 2006
  4. Jason Marsden voiced over the part at “Jungle Cubs”, the animated series in 1996
  5. Sherman Howard took the part for “The Jungle Book: Mowgli’s Story” in 1998
  6. Irdis Elba stepped up for 2016 film “The Jungle Book”
  7. Benedict Cumberbatch did an amazing job for 2018 movie “Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle”.

Let’s wrap it up with some Shere Khan quotes

The world Rudyard Kipling had created is built to last for generations to come. It’s fascinating to realize that his brainchild is living for over 125 years, as of this moment, and don’t have an intention to stop. This is truly a timeless story, we can all learn something from. It’s time to finish our tale with some Shere Khan quotes. Of course, you have your favorites, but those are good illustrations of the character!

“Oh, please don’t insult my intelligence. It makes me irritable.”– Shere Khan to Kaa.

Shere Khan never wanted anyone to question his leadership and supremacy, even by the close ones to him. He is the baddest, the smartest, and the most important according to his opinion, and that’s what you should remember.

“I will have you ALL IN MY TEETH!”

You can bet on that. While it is literally impossible to have all creatures of the jungle in his teeth, Shere Khan managed to instill fear by his presence and confidence alone.

“He hates man with a vengeance, you know that! Because he fears Man’s gun and Man’s fire.” – Bagheera to Baloo.

Bagheera exposed to Baloo the main weakness of Shere Khan. If only Shere Khan knew how to deal with his weakness, he would be invincible. But everybody has their weak spots, and the Lord of The Jungle is not an exception. Hatred is by itself a weakness, if Shere Khan was forgiving, he would be much stronger!

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