INKI AND THE MINAH BIRDMedium: Theatrical animation
Produced by: Warner Bros.
First Appeared: 1939
Creator Chuck Jones
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than — well, actually, there's nothing in all of Looney Tunes anywhere near as enigmatic as Inki & the Minah Bird. Chuck Jones's series about a small black boy living in the jungle, and the strange creature he repeatedly encounters on hunting expeditions, is about as enigmatic as they come.
The political incorrectitude, which led to its unpopularity with program directors and thence to its present-day obscurity, comes from Inki, and the fact that any black character before 1960 or so is presumed offensive unless proven otherwise (and seldom given a chance to prove otherwise). The Minah Bird, which appears immensely powerful, an accomplished trickster; and yet acts, when it acts at all, from motives which simply can not be fathomed, is the enigmatic one.
Other than once having been seen with his hair woven around a bone (in a context where he probably hadn't dressed himself), Inki was less heavily caricatured than The Cosby Kids — about on the order of Pore Lil Mose, also a pre-enlightenment black character. Nor is there any evidence either was intended in a mean-spirited way.
The first Inki cartoon, The Little Lion Hunter, was released October 7, 1939, possibly as a response to Disney's Silly Symphony, Little Hiawatha, which also concerned a little native boy hunting alone. It opened with Inki hunting with a spear, attempting to use it on everything from a giraffe to a butterfly, when, presaged by a ruckus worthy of an elephant or a rhinoceros, a small, black bird with an unreadable and unchanging facial expression entered the scene. To the haunting strains of Felix Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture (aka "Fingal's Cave"), the bird, identified only by species (and even that, not until the third cartoon, Inki & the Minah Bird), proceeded to antagonize or befriend Inki, according to whim, setting a pattern for the series. Neither character ever spoke; hence, no voice credits.
There were five Inki cartoons, the last of which, Caveman Inki, was released November 25, 1950. The Minah Bird made a brief guest appearance with Bobo the Elephant, an even more minor character, then turned up decades later in an occasional episode of Tiny Toon Adventures or Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries. There was little or no merchandising, and his entire comic book career consisted of a single story in the back pages of Dell's Looney Tunes & Merrie Melodies title in 1941. The five cartoons started disappearing from television during the 1970s, and were completely gone by about 1990. They haven't been included in a video release since 1986.
But as seldom as they're seen today, they're well remembered. Many former viewers don't recall the particulars about these cartoons, but do remember that mysterious bird and the eerie music that accompanied it.