BOOTLEG FILES 631: “Inki and the Lion” (1941 animated short by Chuck Jones).
LAST SEEN: On DailyMotion.com.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: VHS and LaserDisc only.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: It is not politically correct.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Not likely.
Everybody knows about the notorious Censored Eleven animated shorts produced by Warner Bros. that were taken out of circulation in 1968 and have never been made available for television broadcast and home entertainment release. However, the studio had other lesser-known shorts with politically incorrect content that have also been quietly removed from release. Among these withdrawn films are five shorts created by Chuck Jones featuring the unusual characters Inki and the Minah Bird.
Inki is an African boy dressed to resemble an exotic warrior, complete with gold earrings, a gold armband and a red loincloth that barely conceals white underwear. The artwork for Inki is stereotypical thanks to the child’s large minstrel-style lips, but otherwise the character behaves like a normal human – or, to be more accurate, as normal as a human character could behave in a Chuck Jones cartoon.
The Minah Bird is a more peculiar being. It walks along to the rhythm to Mendelssohn’s “Fingal Caves” theme, occasionally throwing a hop into its gait. It never acknowledges anything around it, keeping a droopy-eyed gaze and an enigmatic expression. When it finally recognizes another entity, the Minah Bird maintains its stoicism while displaying an extraordinary physical strength that puts the other party out of commission, thus allowing the bird to go on its way.
Jones introduced these characters in the one-off 1939 short “The Little Lion Hunter.” The film had no dialogue and offered a mild pantomime where the title character (who did not have an on-screen name) goes off by himself into the forest to spear-hunt a lion, only to have the beast chase after him. The Minah Bird wanders through the film, baffling the child and the lion.
“The Little Lion Hunter” made a scant impression on audiences, but Jones wanted to give the characters a do-over. Two years later, the short was remade as “Inki and the Lion,” with the child being given a name (albeit a vaguely racist one) and redrawn to remove a bone that was in a knot of hair above his head. The lion was also reanimated into a more accurate leonine (but, oddly, less threatening) depiction, but the Minah Bird remained the same. Some new gags were added to give the impression of freshness.
“Inki and the Lion” opens with spear-carrying Inki chasing after a monkey, who hides in a tree. As Inki looks about for his would-be prey, the monkey throws a coconut at Inki’s head. Inki throws his spear into the three, and the (off-screen) monkey throws it back, narrowly missing the child. Suddenly, there is a loud rustle from the foliage, and the Minah Bird emerges. Inki pursues the bird to a hole in a tree and reaches in, but winds up extracting a skunk. (How a skunk wound up in Africa is not explained.)
Inki later spots a lion cub playing by itself, and he readies his spear to impale it. But the cub’s father extracts the spear from Inki. The rest of the cartoon finds the lion pursuing Inki through the forest and into a cave. In the oddest moment, Inki believes that he sealed the lion in a cave and gathers boulders to secure the captivity – not realizing that one of the boulders he is trying to lift is the lion’s backside. In the end, the Minah Bird ends the threat from the lion by tying its tail to a tree. Inki goes to shake hands with the bird, but the feathered denizen body-slams the child before going off on its way.
The one good thing going for “Inki and the Lion” is the lack of dialogue – one can only shudder when thinking how Inki might have been a prototype for the dimwitted black child in the notorious Chuck Jones short “Angel Puss.” But on the other hand, Inki has no personality. There are moments when he engages in Jones-style reactions such as looking with horrified helplessness into the camera and reacting to a lethal foe with an absurdly wide toothy smile. The lion is equally one-dimensional, and its weirdest moment comes when it points into its gaping jaws and telekinetically commands Inki to walk into this deathtrap. The Minah Bird is a welcome distraction for a few seconds, but he quickly becomes a bore and his violent takedown of Inki in the closing gag is excessively unfunny. For the most part, “Inki and the Lion” was a mediocre knockabout chase cartoon that was among the lesser Warner Bros. output of that era.
In his later years, Jones would insist that the Minah Bird drove Walt Disney to agitation. In one interview, Jones claimed, “Walt would run to his staff and say, “What the hell, why can’t you guys do something like that? What is it? What’s so goddamn funny about it?” Jones added that he was also baffled about the Minah Bird’s mysterious behavior and why audiences supposedly found it so hilarious.
But were audiences so enchanted with this series? Jones only made three more Inki films over the next nine years – “Inki and the Minah Bird” (1943) “Inki at the Circus” (1947) and “Caveman Inki” (1950). The Inki cartoons were quietly removed from circulation when the more outrageous Censored Eleven productions were banned, but they did turn up in a couple of home entertainment anthologies of Warner Bros. animation. “Inki and the Lion” was on a 1986 VHS release called “Little Tweety and Little Inki Cartoon Festival Featuring: I Taw a Putty Tat” that also included “The Little Lion Hunter” and “Inki at the Circus,” and the Inki films were on the 1992 LaserDisc “The Golden Age of Looney Tunes: Vol. 3.” At the time, no one complained about Inki’s presence among the other Warner Bros. cartoon characters.
Since then, however, people have become too touchy on any content that is even vaguely offensive to racial and ethnic minorities, and the Inki films have yet to receive a DVD or Blu-ray release. Warner Bros. successfully blocked “Inki and the Lion” from being posted by cartoon fans on YouTube, but a clean print can be found on DailyMotion.com. But to be frank, it is mostly a dull curio that few people would bother with had it not been out of release for so many years.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.
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