Chuck Jones is a legend in the world of animation. Ten of his cartoons listed in the book The Fifty Greatest Cartoons, including four of the top five. But in the early years, he was feeling his way and his creations were of characters that are not part of the Warner Brothers canon any more. And while Sniffles the Mouse is pretty forgettable, one of his creations is a forgotten touch of absurd greatness. That character is the Mynah Bird.*
The bird first appeared in The Little Lion Hunter, as something of a supporting character. The title character -- later named Inki -- is an African boy who is sort of an Elmer Fudd wannabe. The plot of the cartoon involves Inki's encounters with a lion (and other creatures), but what makes it work is the presence of the Mynah Bird.
The Bird is introduced with Inki following his tracks into some bushes, which begin to wave violently. He retreats, thinking it's a larger animal, but out of the storm** comes a small, black bird, like a crow only rounder, and with a yellow beak and legs. The bird walks across the forest to the time of Mendelssohn's "Fingal's Cave/Hebredes Overture"*** in a peculiar gait that part walking, part hopping, moving in a perfectly straight line until he vanished into a hole or another bush. He ignored everything going on around him -- until the right moment, when he would wreck havoc on those who got in his way (usually a lion that was out to get Inki).
Inki usually started hunting the Mynah Bird, who was always two steps (and hops) ahead of him, but, at the end, the bird would come to his aid. They were friends, in a way, though the Bird refused to acknowledge that.
Jones continued the series sporadically as he moved on to other things. For awhile, it was regularly shown on Saturday morning TV, but then vanished.
The reason was simple: Inki.
As our racial attitudes changed in the 60s, the character became an embarasment. Jones was one of the nicest guys in show business**** and Inki was never ridiculed due to his race. He acted just the way he was: a young boy playing at hunting. But the character design was unacceptable, with the typical traits of the comic Negro that were offensive in so many other contexts. It was impossible to look at Inki without seeing the racism (not to mention the racism in his name).
By the 70s, it was impossible to find the cartoons. Though they have made something of a comeback (some are on youtube), the long gap has made them forgotten.
It's too bad. The Mynah Bird is one of Jones's great creations; it's a shame he only appeared with Inki.
*Sometimes spelled "Minah Bird."
**Which got bigger in subsequent adventures.
***You can get a great familiarity with classical music by watching Warner Brothers cartoons. Carl Stalling, their musical director, seemed to think they worked well -- and he was right. In addition to "Fingal's Cave," he also loved using "The William Tell Overture," "Poet and Peasant," and, of course, the work of Raymond Scott.
****Read his autobiography, Chuck Amuck.