Inki is a little African boy who usually dresses in a simple loincloth, armband, legband, earrings, and a bone through his hair. He never speaks, and his usual pastime seems to be hunting jungle creatures.
The character's look was designed by Disney veteran Charlie Thorson. The plot of the cartoon focuses on little Inki out hunting, oblivious to the fact that he is being hunted himself by a hungry lion. As such, it is very similar to "Little Hiawatha", a Silly Symphonies cartoon Thorson had worked on in 1937. Technically, he was originally created for the Merrie Melodies series, as all his cartoons prior to Caveman Inki were issued as part of that series (thus he is one of the few characters to initially be exclusive to the Merrie Melodies series in the Leon Schlesinger era prior to the full conversion to color, alongside Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd and his prototype Egghead, and Sniffles).
Also central to the series is a minimalist and expressionless minah bird. The bird hops in time to Felix Mendelssohn's Fingal's Cave Overture, totally disregarding any obstacles or dangers. The minah bird, shown as nearly almighty, appears randomly in the films, always intervening against the other characters. Occasionally, the bird's intervention benefits Inki by stopping Inki's pursuers. Inki then tries to thank the bird, but the latter ends up dissing Inki too.
Although the jungle boy character was never intended as a derogatory stereotype of Africans, he was usually perceived that way.
The Little Lion Hunter (1939) - This short film was the first time the character was seen.
Inki and the Lion (1941) - In the second film in the series, Jones officially named the character. This film presents Inki once again running afoul from a lion, only to be saved by the bizarre mynah bird. The cartoon is still mostly done in a cute style, but its more aggressive tone and unconventional humor show that Jones was already moving out of his "cute" phase.
When "Inki and the Lion" became a surprise hit, Jones decided to bring Inki and the mynah bird back for three more cartoons.
Inki and the Minah Bird (1943) - In this film, the bird was given its name.
Inki at the Circus (1947) - Starting with this film, Inki's design incorporated a bone braided through his hair, which becomes the object of desire by the dogs at the circus. The dogs dispute between them and Inky for the bone, but it's the minah bird who gets it at the end.
Caveman Inki (1950) - The short film is set in the prehistoric age. In this episode, the minah bird is seen coming out of a mountain after splitting it in half.
As Jones moved further toward the humor-centered cartoons for which he is famous, however, he retired Inki along with other Disney-inspired characters like Sniffles. In fact, Inki is unusual that he had the longest career span among all of Chuck Jones' Disney-inspired early characters (having a career span of nearly 10 years, despite only having 5 cartoons within that timeline), having been retired the last (in 1950), in contrast to other Jones' Disney-inspired characters such as Sniffles and The Curious Puppies, which had shorter career spans (Sniffles: 8 years [1939-1946], Curious Puppies: 3 years [1939-1942]) and have been retired in the 1940s.
The minah bird has had various cameos in later Warner Brothers works.
Then, in 1994, an episode titled "Bad Mood Bobby" from the Animaniacs segment Goodfeathers, features a cameo by the minah bird. The Goodfeathers are having a bad day and see the mynah bird caged in a pet shop. They think they can cheer themselves up by laughing at the mynah bird's ugliness. The Fingal's Cave Overture begins playing, the mynah bird lets himself out of his cage, kicks them into a streetlight, then returns to his cage.
Though the Inki cartoons are hardly shown on American television due to the fact that Inki is an outdated racial caricature of Africans, the 1986 videotape "I Taw a Putty Tat" included "The Little Lion Hunter", "Inki and the Lion", and "Inki at the Circus". Also, in 2004, the "Cartoon Craze" DVD included "Inki and the Minah Bird."