Friday, February 15, 2008

What We Don't Have in America #8

#8 Cheburashka (Russian: Чебурашка)

"Cheburashka is a character in children's literature, from a 1965 story by the Russian writer Eduard Uspensky. He is also the protagonist (voiced by Klara Rumyanova) of the animated film series by Soyuzmultfilm studio, the first episode of which was made in 1969.

According to the story, Cheburashka is a funny little animal, unknown to science, who lives in the tropical forest. He accidentally gets into a crate of oranges, eats his fill, and falls asleep. Cheburashka is not a personal name; it is a species name invented by the puzzled director of the shop where he is found. The salesman takes the animal out and sits him on the table, but his paws are numb after the long time spent in the crate, and he tumbles down ("cheburakhnulsya" (чебурахнулся), a Russian colloquialism, "tumbled" in English) from the table onto the chair and then from the chair, where he could not sit, for the same reason, onto the floor. The director of the shop, who witnesses the scene, called him Cheburashka. Words with this root were archaic in Russian; Uspensky gave them a new lease on life. (The 19th-century Explanatory Dictionary of the Living Great Russian language of Vladimir Dal gives the meaning of "cheburashka" as another name for the vanka-vstanka tumbling toy.)

Cheburashka has a bear-like body and large round ears and is about the size of a 5-year-old child; the gender of the creature is most likely male. In the tale, he hangs around with a friendly crocodile Gena, who wears a hat and a coat, walks on his hind legs and plays an accordion. He works in a zoo as a crocodile. Gena's favorite songs are "Birthdays Happen Only Once a Year" and "Blue Wagon".

In the cartoon, Cheburashka and Gena have their adventures made more difficult by a character named "Старуха Шапокляк" (Old Lady Shapoklyak, from French Chapeau-Claque, a kind of top hat). Shapoklyak is a mischievous but charming old lady. She is tall and thin, wears a hat and a dark-colored dress, and carries around a sidekick rat-like creature — "Lariska" — in her purse to help her play pranks on people. The chorus of her theme song contains her motto, "One won't ever get famous for good deeds".

Cheburashka was chosen as an official mascot for the Russian Olympic Team for the 2004 Summer Olympics in Greece. Cheburashka dolls were also seen with members of the Russian team in 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. He is also one of the few Russian animation characters to be a subject of numerous Russian jokes and riddles.

The word "Cheburashka" is also used in a figurative sense to name objects that somehow resemble the creature (such as an An-72 aircraft which, when seen from the front, resembles the character's head) or are just as nice as it is (e.g. it's a jargon name for a small bottle of lemonade - from brand name "Cheburashka").

Cheburashka is now a staple of Russian cartoons, and there are several licensed products on the market, such as children's anecdotal books and stuffed toys."

An-72 aircraft, nicknamed Cheburashka

Joshua first heard of Cheburashka when he saw the cartoons on TV. The cartoons are in Russian but have Ukrainian subtitles which help us non-Russian speaking adults follow along better. Joshua seems to understand either language enough to get by. Cheburashka is often the subject of children's artwork at school according to Joshua. He also tells us that kids with big ears end up being teased with the name Cheburashka too. I guess Cheburashka would be the closest thing to a Russian equivalent of Curious George. Anyway, we love Cheburashka and in Joshua's words, "He's a little cutie".


Ira said...

Greg, you made my day!!!!
You are the first american I know that knows what the heck cheburashka is!!!!
I was rolling on the table laughing while reading this just because I forgot how bizarre and random the story is. =) We all grew up with it, loving the characters and the cartoons, but as you get older you realize it doesn't make any sense to a normal logical human being =))...
Thanks a lot!

Greg & Edna Silva said...


We love Cheburashka! He's much cuter than Curious George. How could you not fall in love with him?


Erik and Marina said...

Hey, Cheburashka was my very favourite toy when I was a kid. I loved him so much I took him everywhere, I fed him, put him to bed... The only thing was that my Cheburashka was old. I inherited it from my sister. So sooner than later he started shedding his insides all over the house. My mom had enough of that and one day my Cheburashka was gone. And when I asked my mom about it she said that it hid himself from me. Can you imagine a four year old looking for her Cheburashka for days and weeks? I was really traumatized...:)

Greg & Edna Silva said...

Some of Joshua's friends have Cheburashka toys and he wants one too. Actually, Edna said she wanted one for herself as well. So the hunt continues for Cheburashka.

marina padiy said...

amazing! you opened the world to me, i didn't know cheburashka story from the beginning! nor the etymology. that's what cultural observations are. just like jake knows ukrainian history (well any history) way better than i do.
p.s. have you noticed there's new fashion for huge headphones among youth in ukraine? so i call them cheburashki.

Greg & Edna Silva said...


I am glad you liked the post. Yes, I have seen kids wearing those headphones but I never thought of it that way. I like 'cheburaski'. I'll have to use it, too. :)