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Why Do We Still Love the Soviet Cartoon “Cheburashka”?

Going back to my childhood memories of watching Soviet cartoons all day long, I reckon that there is still something special about this sweet-natured, endearing, and sometimes annoyingly innocent character called Cheburashka.

The character of Cheburashka dates back to the 1960s when Russian author Eduard Uspensky published the children’s book Crocodile Gena and His Friends. In Uspensky’s book, Cheburashka lived in a tropical forest. One day, he accidentally got into a crate of oranges and fell asleep. The crate was delivered to an outdoor grocery store, in an unknown city in Russia. That’s where Cheburashka’s adventures begin.

The book was later made into a 4-episode animation series, which is still loved by people all over the world. The songs from the cartoon’s soundtrack are known by heart by most Russians and its characters have long been immortalised in toys and statues. So what made this cartoon appealing at its time and why it’s always one of the top options when the discussion goes to soviet cartoons?  

Singing Blue Railway Wagon, a deeply sentimental and existential song

Cheburashka is inevitably a unique creature with no clear identity anchors. The use of Russian masculine pronouns by his friends when referring to him suggests that he’s a male but there is no clear reference to his gender identity. He’s rejected from the zoo because, according to the zookeeper, he’s an “animal unknown to science.” Questions such as “what kind of creature are you?” make him even more confused. Even when his friend Crocodile Gena tries to look up “Cheburashka” in the dictionary, he can’t find any information. Unlike other cartoon characters, Cheburashka understands that he’s different from the characters he’s surrounded by. Nevertheless, he’s accepted by his friends and is always being treated equally. The story of Cheburashka is a timeless story dealing with the difficulty in fitting-in but given with a sweet, optimistic note.

“Cheburashka is like a stranger who doesn’t understand a thing but just has one global idea, and that is to make friends and have others in that little town make friends with each other.”

Sergei Kapkov, animation historian and managing editor of Soyuzmultfilm

The humble and peaceful nature of the characters and their approach to everyday problems makes “the Cheburashka world” a place where most of us would love to live in. There are no apparent power relations between human beings and animals, as they seem to co-exist peacefully in this small society. For example, the lions, the bears, the crocodiles are not caged for their entire life in the zoo. They are just working there and once their shift is over, they take their stuff and leave the zoo. There are problems for sure and sometimes the problems are complicated, but the solutions are as simple as they should be. When the town’s river is polluted by a plant, talking to the manager can suffice. He’ll take responsibility immediately and ask the workers to clog the pipes. After that, the river will be clean! If only problems could be solved that easily.

All four short films are available on Youtube with English Subtitles, so don’t miss the chance to immerse yourself in an irresistibly nostalgic animation that features unique characters and timeless songs.