I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature.
May 7, 2011 5:48 PM   Subscribe

EXT. STREET -- TWILIGHT. A dreary day in 1971. Wearing a trilby hat and a hideous overcoat, a LONE CROCODILE stands on the rain-slicked sidewalk. Singing in tune with the plangent sounds of the concertina he clutches in his claws, he tells the viewers that today, of all days, is his birthday. This scene presages the appearance of one of the most emblematic characters in Soviet animation.

Discovered in a crate of oranges from Africa, Чебурашка/Cheburashka is a small, furry, Mogwai-like creature with huge ears. His evocative name comes from a dialect word for "roly-poly toy." His naïve, childlike demeanor is often at odds with the grey, soul-crushing monotony of the Soviet city he finds himself in.

The character starred in several animated shorts:
  1. «Крокодил Гена»/"Crocodile Gene" (1969, 1, 2)
    Gene works at the zoo (as a crocodile) by day and spends his lonely nights in a tiny, barren flat in the city. Elsewhere, Cheburashka sits in a store window display by day and sleeps in a nearby phone booth at night. (with liberally translated subtitles)
  2. «Чебурашка»/"Cheburashka" (1971, 1, 2)
    Denied admission to the Young Pioneers, Crocodile Gene and Cheburashka struggle to regain their self-esteem. (subtitled)
  3. «Шапокляк»/"Shapoklyak" (1974, 1, 2)
    Their train tickets stolen, Crocodile Gene and Cheburashka are stranded 200 kilometers outside Moscow. They quickly get caught in bear traps. (dubbed, not especially well, in English, here — 1, 2) Here is "The Blue Train Car," the (now iconic) song from the episode, performed by a child with an enormous 70's pomp.
  4. «Чебурашка идёт в школу»/"Cheburashka Goes to School" (1983, 1)
    It is revealed that Cheburashka is illiterate (but note that he can obviously read in the first episode). (subtitled)
(All episodes are apparently available on Veoh with subtitles… if you download their player.)

Vasily Livanov, the voice actor behind Crocodile Gene, is also the Soviet Sherlock Holmes and the voice of this rotund, airborn character from the works of Swedish children's author Astrid Lindgren (who achieved enourmous popularity in the USSR). As the previous video clip suggests, Klara Rumyanova, who was the voice of Cheburashka, was also the voice of every cute, childlike character in the history of Soviet animation.

Cheburashka first appeared in a picture book, where he looked very different. Another version of the character also appeared in a slide film version of the story (NB: obnoxious music).

After the fall of the USSR, Cheburahka's likeness was the subject of a copyright battle between the author and his character artist.

Cheburashka features prominently on the Союзмультфильм/Soyuzmultfilm/Soviet Animated Film Studio logo. He has also repeatedly been the mascot of the Russian Olympic team.

Cheburashka is available for home purchase in a dazzling array of colors.

Cheburashka has a Japanese fanbase (more here).

P.S.: There is a 10-year-old previously, but it's very incomplete and both links are now dead.

P.P.S.: So now you know what this faux woodcut depicts (and this one too).
posted by Nomyte (24 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
Gennady, not Gene, right?
posted by infinitewindow at 5:55 PM on May 7, 2011

So strange, but very good.
posted by orthogonality at 6:10 PM on May 7, 2011

So strange, but very good.

That's a pretty good description a lot of Soyuzmultfilm's output.
posted by TrialByMedia at 6:21 PM on May 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Well, this subject is covered.

Thanks, Nomyte. Diving into your excellent, extensive links, I realized I have actually seen Cheburashka once or twice in his mascot role - and didn't know what I was seeing. Now I do!

(also: fascinating info re global restrictions on Russian copywrite/trademark law)
posted by likeso at 6:40 PM on May 7, 2011

(also: fascinating info re global restrictions on Russian copywrite/trademark law)

A very interesting post could be written on the subject of what happened to the massive Souyzmultfilm catalog after the fall of the USSR. It'd be an excellent illustration of the ever-evolving Russian IP law framework. Suddenly there was a big rush to capitalize on various characters' popularity by sticking them on products. It seems Souyzmultfilm has managed to reassert its rights at home and abroad, but I'm not even sure to what extent it's the same entity. I really wish someone will eventually write that post.
posted by Nomyte at 6:49 PM on May 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

I really wish someone will eventually write that post.

So do I.

...hoped you were speaking of your own FPP coming attractions... hint :)
posted by likeso at 7:06 PM on May 7, 2011

Oh, strike that! So greedy - I am still working my way through this one. Great work, Nomyte.
posted by likeso at 7:09 PM on May 7, 2011

I've never seen Crocodile Gene before - thanks! Love it.
posted by HopperFan at 7:28 PM on May 7, 2011

This is excellent!

Also, via the YT suggestions: Russian Winnie the Pooh -- way better than the English version! (Much cuter, anyway.)
posted by Sys Rq at 7:40 PM on May 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

What's Herzog got to do with all of this? Strangely, this post is now the first google result for the quote.
posted by brightghost at 8:18 PM on May 7, 2011

Nice, I've always vaguely known this character but now it's much more clear - and I've never seen the shorts. Great post.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 8:25 PM on May 7, 2011

And, twenty seconds after posting that, I come across a scrap of paper while packing away things for my move and unfold it to find the sentence in question scrawled inside. Spoooooky.
posted by brightghost at 8:32 PM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I love these! A friend of mine moved to St. Petersburg a few months back, and we've both become big fans of Cheburashka.

I anxiously await a DVD set, subtitled for monolingual Americans like myself. (C'mon guys. Please?)
posted by cmyk at 9:52 PM on May 7, 2011

What a delightful post! So charming. Poetically worded, "Singing in tune with the plangent sounds of the concertina he clutches in his claws". Lovely that.

Such quirky lyrics too!

Crocodile Gena’s Birthday Song
"Let the pedestrians walk clumsily through the puddles
And let the water run over the asphalt in a river.
It’s unclear to the passersby,
On this rainy day,
Why I’m so happy.
But I’m playing the concertina
For all the passersby to see.
Only come once a year.
I wish that a wizard
Would fly in, in a light blue helicopter,
And show a movie for free.
He would wish me a happy birthday
And probably, leave as a present
500 ice cream sandwiches.
But I’m playing the concertina
For all the passersby to see.
Only come once a year."

So interesting to learn about imaginary, childhood creatures that are part of other nations' identity.

Cute little Cheburashka with his big ears reminds me a bit of Topo Gigio, originally an Italian character that gradually became more Latin then Japanese.

Cheburashka went happily to Japan in an unexpected mix of spoken Japanese and sung Russian.

Adding a German Schnappi the Little Crocodile into the mix.
posted by nickyskye at 10:31 PM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

"みんなで、すごくがんばって…" — I guess I now know how that line goes in Japanese. Thanks, nickyskye!
posted by Nomyte at 11:01 PM on May 7, 2011

Thanks. This is a really fun FPP!

Minä soitan harmonikkaa (Crocodile Gena's Birthday Song) is also a popular childrens song in Finland. I don't remember seeing the animations before though.
posted by severiina at 12:45 AM on May 8, 2011

That old lady's crazy. Apparently having a pet rat means everyone immediately does whatever you want, or runs away, no questions asked.

I really think the star here is that crocodile, who is very charming.
posted by JHarris at 1:05 AM on May 8, 2011

I've only watched a few minutes of it, but that Soviet Sherlock Holmes appears to be Teh Awesome.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:48 AM on May 8, 2011

Jason Webley has been performing this song for years, and I always assumed it was just some thing he'd made up, or maybe a bit of ephemera that he'd discovered somewhere on a tour. I had no idea that there was such an extensive tradition there.

A little piece of my world, which I had no idea was even dark, has now been illuminated. Thank you!
posted by Scientist at 9:03 AM on May 8, 2011

Cheburashka thread! Yes! My partner took Russian in college and showed this show to me and I have adored it ever since. I think I am going to wake her up to come comment on the thread.
posted by Tesseractive at 9:05 AM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ah! Yes. Cheburashka. I love Cheburashka. Not only are he and his friends completely adorable, they also allow a peek into the more subversive elements of Soviet media.

See, children's shows weren't censored quite as rigorously as other programming, Cheburashka's creators were able to sneak in some jabs at the establishment.

A couple of examples:

Watch the exchange between the fruit seller and buyer here (starts at 1:00). The fruit buyer isn't satisfied with the first orange, so the vendor offers him a smaller fruit and puts his finger on the scale to scam the buyer into thinking it's heavier. (He also pockets the originally rejected orange for himself.)

In the second part of the episode with the scouts (start at 4:55), Gena gathers an absurd amount of scrap metal... that people have dumped into the river. Also earlier in that episode (around 3:53), observe Gena's nervous please-don't-arrest-me posture while talking to the police.
posted by The demon that lives in the air at 10:33 AM on May 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

Also: that Jason Webley rendition that Scientist posted is great. His English translation of "And now you ask, 'Why so happy?'/On a day that's so crappy" is a stroke of brilliance. It's really hard to translate lyrics in such a way that the meter and points of stress scan as much as the meaning.
posted by The demon that lives in the air at 10:46 AM on May 8, 2011

Awww. I love Cheburashka. :3 Helped me learn Russian!
posted by lettuchi at 1:28 PM on May 8, 2011

Watched the first of these and was convinced I was seeing ChuChu from Utena.

Turns out it's the other way around, really.
posted by nat at 12:37 PM on May 20, 2011

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