If you talk to Russians and East Europeans of a certain generation, their faces will light up if you mention Cheburashka. The star of a children’s book and series of short films, Cheburashka is as beloved in the east as Winnie the Pooh and the Muppets are in the west. He looks a bit like Walt Kelley’s Pogo, especially when juxtaposed against his friend the crocodile Gena.
Cheburashka was created in 1965 by Eduard Uspensky, whose original book I’m told contains some satire on Soviet customs which slipped past the censors because it was a kid’s book. In the book version Cheburashka is some kind of magical forest animal; in the animated version it’s suggested that he’s a talking doll. In any case, he’s friendless until taken under the care of Gena.
There’s quite a bit of Cheburashka available on youtube and it’s very much worth looking for. Visually, the characters are delightful but it’s the music that makes these animated shorts special. For children’s entertainment, the music is surprisingly melancholy and wistful. In the clip below, Gena sings the song “Blue Wagon” which mourns the passage of time. Accompanying Gena and Cheburashka is their mischievous friend Old Lady Shapoklyak (who likes to say, “You won’t ever get famous for good deeds.”) The three of them sit atop a slow moving blue train as the countryside passes by, which provides a perfect counterpart to Gena’s pensive song.