These days the cartoon and film industries are in full bloom, producing tons of new material and creating hundreds of new characters and heroes. However, many protagonists, who at first impress audiences, later prove to be short-lived. Only a few of them become a part of culture and history. Cheburashka is a beloved character of a remarkable longevity – he is more than 50 years old and it seems that his popularity only grows.
Cheburashka(Russian: Чебурашка) is a fictional creature with huge round ears, big owlish eyes and brown fur, who walks on his hind legs. The funny creature appeared in the book Ghena the Crocodile and His Friends by a popular children’s writer Edward Uspenskiy in 1966. Soon after this in 1969, the first Cheburashka film was made based on Uspenskiy’s books, followed by three more cartoons. Cheburashka’s physical appearance was the work of animator Leonid Shvartsman.
Uspenskiy revealed the true story behind Cheburashka’s etymology in an interview explaining that he had heard his friend using this verb, cheburakhnutsya, meaning 'to fall' or 'to stumble'. The word was new to him and stuck in his head, so later he transformed it into the name of the character.
According to the plot, Cheburashka is an unknown tropical animal who climbed into a crate of oranges, fell asleep and was transported to Russia, to a shop. Then after this, the shop owner named him Cheburashka. Cheburashka found himself in a big city, where he made friends, both animal and human. With his best friend Ghena the Crocodile, Cheburashka shared adventures, celebrated birthdays, and dealt with various everyday life situations.
When the first series of cartoons about Cheburashka were shown on TV, they immediately won recognition and gained popularity across the Soviet Union. Ever since then, Cheburashka became a character in numerous Russian jokes, the songs from the cartoons’ soundtracks are known by heart by most Russians, and millions of Cheburashka toys spread all over the USSR. There is a great number of monuments to Cheburashka and his friend, Ghena, in Russia and elsewhere in the post-Soviet area.
In 2004 Cheburashka was first appointed the symbol of Russia’s team at the Summer Olympic Games in Athens. Two years later, at the Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Cheburashka also represented the country’s national team – but this time he changed his "natural" brown color to white. In 2008, in Beijing, Cheburashka had red fur, as red is the lucky color, according to a Chinese belief. In 2010 in Vancouver Cheburashka acquired blue fur.
In Sweden and Estonia a series of children's television shows were produced, based on the Cheburashka stories, under different names. Of all nations, the Japanese were most captivated by the fluffy creature. The Japanese released several dozen Cheburashka cartoon film series that were received by the audience with great enthusiasm.
Cheburashka has certainly stood the test of time and went on a journey from being a mere cartoon character to becoming one of the main symbols of Russia and gaining international fame.