Cheburashka is the most famous Soviet cartoon character and probably the cutest thing in the history of mankind. Cheburashka, a pun on the archaic word cheburahnulsya (tumbling) in Russian, is found in a banana box and is named by the surprised shopkeeper when, numbed by his inadvertent journey from the tropics, he tumbles out of the box.
Our ragamuffin hero, destitute on the streets of Moscow, is befriended by Crocodile Geina, a lonely, friendly crocodile who works as a crocodile in the local zoo. Forget Tolstoy, this is the single greatest idea in literature. Naturally enough, Geina plays the accordian. His favourite song is the wonderfully entitled "Blue train car".
The unlikely pair have many adventures against a dour soviet background, the infinitely wise old Geina and his impish friend often harrassed but never beaten by Starukha Shapoklyak. She's all but a witch, carrying her familiar, a rat called Lariska, in her handbag but is never as bad as she seems. Her catchphrase? "One won't ever get famous for good deeds".
Though only four short films were made, Gena the Crocodile and His Friends (Крокодил Гена и его друзья), Birthday (День рождения), Old Witch Shapoklyak (Шапокляк) and
Cheburashka Goes to School (Чебурашка идет в школу) the gang became tremendously popular in days when there was little else to warm the heart. Cheburashka enjoyed a recent burst of popularity in Japan, his/her films packing cinemas and sparking a merchandising boom - and several law suits over copywrite. Cheburashka was invented by cartoonist Eduard Uspensky in 1966 and made his/her film debut in 1971 in "Geina the Crocodile" directed by Roman Kachanov.
The Antonov 72 was immediately nicknamed 'Cheburashka' for two very obvious reasons.
Cheburashka was the official mascot of the Russian Olympic team in Athens in 2004, though any suggestion he/she had bulked up with steroids with the rest of the squad would be firmly denied by the Russians.
White winter Cheburashkas were adopted by the Russian team in the winter Olympics in Turin and quickly became the christmas toy craze in Russia. Cheburashka's creator, Eduard Uspensky tipped the fluffy toy to replace the double headed eagle as Russia's national emblem. It's only a matter of time.