Usmanov Wants Cheburashka Home

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Russian metals mogul Alisher Usmanov wants Cheburashka to come home. And he’s willing to plop down $3 million to buy back the international rights for the creature “not known to science” from the US firm Films by Jove. Stating that “our heritage must be returned to Russia,” Usmanov, who is also a fan of Cheburashka, wants to give the 500 cartoons to a children’s television channel proposed by Putin. The problem is that Films by Jove is asking a $10 million. For Usmanov it should be that big of a problem. The guy is worth an estimated $2.6 billion.

Cheburashka was created in 1969 by cartoonist Eduard Uspensky. “One day, during the Bolshevik era, I saw this tiny girl,” Uspensky told RFE/RL.

And she was wearing a beaver coat, an enormous flappy thing. And this little girl took a step without any help, and she fell over. And when she fell her parents said, “Look, you’ve cheburakhnulas [fallen over]! You little ‘cheburashka’!” And I hadn’t heard the word before, it was a very rare word. And so that little girl, with this vast collar around her head, gave me the idea for the cartoon.

How did the lovable Cheburashka get into the hands of the American cultural imperialists? Apparently he was yet another victim of 1990s privatization. In 1992, the Russian Union of Animators sold the merchandising rights to the collection to Films by Jove for a pittance of its potential worth, $900,000. “There are lots of films in that collection — about 60 or 70 hours’ worth,” explained Ernest Rakhimov, the director of the Union of Animators’ archive. “The best are the old films — ‘The Humpbacked Horse,’ ‘The Scarlet Flower,’ ‘The Snow Queen.’ They’re sitting on a gold mine. It’s an early collection, early animations — those animations were done to the same standard as Disney films.” The Union is now disputing the deal arguing that Films by Jove took advantage of the lack of Russian laws regarding film rights and “managed to trick the previous animators’ administration, and they signed a contract that turned out to have taken away our freedom.”

If Cheburashka is really a victim of capitalist malfeasance, then will we soon witness the rise of his revolutionary alter-ego: Che-burashka!