Tropical Russian Bears: Jews and Soviet Animation During The Cold War

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After Stalin consolidated the major animation studios and closed down smaller regional studios to create a single Moscow-based drawn and puppet animation studio in 1934–36, the animation studio Soyuzmultfilm became the largest animation studio in Eastern Europe. In the 1960s, Soviet Jewish animators focused on the theme of social geography and developed individual characters in relationship to social mapping. This essay analyses the enigmatic Cheburashka, the Soviet Mickey Mouse, whose popularity as a Communist ideal led to his starring role as Soyuzmultfilm’s most enduring logo. It is particularly concerned with the development of the ethnically-unidentifiable Cheburashka against the history of the Moscow Zoo and its inter-species exhibitions.

  • 2

    N. N. Abramova, Klassik po imeni Lolya v strane Mul’tiplikatsii (Moscow: Kluch-S, 2010), 44. On Soviet popular culture, including the place of animation in the Soviet imagination, see: Birgit Beumers, Pop Culture Russia!: Media, Arts, and Lifestyle (Santa Barbara: ABC Clio, 2005), 99–104.

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  • 8

    David MacFadyen, Yellow Crocodiles and Blue Oranges: Russian Animated Film since World War Two (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2005), 107. For studies that adopt this approach to Soviet film, see: Dmitry Shlapentokh and Vladimir Shlapentokh, Soviet Cinematography, 1918–1991: Ideological Conflict and Social Reality (New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1993); Nikolai Abramov, “Mul’tfil’m: politika, filosofiia, poeziia,” in Mify i real’nost’ zarubezhnogo kino segodnia. Sbornik statei; shestoi vypusk, ed. M. Shaternikova (Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1978), 192–211.

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  • 10

    See Roman Kachanov, “Napravlenie poiskov,” Iskusstvo kino 2 (1984): 45–54.

  • 12

    Abramova, Klassik po imeni Lolya, 52.

  • 14

    Ibid., Klassik po imeni Lolya, 40.

  • 20

    Benjamin Pinkus, The Jews of the Soviet Union: The History of a National Minority (Cambridge, Russia, Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies) (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 63. Moscow Radio denounced the interview as a “provocative forgery,” but whether or not the sentiment was misattributed, it nonetheless reflects a common association between the Soviet Union and oranges. For an example of an image of the Jewish orange plantation in Jewish Russian literature, see Mark Egart, Scorched Land (1932).

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  • 25

    Edouard Uspensky, “Kak povavilsya Cheburashka,” Novaya Gazeta 5 (January 25, 2007). When the same attribution story is told in Komsomol’skaia Pravda, Uspensky’s story is cast as an admission of Cheburashka’s female gender and Kamov-Kandel’s name is excluded. See Irina Bystrova, “Cheburahka okazalsia devochka,” Komsomol’skaia Pravda 157 (October 21, 2006): 3.

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  • 28

    Quoted in Hickey, “Revolution on the Jewish Street,” 826.

  • 29

    Birgit Beumers, “Comforting Creatures in Children’s Cartoons,” in Russian Children’s Literature and Culture, eds. Marina Balina and Larissa Rudova (London: Routledge, 2008), 153; Sergei Kuznetsov, “Zoo, ili fil’my ne o lyubvi,” Iskusstvo kino 1 (January 2004): 76–79.

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  • 30

    Sergei Asenin, “Cheburashka,” Soviet Film 1 (1973): 22. See also Sergei Asenin, Mir mul’tfilma: idei i obrazy mul’tiplikacionnogo kino socialisticeskih stran (Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1986), 60–61.

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  • 35

    See Andrei Krasnyaschih, “Igraem v kino,” Iskusstvo kino 2, Febrary 2005: 77–85. For a list of “Cheburdotami,” accessed March 27, 2014,

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  • 36

    Sergei Oushakine, Vesiliye Cheloveki (Moscow: Noveye Literaturnoye obotzreniye, 2008), 9–11.

  • 38

    Asenin, “Cheburashka,” 22. On the double life of Crocodile Gena, see Ben Hellman, Fairy Tales and True Stories: The History of Russian Literature for Children and Young People, 1574–2010 (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 550–551.

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  • 39

    Abramova, Klassik po imeni Lolya v strane Mul’tiplikatsii, 26.

  • 44

    Vera Chaplina, Kinuli (New York: Henry Z. Walck, Inc., 1965), introduction [unpaginated]. First appeared in Russian as V. Chaplina, Kinuli (Moscow: Izd. Moskovskogo zooparka, 1946). In the mid-1960s, Vera Chaplina’s memoir was published in English and used in elementary schools throughout America as a way to teach children about the socialist way of organizing life. See also: Vera Chaplina, True Stores from the Moscow Zoo, trans. Estelle Titiev and Lila Pargment (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1970).

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  • 45

    Demaree Bess, “Lions and Lambs in Moscow,” Christian Science Monitor, December 18, 1935, WM2.

  • 46

    Vera Chaplina, Kinuli, 17. Chaplina and Kinuli starred in the documentary film Kinuli (1935), produced by Mostechfilm. Chaplina appears with a variety of animals, including Kinuli, in Sovkinozhurnal, no. 16 (February 1936) [newsreel]. For newspaper articles, see Izvestia, November 20, 1935, 6; Izvestia, March 15, 1936, 4; Izvestiia, May 30, 1936, 4; G. Stepanov, “Ploshchadka molodnyka. Rasskazy o moskovskom zooparke,” Pioner, October 4, 1936.

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  • 47

    Ella Agranovskaya, “Puppets Know a lot about us People,” Soviet Film 4 (1981): 34–35.

  • 48

    Roman Kachanov, “Napravlenie poiskov,” Iskusstvo kino 2 (1984): 47.

  • 49

    Abramova, Klassik po imeni Lolya v strane Mul’tiplikatsii, 44.

  • 52

    Kachanov, “Napravlenie poiskov,” 47.

  • 57

    Yuri Yakovlev, “Lev ushol iz doma (1971),” Serezhiny sny (Moscow: Detskaya Literatura, 1973).

  • 60

    Yakovlev, “Lev ushol iz doma,” 193.

  • 62

    Yakovlev, “Lev ushol iz doma,” 202.

  • 63

    See Anatoly Partashnikov, “Soviet Philosophy of Biology Today,” Studies in Soviet Thought, 14, no. 1–2 (Mar–Jun, 1974): 1–25. For a discussion of science in avant-garde Soviet art, see: Charlotte Douglass, “Evolution and the Biological Metaphor in Modern Russian Art,” Art Journal, 44.2 (Summer 1984): 153–161.

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  • 64

    See, for example: Bernard J. Shapiro, The Battle for Eretz Yisrael, Jews, God, and Israel (Bloomington, Indiana: iUniverse, 2011), 48; Douglas J. Feith, “Of Lions, Lambs and Ostriches,” The Jerusalem Post (March 23, 1990).

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  • 65

    Peter Rodman, “The Press and National Security: The Lion and the Lamb,” Journal of National Security Law (December 1997). For a similar version of this story but set in the Leningrad Zoo, see: Kenneth L. Adelman, “Address to Chicago Bar Association,” Chicago, Illinois (January 22, 1987),” World Affairs 149.3 (Winter 1986–87): 157.

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  • 66

    Ben Frank, A Travel Guide to Jewish Russia and Ukraine (Louisiana: Pelican Publishing, 2000), 170. See memoir account of attendance at the commemoration at Babi Yar, Jews in Eastern Europe 5.1 (April 1972): 40–42.

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  • 67

    Yosef Boyarsky, Literaturnyyei kollazhi (Moscow: Memoirs, 2001), accessed December 14, 2013, On the naming of various personalities at Soyuzmultfilm, see the memoirs of two Soyuzmultfilm animation directors: Kyrill Malyantovich, “Kak barolis’s kosmopolitami na Soyuzmultfilme,” Kinovedchskie zapiski 52 (2001): 191–196; Evgenii Migunov, “Ia—Kosmopolit?” Kinovedcheski zapiski 52 (2001): 197–205.

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  • 72

    RGALI, f. 2944, op. 4, d. 1883a.

  • 74

    L. Zakrzhevskaya, “Mul’tiplikatsiya zhdet dramaturga,” Iskusstvo kino 7 (July 1973): 90. See RGALI, f. 2944, op. 4, d. 1390.

  • 76

    Zakrzhevskaya, “Mul’tiplikatsiya zhdet dramaturga,” 90.

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