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  • Masha e Orso Wins the Heart of Italy's Children

    Find out about how a Russian cartoon is the obsession of Italian tikes
    Our Paesani

    By Francesca Di Meglio

    As we gathered with family at the local gelateria in Ischia, Italy, an island off the coast of Naples that is the home of my ancestors and husband, my 3-year-old son pulled on my leg. "I wanna see it, Mamma, I wanna see it," he shouted.

    He pointed to a dirty, old piece of paper stuck under the chair of a nearby table. Most would ignore such a toddler whim. But my son has delayed speech, and he only recently started saying phrases or making sense, frankly. So, of course, I listened and let him walk over to the garbage. I kept him from picking it up, but not from bursting with glee. Although there was a visible footprint across his face, the bear from Masha e Orso, one of the most popular cartoons in Italy, was plastered on the paper.

    Because of his delayed speech, we have mostly eliminated Italian language for my son. But we visit our Italian family every summer, so he is still somewhat exposed. Mostly, he watches English-language television and movies. But my mother-in-law, who is disabled and has been confined to her bedroom for months now, wanted company from her grandson. So, she would lure him in with TV.

    The sure bet was to call him to her room whenever Masha e Orso, which translates to Masha and the Bear, was playing. A Russian television series loosely based on the folk tale, "Masha and the Bear," the series is all about a little girl and her friend, who is a bear that reads, has a girlfriend, and keeps a tidy house.

    Most of the episodes revolve around Masha, who always wears a kerchief on her head, stirring up trouble and the bear, who never speaks, coming to the rescue. Every so often, of course, the tables turn. Masha might see the error of her ways or want to do something helpful for the bear in those instances. The sweet rapport between the child and bear is hard to reject. So, even though my son's speech therapist would probably object both to the additional TV time and the Italian language, I succumbed.

    I was not alone. Every kid in Ischia seemed to be obsessed with this show. There were tourists all over the island with Masha and orso foil balloons attached to their strollers, and toy stores filled with merchandise. I should know. I had to distract my son every time we came into contact with this stuff for fear he'd want it all.

    What is interesting is the fact that it's Russian. There have always been popular cartoons from the United States or other countries in Europe, such as France. But I haven't seen many from Russia. The first episode of the show aired back in January 2009, according to Wikipedia. I find that interesting because the show has only really taken off in the last year in Italy. I'm not sure what contributed to the lag in its popularity in Italy. Regardless, my son was charmed. And he would talk to me about the episodes as we watched them. Anything that gets him talking is all right by me.

    Di Meglio uses the written word to help families make memories and stick together. You can follow her on Facebook at Francesca's Newlyweds Nest and on Twitter @ItalianMamma10.


    Article Published 9/14/2015

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