Feb. 26, 2003


Dobby, Putin: Separated at Birth?

by Joal Ryan            






Did you hear the one about the Russian lawyers threatening to sue Warner Bros. for casting Harry Potter house elf Dobby in the image of Vladimir Putin?

Yes, just what the world needs now: a funny international crisis.

Unfortunately, not everybody is laughing.

Like the Russian lawyers.

A little background: Dobby is the filthy, floppy-eared, pointy-nosed, bug-eyed CGI creature who tries to discourage everyone's favorite young wizard from returning to Hogwarts School in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Putin is the polished 50-year-old president of Russia. Whether his ears stick out, his nose protrudes or his eyes bulge a little, we will not venture to say here. (We have no intention of starting an un-funny international crisis.)

But others are not as circumspect. The Dobby-looks-like-Putin topic has been debated by Netizens across the globe for nearly two weeks now.

"I don't think I'd have noticed it if it hadn't been pointed out, but, yes, there is a certain resemblance. To me, it's mostly cute and not at all insulting," wrote one poster on the soc.culture.russian newsgroup. "If I were Putin, I'd buy a Dobby doll and put it on my desk."

Opined a dissenting Netizen, who found Dobby's features no match for Putin's, on a message board at the Harry Potter fan site, MuggleNet.com: "If I looked like a rather ugly (no offense Dobby!) fictional character, I would not be ready to let that be known worldwide."

The Dobby-the-doppelgänger story appears to have originated, understandably, in Russia, with early reports also surfacing in Italy and Germany. The BBC-run children's Website CBBC helped the story go global, posting an online poll on January 20, asking users to settle the issue once and for all: Yes, Putin looks like Dobby or, no, he doesn't.

The verdict: With 5,500 votes cast through January 22, 54 percent of respondents saw a lot of Putin in Potter's pal.

Warner Bros., which has brought the Harry Potter franchise to the big screen, has remained mum on the issue. A call seeking comment from the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., was not returned Wednesday.

Studio flacks can try to avoid the issue; diplomats can pretend they have more pressing issues, but one group will not be deterred when it comes to the Dobby-Putin affair.

Which brings us back to the Russian lawyers.

According to reports credited to a Russian newspaper and radio station, an unnamed, unspecified group of legal eagles in that country claim the supposed Dobby-Putin resemblance is very real, very intentional and, therefore, an infringement on the superpower leader's image. (With all apologies to Dobby's elfin skills, the superpower referenced here is Putin.)

It has been a couple of weeks since these lawyers supposedly started talking lawsuit, but according to Radio Free Europe's Website, "no one seems to know who [the lawyers] might be."

Still, a spokesman for the Russian Lawyers' Guild told Radio Free Europe he wouldn't be surprised if the reports were true. "Similar suits have taken place," Viktor Dolgishev said on the Website. "[But] it's very difficult for courts to rule on them; lots of experts have to be called in. It's doubtful if it has a chance."

Perhaps. In the event that the Dobby-Putin story fizzles, the next inconsequential international crisis awaits.

"Psst...," wrote one Lord of the Rings-minded instigator on MuggleNet.com, "Gollum looks like George W. Bush."