The Language in Disney

Not so long ago, I got the assignment to write an article about the language in films. Does the language effects the way we watch films and interpret the story? I have thought about it and I came up with the subject: Disney. Walt Disney Studios have made a lot of animated films for children in a lot of different languages. Because the youngsters don’t understand the English language yet or can’t read the subtitles, most of them watch the films in their own language. But while translating the original monologues into other languages, are we getting the same jokes or is it translated in a way that it’s more understandable for the audience? An example: I used to watch The Lion King always in Dutch, but when – not so long ago – I watched the film in English I finally understood where that song came from Zazu sings. ‘It’s a Small World After All’ is the song from one of the rides in theme park Disneyland!

But lets continue with how I feel about this matter. When I was a young girl, of an age younger than ten, I used to watch every Disney film – and most of the other animated films for that matter – in my own laguage. The Disney films I used to watch in Dutch, I still watch in Dutch. I may have tried to watch it in its original language, but I still enjoy the Dutch voices so much more. This might be a very different discussion, because it doesn’t have any thing to do with the language itself more with the expression of the voice actors. But nevertheless, I can say that I choose better voice actors over the original language and monologues.

Besides watching the old classic Disney films in Dutch because I just love the voice actors, I also love it to talk along with the film. I happen to know almost every monologue from Aladdin, The Lion King, The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast – which are also my four favourite films! But a striking point is that the Dutch voice actors always sound like the English voice Actors. I do listen more to the English songs these days, but that was in the first place only because they were easier to find on ‘Spotify’. I still prefer the Dutch song of the films I mentioned above.

The films I watched for the first time at an adult age, I still only watch in English. It’s so the other way around now. I saw Rapunzel and The Princess and the Frog both in the original version in the theatre. When I watched those films in Dutch, it just didn’t gave me the same vibe. Both because I understand the English language much better now and because I feel the Dutch voice actors are not that good anymore. It’s less about the actual language and more about the expression of the cast and how they choose to use their voice. This is similar to the way how translation software companies tries to stay true to the original articles. While they translate pieces into several languages, they also aim to keep the expression and voice in the same way it was meant.

Princess and the frog facilier recording 

It’s whole different story when we look at the live-action films Disney created. Think about the films Maleficent and this years Cinderella. Both films could be seen in their original version and dubbed with – in this case – Dutch voices. Think about Angelina Jolie’s face and voice and then think about her looks combined with another voice and speech. When I see these films, it just doesn’t feel right. But again, the actual problem doesn’t really lie in the language, more in the visual aspect and how you hear things. Some people have a very good voice and when you dub that voice, the film can lose its charme. I think children of a young age should watch these live-action films in the original version, and if they have questions they have their parents and a big screen to look at. Children understand a lot by just watching the film.

To conclude this post, I can say that changing the language itself shouldn’t be such an issue. The choice to watch a Disney film in the original version or dubbed with an other language lies more in the visual aspects (live-action) and the voice expressions of the actors. However, I feel that live-action films always should be watched in the original version. Also because you’re used to hear a voice when you see a certain actor. And don’t forget the charme some voices have. For children it could be nice to learn the story of the animated films in their own language, but when they’re old enough to understand the English language it might be interesting to hear the differences. Because that’s all what it is: different. The story doesn’t change.


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