[...] Literary translation is challenging, and tends to work best when the translator has recourse to the amplifying and telescoping powers of periphrasis, poetic license, and, if it comes to it, a discreet footnote here or there. Few of these tools are at the disposal of the cinematic translator. The perfect dub must convey meaning within an allotted timeframe. It is often set to music and accompanied by context-specific body language, and must aim to fit the shape of characters’ mouths as they are speaking. Of course, songs also have to rhyme, jokes have to be funny, and cultural references have to be legible to an audience of foreign children. Dubbing is translation in four dimensions.

There has never been a Disney musical so widely translated (or “localized,” in industry-speak) as “Frozen.” There has also never been a Disney musical so loaded with American vernacular speech. Princess Anna may have spent her childhood in a remote Scandinavian citadel, but she talks like a teen-ager from suburban New Jersey. Singing about her sister’s impending coronation ceremony, she says, “Don’t know if I’m elated or gassy, but I’m somewhere in that zone,” and confesses to a need to “stuff some chocolate in my face” at the prospect of meeting a handsome stranger at the party. Ariel, Belle, and Jasmine were more demure in their longings, and sang in a register of English more readily amenable to translation.

One of the forty-one languages in which you can watch “Frozen” is Modern Standard Arabic. This is a departure from precedent. Earlier Disney films (from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” to “Pocahontas” to “Tangled”) were dubbed into Egyptian Arabic, the dialect with the largest number of speakers in the region, based in a country with a venerable history of film production. Generations of Arabs grew up watching Egyptian movies, and the Disney musicals capitalized on their familiarity with this particular dialect. More.

See: The New Yorker

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