Trapped in Toyland: Effective non-translation in Toy Story

A far cry from last time’s outing, which listed some of the best online resources out there to help you get better acquainted with translation studies as a discipline, today’s post is perhaps a bit more fun.

As one of the defining films of my childhood, Toy Story has always had a special place in my heart and I wanted to look at some of the interesting tidbits that have emerged from its global success – the trials and tribulations of translating such a tale for toy lovers around the world… if you will.

While I’ve tackled the translation of film titles on several occasions in the past and regard it as an extremely interesting topic, the fact that Toy Story has retained its English title quite consistently around the globe seems to suggest that this line of enquiry is one of little merit.

There is the obligatory French translation (Histoire de Jouets) in Quebec, and in Italian the subtitles added to each film seem to follow the formula of dumbing down titles in translation that I discussed in my other posts on the topic (the first becomes Toy Story – Il mondo dei giocattoli [The world of toys], the second adds Woody e Buzz alla riscossa [Woody and Buzz to the rescue] and the third adds La Grande Fuga [The great escape]), but there is little else of note. However, it is precisely this non-translation that counter-intuitively offers some interesting insights that I will look at in more detail later in the post.

Of course, there’s the usual mix of tricky translations to deal with within the film’s narrative. The riddle of Al’s Toy Barn in the second film is one great example that sees the toys struggling with the meaning of the car licence plate LZTYBRN (Al’s Toy Barn with the vowels removed). In French, the translators completely ignored the significance of the licence plate, having selected a fairly literal translation of the shop’s name (La Ferme aux Jouets d’Al) that was impossible to link to the letters available. I’d certainly be interested to know if there are any more creative versions in other languages that manage to incorporate the licence plate.

Furthermore, one interesting point is that the film’s iconic theme tune – Randy Newman’s ‘You’ve Got a Friend in me’ – is actually translated into French (Je suis ton ami – below) and Spanish (Hay un amigo en mi). While the Spanish version is used in conjunction with the ‘Spanish Buzz’ gag in the third film and adopts a flamenco-based orchestration, the French version is something of an oddity as the song’s lyrics have just been translated and played over the existing music, something that is quite rare. Indeed, the entire French soundtrack received this same treatment in a move that is perhaps due to the slightly more Anglo-skeptic nature of French audiences (something to be discussed below) or is perhaps just a challenge that the movie’s producers set themselves…. Either way, it is well worth a listen for the clever transposition of the lyrics.

However, the most interesting insights come from outside of the main storyline and the title of the second film in Italian mentioned above hints at this point of interest – the clue lies in the fact that Woody and Buzz remain untranslated. While Woody’s name, coming from the African-American Western actor Woody Strode, could easily be translated to reflect a similar cultural reference, Woody, Buzz and several of the more minor characters’ names are consistently left unchanged or, if altered, are translated simply to reflect to real-life toy that they depict (e.g. M. Patate / Señor Patata – Mr. Potato Head). This retention of the same names is particularly true of cultures that are more accepting of English – such as Italian, where all of the characters’ names remain untranslated – and it is a clear indication of the powerful marketing strategies operating on a wider scale.

In the case of France, meanwhile, where there is more pride associated with the native language and a less favourable opinion towards Anglicisms, there has been more of an effort to rebrand the names (Buzz Lightyear becomes Buzz l’Eclair, for example, and Wheezy is renamed Siffli in an attempt to match the pun – an opportunity that is not taken in Italian or Spanish) but ultimately the importance afforded to the core marketing terms (Woody, Buzz, Toy Story etc.) overrides this cultural trait.

Furthermore, the names that are translated in French are themselves equally concerned with positive marketing as they are always well thought-out, catchy and in-keeping with general naming trends among toys: Slinky becomes Zigzag, Stinky Pete becomes Papi Pépite [Grandpa Nugget – using the mining reference], Bullseye becomes Pile-Poil [spot-on, exactly] and Hamm becomes Bayonne (a famous ham-making region in France).

The memorable nature of these names and the repeated use of rhyme and alliteration mark these out as something beyond the ordinary translation. Indeed, the translation of names in France was not only a tool to provide a small touch of humour to viewers but also a means of marketing the toys to the general public, a clever opportunity that was perhaps slightly ignored by the Italian translators (although the merchandise still undoubtedly sold well in Italy under the English branding). Ultimately, it’s not surprising that all of the toys were successfully marketed in France (anyone want a Pile-Poil doll?).

So what can Toy Story tell us about translation? Above all, both the translation and non-translation of various elements within and surrounding the films demonstrate that the power of global marketing consistency can be more influential than linguistic considerations when mediating between cultures, particularly when the source language enjoys the kind of global hegemony that English does. Toy Story is quite unique in its marketing potential (how many children could resist the lure of wanting a Woody or Buzz of their own after watching the film?) but this is a choice that is reflected in many translations these days, where a brand must choose between comprehension and consistency in their branding.

In this particular case, even the decision to leave the title as untouched as possible is a strategic one (rather than being the result of laziness). The film’s logo and distinctive colour scheme are now instantly recognisable and this greater consistency has ensured unrivalled brand value on a global scale rather than fragmenting international markets.

Ultimately, aside from the lovable characters, enjoyable storylines and clever marketing, it seems that the strategic translation choices (or the lack of translation all together) made along the way have been one of the key factors in the series’ continuing success that saw the first film alone make $361 million worldwide.

To infinity and beyond / Vers l’infini et au-delà / Verso l’infinito…e oltre! / Hasta el infinito… ¡y más allá!

– Buzz Lightyear

Guest Post: Film Titles – A Puzzling Matter.

Having enjoyed Joseph’s articles on translating film titles (The Good, the Bad and the Inexplicable and the sequel), I accepted his ‘challenge’ to talk (well, write) about English film titles translated into Romanian: the good and the bad.

As a film lover and a linguist, I could go on and on and on and on (you get my drift) about this topic, but I’ll try to be brief (sort of).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Good

In this category, I am going to include films whose titles have been translated literally and worked just fine (without resorting to unnecessary gimmicks and metaphors, although I have to admit I do like the French title for ‘Jaws’ – ‘Les dents de la mer’) and those whose titles have been changed for the best.

Literal translation

Some films titles that have kept the same meaning as the original and are excellent examples that sometimes a literal translation can work: ‘The Godfather’ (Nașul), ‘Jaws’ (Fălci), ‘The Sixth Sense’ (Al șaselea simț), ‘Black Swan’ (Lebăda neagră).

Slightly changed

Some translators have done a brilliant job. Speaking of brilliant, take for instance ‘A Beautiful Mind’. The Romanian translation  – ‘O minte sclipitoare’ – means ‘a brilliant mind’, which definitely conveys the idea of the film. Had the translator used ‘frumoasă’ (the exact equivalent of ‘beautiful’), it would have sounded awkward.

To Kill a Mockingbird’  – the only change was made to mockingbird, which was rendered as ‘singing bird’. The change is perfectly justified, as there is no popular term for ‘mockingbird’ in Romanian and using the scientific name was obviously not a choice. Although there is a bird called ‘gaiță’ which can mimic other birds’ sounds, this word is also used with a pejorative connotation (a person who talks a lot without saying anything meaningful). So, excellent choice.

Finding Nemo’ became ‘Looking for Nemo’ (În căutarea lui Nemo). While English is a lot more flexible in using the gerund form, somehow that does not work the same way in Romanian, as a noun would be used in constructions such as the one in the title.  And since the corresponding noun for ‘finding’ would have sounded clumsy, the translator found the perfect solution. Well done!

Some Like It Hot’ – ‘Unora le place jazz-ul’ (Some like jazz). Well, with so many different meanings of the word ‘hot’ in English, I am afraid it would have been impossible to find a perfect equivalent, so I think the title is pretty decent.

The Bad

Now comes the fun part that you’ve all been waiting for!

To be fair, there are titles that cannot be easily translated as they convey a (sometimes, ‘double’) meaning which must be looked for in the word collocation/formation or even more deeply, in the setting, history or tradition of the characters involved. Words of foreign origin – loan words – puns (especially if they are the result of ‘merging’) may be extremely tricky and require special attention. In my opinion, no title should be translated before the film has been watched to the very end and thoroughly understood. A foreigner doing a translation into their mother tongue had better check a few film reviews before making up their mind what to do with the title. The top film critics of the world have probably written a word or two about it.

There are several categories of badly translated titles. Some, the less horrifying category, may not be far from the original but still don’t have the same effect upon the viewer as the original ones would do. Others tend to keep little of the original meaning (together with its underlying impact) simply because they have not looked at it as carrying a metaphorical meaning instead of the literal one. A third group comprises those titles which are not at all translations of the original ones but adaptations or interpretations, someone’s idea regarding the ‘essence’ of the film which is not always what the director and screen writer had in mind.

Why turn ‘The Shawshank Redemption‘ into ‘The prison of angels’ (Închisoarea îngerilor) when there is a proper noun followed by another quite ‘translatable’ common noun in that title?

Or why pick one of the least relevant meanings of the word ‘dark’ and decide to translate ‘The Dark Knight‘ in such a way that it comes to mean ‘The Black Knight’ (Cavalerul Negru)? Does the character seem to wear too much ‘black’ in the film or should the translator have found another word?

Déjà vu’ starring Denzel Washington was translated ‘Dincolo de trecut’ (Beyond the past). While it sounds great, it could have very well been left as ‘Déjà vu’, as this French borrowed term is used in Romanian in the same way, so there would be no confusions.

But my pet peeves are the titles whose translations contain spoilers. Why ruin it for the viewers? See below:

The UnbornMisterul Gemenilor (The mystery of the twins). Great! Thanks!

Bruce AlmightyDumnezeu pentru o zi (God for a day). Hmmm, I wonder what the film may be about?

There would be a third category – the untranslated (which can sometimes work and sometimes… not really), but I’m afraid I will bore you to death, so I’ll stop for now.

The list and comments above are, of course, subjective (some may have a different opinion), but I would say I have tried to be as objective as possible (as an experienced linguist).

There are so many things to explore when it comes to film translation, that one post is not enough. While writing this, I also delved deeper into the topic and wrote another article, Challenges in Film Translation published on our blog, which deals with issues such as slang, swear words and nicknames. Hope you enjoy both reads and comments are always welcome.

                                                                                                                                                                              

About Alina
I am a former teacher, translator and interpreter with over 8 years’ experience, now Managing Director at 
Inbox Translation, a London based translation agency. I am a language geek who likes to keep up to date with what’s happening in the industry. When I am not writing on my own blog, I am writing on other people’s. You can get in touch on Google+ and LinkedIn.

                                                                                                                                                                              

Joseph: I just want to quickly thank Alina for agreeing to be a guest writer and especially for the excellent post; if any other readers out there would like to tackle a topic from my blog from a fresh perspective or in another language pair then please do get in touch (jaltranslation@gmail.com or leave a comment). I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article and it would be great to publish some similar posts in the future!

Film Titles in Translation: The Sequel

Hot on the heels of my last post, which was a bit heavier than usual, I thought I’d get back into familiar territory with something a bit more fun. Seeing as my first post on the translation of film titles had a fair bit of interest and was so fun to write, I thought I’d write a sequel about sequels.

Rather than looking at films that simply add ‘2’ or ‘3’, which would hardly be the most interesting read, I went for films that aimed for a bit more in the titling, often using the name of the first film as a basis for other titles in the series. As you can imagine, with the title of the first film often being completely transformed in translation, this can cause all sorts of problems, and translators have had varying degrees of success over the years.

So, for your reading pleasure, here are some of the funnier and more interesting examples I came across.

The Terminator Series

Starting with one of the biggest movie series around, it is interesting to see how translation deals with the changing subtitles in each film which often contain biblical references. While ‘Judgement Day’ is changed to its accepted cultural equivalent in both French and Italian (‘Le Jugement dernier’ and ‘Il giorno del giudizio’) and ‘Rise of the Machines’ is translated closely, ‘Terminator Salvation’ was cleverly retitled ‘Terminator Renaissance’ in the French over a more literal translation as it retains the biblical nature of the title and sounds much better than ‘Terminator Salut’ (literally: salvation) which could be mistaken as meaning ‘Terminator Hi’.

The Die Hard series has some of the most confused naming across the series that you’ll ever find. While the English versions add a unique tagline, retaining the crucial words ‘Die Hard’ (Die Harder, Die Hard with a Vengeance etc.), several of the European releases made this kind of linking impossible from the outset.

The first film in the series was released as ‘Trappola di Cristallo’ in Italian and ‘Piège de cristal’ in French meaning ‘Crystal Trap’ while the second was named ’58 minutes to live’ and ’58 minutes to die’ in France and Italy respectively. Both of these titles relate much more closely to the plot but carry no link between the two films.

After this, presumably due to the growing global stature of the series, and realising the need to try and make up for these early mistakes, each of the films just used the English ‘Die Hard’ in the titles, followed by a translated tagline (e.g. ‘Die Hard – Vivere o morire’ (to live or die) for ‘Live free or die hard’ in Italy) except the French version of the third film which stuck with its initial tactics and named the film ‘Une journée en enfer’ (A day in hell).

One final, interesting note on the series is that in the German release of the first film, the German names of the terrorists were changed to American equivalents in order to make it easier for the audience to identify with the protagonist by inverting the enemy’s cultural bases. As such, Hans became Jack, Karl became Charlie and Heinrich became Henry.

The Naked Gun

While the Die Hard translators failed to keep a common thread going throughout the series, the titles of this trilogy are dealt with well in both French and Italian, and in two distinct ways. While the Italian sticks close to the original titles, adopting a clever translation for ‘The Naked Gun’ in ‘Una Pallottola Spuntata’ (lit. A blunt bullet, keeping the idiomatic nature and some of the innuendo of the original) and adding fitting taglines, the French translation completely transforms the title but keeps it consistent and fitting throughout the series: The first film becomes ‘Y a-t-il un flic pour sauver la reine?’ (Is there a cop to save the queen?), the second ‘Y a-t-il un flic pour sauver le président?’ ( Is there a cop to savethe president?) and the third ‘Y a-t-il un flic pour sauver Hollywood’ (guess), each referring closely to the individual plots.

Dumb and Dumber

Together with the sequel/prequel ‘Dumb and Dumberer’, this pair have two of the most challenging titles around. With their use of the comparative that cannot be replicated in many languages and the ungrammatical nature of the second mirroring the subject matter, any translator has their work cut out. (For me, the title was one of the only good things about the second film)

The Italian deals with it literally and chooses to avoid the wordplay of the second title as much as possible: ‘Scemo e piu scemo’ (lit. Dumb and more dumb) for the first and ‘Scemo e piu scemo – Iniziò cosi’ (Dumb and more dumb – How it started) for the second. Meanwhile, the French version managed to avoid any trouble by leaving both titles untranslated.

Fortunately in Quebec, with the equal status given to both English and French meaning that all films are released in both languages, we get two interesting titles. The first becomes ‘La cloche et l’idiot’, quite a literal translation which uses colloquial language in a similar way to the English, and the sequel becomes ‘Plusse cloche et très zidiot’ (lit. More dumb and very idiotic) but with the spellings changed in a ridiculous manner to mirror the idiotic nature of the content, showing that even some more complex linguistic games can be replicated to an extent in a foreign tongue.

Laziness Prevails

Nevertheless, for every translation that is well thought out and takes cultural and linguistic concerns into account (how about ‘East is East’ becoming ‘Fish and Chips’ – written in English – in France…), there are times when the translator seems to consider the wordplay in the title just too much of a hassle and resorts to boring, unimaginative naming. This is the case with ‘The Fast and The Furious’ sequel ‘2 Fast 2 Furious’ becoming ‘Rapides & Dangereux 2’ in Quebec and just ‘Fast and Furious 2′ in French’

Further examples of this kind include ‘Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey’ (the sequel to Excellent Adventure) which becomes ‘Les Aventures de Bill et Ted’ (the Adventures of Bill and Ted) and ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel’ (I haven’t seen it, honest) becoming ‘Alvin et les chipmunks 2’ in French. Some of the least inspired titles around.

Finally, before I go, I thought I’d include one little bonus translation. A few weeks ago I was asked: ‘why does ‘The Hangover’ become ‘Very Bad Trip’ – written in English – in the French release’

The answer: while French does have an equivalent for a hangover (‘gueule de bois’, literally a wooden mouth), the phrase ‘faire un bad trip’ is widely recognised by French people and reflects the film’s US roots in a comprehensible manner. So there you have it.

Adios.

Film titles in translation: The Good, the Bad and the Inexplicable.

The title says it all really: a blog about the translation of film titles.

Given the magnitude of the film industry, this relatively small sector of translation is clearly of utmost importance. With so many films released which are all vying for the public’s hard-earned cash, the power of a title cannot be overstated; it needs to be snappy, intriguing or iconic in order to fulfil its role of capturing the attention of the film’s desired target audience, and the same applies to films all around the world.

Yet so often the resulting translated titles seem completely baffling, coming out as something seemingly unrelated. There must be an explanation as to why the changes are made?!

Image

There are some cases when it is much more clear than others, one such example is the Italian version of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind which was released as Se mi lasci ti cancello (If you leave me, I’ll erase you); this title builds upon the already established reputation of Jim Carrey as a funnyman and leaves the audience expecting yet another wacky comedy. This is hardly an ethical decision as the film is a far cry from earlier roles such as Ace Ventura, but the end results presumably justified the means. Similarly, Bend it Like Beckham‘s Italian translation as Sognando Beckham (Dreaming About Beckham) ensures that the key mention, from a marketing perspective, of Beckham’s name is retained while the rest of the title is deemed quite irrelevant.

Other times it is a little less clear why the decision has been taken to alter a title, although  the author of this aptly named blog, Crap French Film Titles, seems to have the secret of title translation nailed in his subheading ‘dumb it down, sex it up’, as this select set of examples clearly demonstrate:

In Italian we have The French Connection as Il braccio violento della legge (The Violent Arm of the Law) making it very clear what the film is about and in French a few classics include The Italian Job simplified to L’or se barre (The Gold Clears Off), Meet the Parents becoming Mon beau-père et moi (My Father-in-law and I) and A Nightmare on Elm Street as Les Griffes de la nuit (The Claws of the Night).

When a film’s title is already amply self-explanatory it will generally stay the same or be translated very closely, although one bizarre example that I came across was the translation of Jaws. A pretty simple translation process here you would expect, but the translator’s faced with the task clearly disagreed: the French version adopted the passable Les Dents de la mer (The Teeth of the Sea) while the Italian version almost offensively underestimated the intellects of the general public with the title Lo Squalo (The Shark(!)).

Image

There are even times when the translation does not actually seem applicable to the film it describes. The most famous case of this that I have encountered is the Home Alone series of films, the first of which which is translated in both French and Italian as Mum, I missed the plane. This title is just about understandable, but the sequel – Mum I missed the plane again and I am lost in New York – while obviously named to provide continuity from the first film and dumbing the title down like many of the films above, is factually incorrect as Kevin actually just gets on the wrong plane this time…

Image

Of course it can be an extremely difficult task to transfer the title of a film successfully, especially when it is of a figurative nature or contains plays on words, and there are many examples of excellent, creative title translations such as Doctor Strangelove as Il dottor Stranamore and Docteur Folamour, but sometimes the best thing seems to be to just leave the title alone as much as possible (after all, what’s wrong with Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo?). If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.