Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

  • Examples from Czech dubbed versions of foreign movies:
    • In Jumanji, the hero said when attacking the carnivorous plant: "It's harvest time, Adele!" Adéla ješte nevečeřela (Adele hasn't had supper yet) is a Czech movie, and the titular Adele is a man-eating plant created by a mad scientist.
    • In the Czech version of the first Shrek movie, the translators have smuggled in a number of references to popular Czech fairy tales.
  • Polish versions of Shrek are loaded with Woolseyisms, pretty much like all movies translated by Bartosz Wierzbieta.
  • Also, this gem from the Polish version of Pulp Fiction:

Fabienne: Czyj to Harley? (Whose Harley is that?)
Butch: Zeda. (It's Zed's.)
Fabienne: Kto to jest Zed? (Who's Zed?)
Butch: Zed zszedł, kochanie. (Zed passed away, baby. - which sounds in Polish almost exactly like the original "Zed's dead" as the two words rhyme.)

    • Not even mentioning turning the "I'm gonna get medieval on your ass!" line into highly memetic "Zrobię ci z dupy jesień średniowiecza!" (I'm gonna make The Autumn of the Middle Ages[1] out of your ass!).
  • Various dubs of Robin Hood: Men in Tights change the gag when Robin Hood tells the Sheriff, "unlike other Robin Hoods, I speak with an English accent" because foreign viewers who saw the dubbed 1991 Kevin Costner film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves wouldn't get the joke. So, it is changed to another line deriding Costner. For example, the German dub changes the line into something like "because unlike that other Robin Hood, I do not cost the producers 5 million", putting stress on kosten (cost) as a pun on Costner.
  • The Italian version of Young Frankenstein is full of these. One example; 'Werewolf?' 'There. There wolf, there castle!' Was translated with a mispronunciation of 'ulula' (howls) to sound like the sardinian dialect's 'u l'u là', 'it's there'. So, it became 'Là. Lupu u l'u là, e castellu, u l'u lì.' 'The wolf is there and the castle is here.', the single most famous line from the movie in Italy.
  • The Latin American dub of the 2008 Get Smart movie got back the original voice actor for Smart and he ad-libbed many of the jokes, sometimes placing Mexican pop-culture references over the original ones and overall made the film much more true to the original series than the English version was.
  • An hilarious example in the French dub of Aladdin. At one point, in the famous "Prince Ali" sequence, you see a group of pretty courtesans at a balcony, joined by the genie disguised as a courtesan too. What's the point ? Well, in French "Il y a du monde au balcon" ("it's crowded on the balcony") is an extremely popular, ironic euphemism used to say "wow, these breasts are big" - a holdover from the tradition of "precious language". And in Aladdin, here's this little balcony with plenty of... well-built young ladies. This joke was just so good that the dubbers threw it in without any regard for the original line. Hilarity Ensues.
    • Most of the best lines in Disney dubs from the 90s are add-libs from the translators anyway (because there's no other way to "translate" humor).
    • That's just one out of hundreds of examples. The French version of "I just can't wait to be king" sees Zazu's pun on Out of Africa becomes a pro-democratic tirade, and of course to the French version of "Mine, Mine, Mine", which may well be one of the best Disney adaptation ever. Long story short: Disney understood sometime in the 1990's that bad adaptations ruin movies, so they created DCVI, a whole company dedicated to dubs. The French department somehow managed to recruit some of the most creative translators there are, and made them work with great dubbers. The result was crack.
    • The translation of Beauty and the Beast is also pretty awesome. "The Mob Song" is already amazing in English but the French dub changes most of the lyrics to paint the Beast as a devilish soul-stealing monster and it's pretty damn effective.

Aux frontières/ Du mystère/ Au château de l'impossible/ Vit le diable dans son horrible tanière.

    • While the French translation of Beauty and the Beast, and all of the Disney songs really, is usually incredible, there's a point in "Y a Quelque Chose" ("Something There") that sounds everything but natural in French, especially when speaking about the Beast, once you stop and think about it:

Toi mon ami/ Aux yeux de soie (you my friend/ with silk eyes)

  • Dutch Disney translations tend to have these too. Most notable is probably the song "the bare necessities" from the jungle book. Since that pun doesn't work in Dutch it first got translated as a song about "Baloe de bruine beer" (Baloo the brown bear). Some years later people started noticing Baloo was actually not brown at all, so they retranslated it as "als je van beren leren kan" (if you can learn from bears). The text is still completely different from the original, but it works just as well. They've been doing it right ever since.
  • Sometimes, Woolseyisms can move a rather poor movie into So Bad It's Good territory. Case in point: the French dub of Braddock: Missing In Action 3, featuring Chuck Norris as the titular character. One memorable line :

Littlejohn: Braddock! I'm warning you, don't step on any toes.
Col. James Braddock: I don't step on toes, Littlejohn, I step on necks.

Littlejohn: Braddock! Attention où vous mettez les pieds. (Braddock! Pay attention where you put your feet!)
Col. James Braddock: Je mets les pieds où je veux, Littlejohn. Et c'est souvent dans la gueule. (I put my feet where I want, Littlejohn. And it's often in faces.)

  • The French dubs of Arnold Schwarzenegger movies are prone to this. The dub of Last Action Hero has Arnold call himself "Arnold Albertschweitzer" (a reference to famous medical doctor Albert Schweitzer) and great improvements on the original dialog, like when one of the mooks gets taken out by an ice cream cone to the head ("Pour qui sonne la glace! Celui-la j'ai refroidi!" - "For whom does the ice cream toll? That guy I just froze!") and during the Schwarzenhamlet scene ("Moi, doux? Tu veux rire!" - "Me, fair? You're kidding!")
  • The English dub of Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky.
  • A lot of German film dubs from before the mid-nineties took liberties in translation. Blatant example in the first Terminator film. Arnold rudely interrupts a caller at a public phone booth to look up Sarah Connor's address in the book. Said caller mentions Arnold to have "a serious attitude problem". Very witty indeed. Compare the German version:

Why don't you look up "asshole" in the phone book? I bet you'll find your number listed!

  • The French version of Dirty Dancing has quite a few, which have become so cult that most viewers miss them when they watch the original version. For example, the very flat line "I'm sorry you had to see that, Baby... Sometimes in this world you see things you don't wanna see." became "Parfois, on assiste à des scènes terribles. Malheureusement le monde est une jungle, l’homme est un loup pour l’homme et surtout pour la femme..." ("Sometimes, we see horrible things. Unfortunately, the world is a jungle; man is a wolf to man, and especially to woman.") Some of the lines just have an irresistible Narm Charm that goes perfectly with the story.
  • The French version of Back to the Future even created a new expression. "Great Scott!" was changed to "Nom de Zeus!", a pun on "Nom de Dieu!" (literally "God's name", but it's more of a "Goddamnit"). I still don't know how or why this was changed, but I know I still watch the movies in French because of this expression.
    • The French dub is actually full of Woolseyisms. For example, the Calvin Klein joke is changed to refer to French fashion designer Pierre Cardin, and the DeLorean needs 2.21 gigowatts of power (because 2.21 is more easily heard in French.) The "Hey, McFly!" scene changes the insult from "Irish bug" to "espece de creme anglaise" (a pun on the food creme anglaise and "English piece of shit") and an attempt by Biff to say McFly in a British accent.
  • From Wikipedia: In the German dub of the 2005 movie version of Bewitched, the line "The Do-not-disturb sign will hang on the door tonight." became "The only hanging thing tonight will be the Do-not-disturb sign."
  • In Cars, John Ratzenberger, who's been in every single Pixar film to date, plays Mack. During the end credits, Mack goes to a drive-in featuring car versions of Toy Story, Monsters, Inc.., and A Bugs Life. Mack praises the John Ratzenberger characters at first, until he realizes...
    • In the Swedish version, where these characters were not voiced by the same actor, Mack instead rants about how P. T. Flea (the last Ratzenberger character shown) is leeching off of the hard-working circus bug(gies), even squeezing in a flea-related pun.
    • Attempted in the Hungarian dub. Mater, whose voice actor has been part of a popular comedic sketch at the time, uses the famous Catch Phrase of his character from that sketch. This was met with mixed reception, only because that phrase included the F-word in an abbreviated form.
  • The french dub of A Christmas Movie is widely considered by bilingual viewers to be far superior to the original thanks in large parts to the lively and emotional delivery of the narrator who has more lines than anyone else in the movie. Kudos to the snappy, catchy french version of the arc words "Tu vas te crever un oeil!" ("You'll put your eye out!")
  • In Hero there are four scenes where the soldiers yell in unison: before the emperor appears, before the attack on the city Flying Snow and Broken Sword are staying in, when Nameless is executed, and when Nameless is given a hero's burial. In the original Chinese the soldiers are simply yelling "Ha! Ha!", but the English subtitles transcribe it as "Hail! Hail!", creating a pun not found in the original work.
  • Appears in all but the very earliest movies with Bud Spencer and Terence Hill. The german dubs give them witty and funny dialogues, often completely changing the original meaning or outright changing the theme of the movie from a grim spaghetti western to a lighthearted buddy romp. The high quality of the dubs (not in accurateness, but in sheer outlandish mannerism) are responsible for the fact that these movies are still extremely popular in Germany.

Back to Woolseyism
  1. reference to the title of Johan Huizinga's book
  2. Means "Be careful, lion! Don't lose your path"; the word for "path" (voie) sounds the same as the word for "vote" (voix)
  3. Wordplay with the French words for "rebel" and "lion" (describing Simba) that when put together form the word for "rebellion" (another pro-democratic pun)