Of all the arts or techniques that are part of the cartoon universe (and cinema, in general) dubbing is the least taken into account, and for good reasons. Usually, I’d rather not understand a single word than see the thing dubbed: replacing a given actor’s vocal performance is the equivalent of watching Gene Kelly dance on crutches. And I’m not alone. Early on, USA film producers discovered that Latin American audiences preferred to see their films subtitled rather than dubbed; although in the meantime they did a lot of experiments, such as re-shoot a movie with a Spanish-speaking cast or even doing a Spanish version of the film with the same actors trying to speak in that language, which doubled the comic effect in the case of Laurel & Hardy.
Dracula (1931) in Spanish language, directed by George Melford, was shot simultaneously with Tod Browing’s version. Note this version has numerous divergences with respect to its English counterpart. (Click the NEXT button twice to see the Spanish version of the film).
Blotto (1930), short film by Laurel & Hardy. Spanish version interpreted in that language by Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.
In any case, dubbing seems to be an unfortunate task in which the innumerable technical difficulties will never be compensated by the results. But there are exceptions.
When television became the channel of exploitation par excellence for a large amount of audiovisual material, producers quickly realized that the poor image offered by the new medium, the small space of a screen, or the fluctuating attention span of the viewer made subtitles an unviable item. First, producers from USA, and then local ones, began to organize specialized dubbing studios in Mexico; and cartoons, short-subject series, movies or TV shows passed through them to be distributed throughout Latin America. Those Spanish dubbed versions had a particularity: they were incredibly good. For some mysterious reasons the cursed device did work, at least once. Although no one knew the names of the actors in charge at the time, one could, with a keen ear, recognize some vague similarities between the timbre of Bugs Bunny’s voice and that of Maxwell Smart. Of course, these were two totally different performances, as far removed from each other as Mel Blanc could be from Don Adams.
In the case of the Looney Tunes series, which is the one that concerns us, there was an additional tragic element, not attributable to the actors: the cutting of big chunks of the music score. Is evident that the original from which they worked it was composed by a single track, forcing the replacement of musical segments in any spoken part. But this minor misfortune was mitigated by the hard-working anonymous voices. The Spanish they spoke was neutral and stripped of all the Mexican particularities, since its consumption was continental, but something always managed to escape here and there. Small details, connected with the immediate reality that surrounded the actors, crept under Control’s Cone of Silence, let’s say, or appeared in the middle of a Yosemite Sam’s tirade. Little details such as, for example, some allusion to a certain massacre with hundreds of dead by some efficient repressive machinery. That is precisely what this entry is about.Baseball Bugs (1946) is a short film directed by Friz Freleng. According to the excellent site “Doblaje Wiki”, from where I extracted all this information, on this short the rabbit was dubbed by actor Jorge Arvizú, nicknamed “El Tata” Arvizú: a sort of Mexican legend who was in charge of everything that came from by Mel Blanc to the leading roles of Get Smart, The Flintstones and other screen luminaries.
Warning: there is a Spanish dub made in the late nineties of this same short (along with many other entries in the series) that has all the flavor of heresy. Not to be confused with this one!
But one thing sets the dubbing of Baseball Bugs apart from the other work done by Arvizú and crew: a whole set of new meanings, evidently absent from Freleng’s original, which sneaked onto the lines of dialogue.
Here is a copy of the short with the Spanish dubbing:
And here, for the benefit of our non-Spanish-speaking readers (the majority, I guess), we have a breakdown of the main changes on dialog that I could detect.
00.53- The team up to bat is the “Democrats,” “who won’t give up.” They are not to be confused with the American Democratic Party but an allusion to democracy in general. In any case, it’s far from the original “Tea Totallers”.
00.55- Player of the “Democrats”: -Sufragio efectivo, sí, aunque no sea con ron/Effective suffrage, yes, even if not with rum (an allusion to Cuban rum?)
02.00- Bugs Bunny: -Bah, fuera, si serán buenos gorilas, parecen granaderos/Bah, out with them, no-good gorillas, they look like granaderos. (In Mexico, the “granaderos” were police units specialized in anti-riot duties and other internal public security functions). ¿Por qué no juegan limpio? ¡Árbitro vendido! ¿Cómo no he de enojarme? Vamos, Demócratas, acaben con esos Gorilas que no sirven más que para golpear la bola y para golpear al puebl…/Why don’t you play fair? You sellout referee! How can I not get angry? Come on, Democrats, terminate those Gorillas who only serve to beat the ball and to beat the peopl… (it is noteworthy that here, as in many other lines of dialogue, the key words are half-hidden between coughs, or pronounced in a lower tone). ¿Qué tal, amigos granader… digo, gorilas? /What’s up, friends granader… I mean, gorillas?
03.36- BB: -Ahora voy a lanzar una bola lenta, lenta, que se llama justicia social/Now I’m going to throw a slow, slow ball, which is called Social Justice.
03.50- BB: -Lenta pero efectiva, la bola justicia social/Slow but effective, the Social Justice Ball.
04.02- BB: -¡Lanza tu bola represiva! /Throw your repressive ball!
04.25- BB: -¡Y esta va por el pueblo!/ This one goes for the people!
05.02- Speaker: -Justicia hasta la muerte/Justice or die (translating the “He got it” sign).
05.40- BB: -Por más grandes y fuertes que sean, siempre caen/No matter how big and strong they are, they always fall (translating a sign that reads “Was this trip really necessary?”).
06.15- BB: -Esta bola que voy a lanzar se llama La Guerrillera y lleva un efecto tan increíble que ni siquiera la van a ver/ This ball I’m going to throw is called the Guerrillera and it carries such an incredible spin that you’re not even going to see it.
07.17- Argument between Umpire and Gorilla player:
-Who says so?
-The Statue of Liberty!
Statue: -Es más fácil encontrar rosas en el mar/It’s easier to find roses in the sea.
BB: -¡No, no, no! ¡Ya me cambiaron el argumento!/They changed the script!
And they changed the script indeed, as even the rabbit himself acknowledged at the end of the short. The big question is why. As far as I remember there is no other Bugs Bunny short (or any other product dubbed by the same team) with such radical – albeit surreptitious – changes respect to the original. And since we are entering the realm of conjecture here, my money is as good as anyone’s.
My hypothesis is that the alterations sneaked in Baseball Bugs were triggered by a specific event in the face of which Arvizú and his team (and it is evident that this was a consensual operation) felt unable to continue playing the wabbit as if nothing had happened. There are no very precise dates about the dubbing of these shorts, other than that it took place “in the late 1960s”. Following this conjecture (based on intuition and thin air), we could place this particular work during October or November 1968.According to the Wikipedia entry on the “Tlatelolco massacre”:
On October 2, 1968 in the Tlatelolco section of Mexico City, the Mexican Armed Forces opened fire on a group of unarmed civilians in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas who were protesting the upcoming 1968 Summer Olympics. The Mexican government and media claimed that the Armed Forces had been provoked by protesters shooting at them, but government documents made public since 2000 suggest that snipers had been employed by the government.
The number of deaths resulting from the event is disputed. According to U.S. national security archives, American analyst Kate Doyle documented the deaths of 44 people; however, estimates of the actual death toll range from 300 to 400, with eyewitnesses reporting hundreds dead. Additionally, the head of the Federal Directorate of Security reported that 1,345 people were arrested.
The massacre followed a series of large demonstrations called the Mexican Movement of 1968 and is considered part of the Mexican Dirty War, when the U.S.-backed Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) government violently repressed political and social opposition. The event occurred ten days before the opening ceremony of the Olympics, which were carried out normally.
According to Dissent Magazine (quoted in the same entry):
The year 1968 in Mexico City was a time of expansiveness and the breaking down of barriers: a time for forging alliances among students, workers, and the marginal urban poor and challenging the political regime. It was a time of great hope, seemingly on the verge of transformation. Students were out in the streets, in the plazas, on the buses, forming brigades, “going to the people.” There were movement committees at each school and heady experiences of argument, exploration, and democratic practice.
A subsidiary reason for the change on “Baseball Bugs” could lie in the fact that, since baseball is not really popular in most Latin-American countries, a change of subject could be more welcomed on this entry than others.
In any case, you never know what might happen when the Wabbit enters the field.
That’s all, folks!