One great way to improve Your Mandarin Chinese level is by watching Chinese Movies. It helps increase Your listening comprehension and teaches You new vocabulary words in context. But don’t ignore movies made in other countries, they still have a thing or two to teach! Today let’s learn some new vocabulary by taking a fascinating look into how Pixar movie titles have been translated into Chinese.
PIXAR MOVIES IN CHINESE
Beginning with Pixar’s first animated feature film Toy Story (created in 1995), Pixar movie titles have developed an interesting quirk in Chinese. The majority use the phrase “总动员” (zǒng dòng yuán) which means mobilization. In a more general sense, it means to unite for battle. Now we know the base vocab, let’s look at how each animated film incorporated it into their title.
In Chinese, Toy Story is called “玩具总动员” (wánjù zǒngdòngyuán). As we previously learned “总动员” (zǒng dòng yuán) means to mobilize, and “玩具” (wánjù) in Chinese means toy or plaything. So in Chinese”玩具总动员” (wánjù zǒngdòngyuán) literally means “the mobilization of toys”. For native Chinese children, the title itself was a bit of a spoiler as it alludes to the fight scene between Woody, Buzz and the rest of the toys against Sid during the third act. Regardless, Toy Story was a hit in China and led the way for more Pixar films.
A Bug’s Life
Going in chronological order the next Pixar film to be released was a Bug’s Life. Bug or insect in Chinese is called “虫子” (chóngzi) and you guessed it, in China, it was called “虫子总动员” (chóngzi zǒngdòngyuán) or “mobilization of bugs”. Having almost nothing in common with the original title, you can see that movie titles in Chinese follow their own logic.
While Monster’s Inc. chose not to follow the naming scheme instead being called “怪兽电力公司” (guàishòu diànlì gōngsī) or “Monster Power Company”, the heart-warming aquatic adventure Finding Nemo certainly did! Called “海底总动员” (hǎidǐ zǒngdòngyuán) in Chinese, this translates not to “Mobilization of Fish” but instead “mobilization of the sea bottom”. An inclusive name that highlights all sea-life, Finding Nemo continued the naming trend and Pixar’s success.
10 points to whoever can guess what “The Incredibles” was called in China. That’s right, it was called “超人总动员” (chāorén zǒngdòngyuán)! Many incorrectly translate the movie title to mean “Mobilization of Superman”. This is because in Chinese Superman is called “超人” (chāorén), literally meaning “Super Man”. Many do not realize that the term actually means “super person”, and as Chinese has no plural indicators “The Incredibles” in Chinese translates to “Mobilization of Super People”.
A film that has confusingly spawned the most number of sequels and spin-offs of any Pixar feature film “Cars” in China is called “赛车总动员” (sàichē zǒngdòngyuán) which can be translated back into English as “Mobilization of Race Cars”. While “赛车” (sàichē) might not be as inclusive as Finding Nemo’s name in Chinese, the vocabulary is very useful. “赛” (sài) in Chinese means “race” or “match” and is used in combination with other words to make it a “race something”. An easy example is “赛马” (sàimǎ) which means “horse racing” and “race horse”.
It was around this point that naming scheme started to become hit or miss, with Disney and Pixar taking a more direct control over their Chinese names. The leaves Wall-E in an interesting position of having two Chinese names. The first being a phonetic translation “瓦力” (wǎ lì), and the second being “机器人总动员” (jīqìrén zǒngdòngyuán) meaning “Mobilization of Robots”. While it is a little confusing having two names, you should take note of the vocabulary. “机器人” (jīqìrén) means robot but as it has the “人” (rén) character, just like with “Superman” this character means “person” so it is specifically referring to humanoid robots or robots that resemble humans in some way.
After the success of so many Pixar movies in China, it is no surprise that local animation studios also tried to cash in on the naming convention. This has led Pixar to use more unique names which are often a combination of phonetic translation and entirely new meanings. But let’s not overload ourselves with vocabulary, instead, let’s review what we have learned:
“玩具” (wánjù) = Toy
(zhè háizi zhēn de xǐhuān wánjù)
This child really likes toys
虫子 (chóngzi) = Bug
(wǒ hàipà chóngzi)
I’m afraid of bugs
海底 (hǎidǐ) = Seafloor/ bottom of the sea
(hǎidǐ li yǒu shé me ne?)
What is on the seafloor?
超 (chāo) = Super (more often used as 超级)
(jiǎozi chāojí hào chī)
Dumplings are super delicious
“赛车” (sàichē) = Race car/ Car race
(wǒ bùyào kàn sàichē)
I don’t want to see the race car
“机器人” (jīqìrén) = Robot
(jīqìrén huì ràng nǐ de shēnghuó gèng fāngbiàn)
Robots can make your life more convenient