How Pixar’s Turning Red Reached a Global Audience with Language Translation Services

Pixar’s latest animated film, Turning Red, has recently made the headlines with praise and criticism.  

Following the steps of Disney’s Encanto in striving for cultural diversity and inclusion; Turning Red tells the story of Chinese-Canadian, Mei Lee, as her life gets turned upside down. She wakes up one day to discover that when her emotions get overwhelming, she turns into a big red panda.


(Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)

Director Domee Shi based this story on her own life growing up as a Chinese-Canadian immigrant in the 2000s. 
As a cherished project to her, Shi made a lot of effort to get every aspect of it right to reach a global audience. 

Including the iconic ritual scene…  


During production, Domee Shi reached out to Disney Hong Kong translation services to get the most accurate phrases for this important scene.

She told Polygon earlier this year that she and producer Lindsey Collins were “really inspired by Taoist chants that the monks would do in Taoist temples”.  

Shi continued to say that she wanted to use an existing chant, “but then we thought because this family is so specific, the situation is so unique (…) we should come up with our own chant for it.”  

Herman Wong, over at the Hong-Kong-based operations, helped them translate a protection poem and guided Domee through the journey of bringing it to life.

The film omitted the translation of the chant in the English subtitles, this is not uncommon for the platform. It is common to omit subtitle translation in foreign language scenes.  

Directors often believe that providing subtitle translation in foreign language scenes can be distracting. 

This typically creates more problems than solutions. 

By excluding subtitle translations, you are also excluding a large part of your audience. 

                       淨化心身 緊握手心 元氣歸位 捷悟返身   

     (Pinyin: “Jìnghuà xīnshēn jǐn wò shǒuxīn yuánqì guī wèi jié wù fǎn shēn”)   

After the film’s release, an interest sparked and there were many discussions online about the meaning of the chant.

Reddit user skinst0rmed, a native Cantonese speaker, helped with the transcription of the chant, along with a rough translation of it:  

                      “Cleanse your heart and body / hold on to your heart /
(let your) spirit return / swiftly to where it belongs.”

This only sparked confusion as many users decided to use AI translation software that instead translates it to “Purify the mind and body, hold the heart tightly, return the vitality, and return to the body” — doesn’t quite sound right, does it?  

This is a common concern with automated translations, as opposed to translation services. 

A little language lesson…  

Cantonese is a Sinitic (Chinese) language, belonging to the Sino-Tibetan language family; it uses traditional Chinese characters and, much like Mandarin, Japanese, and Ancient Egyptian, it uses a logosyllabic script. 

A logograph is a form of written language where each character represents a word. 

This form of writing was more common in ancient languages, particularly in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. 

Due to the complexity of Cantonese, AI translation machines might have difficulty understanding the context and being able to successfully translate it. Language translation services use native-speaker translators that use a form of translation called localisation.  

Localisation takes into account the cultural context of words, and sentences, as well as the diverse range of everyday language.  

Language Localisation in Animation  

When translating it is important to know your audience, content made for adults and children has different requirements when it comes to language; all of which are part of the process of localisation.   

Translators are experienced in a wide range of areas, including translating foreign subtitles into the language of your choosing.  

In the past, Pixar has changed aspects of its films according to what country it was being released in.  

Visual methods of localisation have been used as part of Pixar’s strategies to communicate its message across the globe. 

There is a scene in Inside Out where the main character Riley refuses to eat her broccoli; in Japan, it was changed to green peppers. Because Japanese children love broccoli and instead, they dread green bell peppers. Localisation in animation helps remove language barriers and makes entertainment accessible for everyone.  

Visual localisation is just as essential as any form of translation: whether it’s subtitle translation or scripts for voice-over actors!  

Pixar’s Turning Red did not change much across different countries. It is a wonderful example of a multicultural film that translates well across the globe.  

Turning Red is available in 21 different languages and has 25 subtitle translation options. 

What is Subtitle Translation? 

Subtitle translation is a technique for translating video languages into other languages through text subtitles. 

This is why linguist training must be highly efficient. An expert translator is necessary for comprehending complex terminology. Translators working with subtitles have varied genres and are very careful to maintain a structurally sound translation for video synchronisation. But it is also necessary to maintain original content with foreign subtitles. 

If you are interested in finding more about subtitle translation services and other language services, click here for Global Translations UK’s page on translating subtitles. 

We offer translation and localisation services in over 120 languages and 900+ language combinations.
Contact us for a free quote on our language services. 


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