Music News
2:09 pm
Mon February 24, 2014

'Let It Go': A Global Hit In Any Language

Originally published on Mon February 24, 2014 6:02 pm

By now, parents of young girls may be especially well-versed in the global hit "Let It Go" from Disney's Frozen. However, they may be less familiar with versions sung in one of the 41 other languages recorded for the film's foreign releases.

Tony Award-winning soprano Idina Menzel brings this challenging piece of music to life in the film's original English. The range of the song spans almost three octaves, and it was actually written with Menzel in mind as she is one of the few who could pull it off.

But how does Disney handle such a difficult song when it will be translated for dozens of different countries and performed by dozens of different singers? NPR's Robert Siegel recently put that question to the man responsible for casting women from all over the world to sing the title role of Elsa in their native tongues.

"My jaw dropped when I first heard the song," says Rick Dempsey, senior vice president of creative for Disney Character Voices International. "Idina is so amazing at what she does and to find someone who could have that range, that emotion, in the song and duplicate that 41 different times is a daunting task."

"We held auditions all over the world," Dempsey says.

To show off this multilingual project, Disney put together a video that splices together the international versions of "Let It Go." The video includes French, German, Dutch, Mandarin and many more.

"In a lot of cases I think we fooled some people into thinking that it's Idina in all those languages," Dempsey says. "And that, of course, is the goal, to ensure there is character consistency and the voices are all very similar around the world. ... The good news is that we were able to find talent that were able to pull it off."

Dempsey says that while Disney uses the English version as a sort of blueprint, what it's thinking of primarily is the country being translated for. "We're really trying to do a local interpretation of the film. We understand all our local idioms in various countries to ensure that it's really a local interpretation. At the end of the day, we really want audiences to feel like this film was made for them, in their country, even animated in their country — we want the lip-sync to be that good."

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The animated Disney movie "Frozen" is a global phenomenon. The story is a take on Hans Christian Andersen's "Snow Queen." Box office sales worldwide are nearing the $1 billion mark. Parents of young girls, especially, may be hearing the movie's signature song over and over again. It's called "Let It Go."

(SOUNDBITE FROM SONG "LET IT GO")

IDINA MENZEL: (Singing) Let it go, let it go. You'll never see me cry. Here I stand and here I stand...

SIEGEL: That's one of the main characters of "Frozen." Her name is Elsa, a princess with the power to freeze things. The song marks a turn for Elsa. She finally embraces her special power and who she is. "Let It Go" was written by the songwriters behind the musicals "Avenue Q" and "Book of Mormon." It's the favorite to win Best Song at Sunday's Oscars.

Tony-award-winning soprano Idina Menzel brings this challenging piece of music to life. The range of the song spans almost three octaves. So how difficult was it for Disney to cast the role for the foreign language releases of "Frozen"? We're going to put that question to the man responsible for casting Elsa in 41 different languages. He is Rick Dempsey, senior vice president of creative for Disney Character Voices International. Welcome to the program.

RICK DEMPSEY: Thank you, Robert. Thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: And first of all, what was your reaction when you heard this song and knew that you had to essentially find, you know, 40-some Idina Menzels?

DEMPSEY: Well, my jaw kind of dropped the first time I heard the song. To find someone who could have that range, that emotion, in the song and duplicate that 41 different times was a daunting task.

SIEGEL: Well, there's a video that you and your team created that shows off some of the different voices you cast. Let's take a listen

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG MONTAGE FROM VIDEO)

MENZEL: The snow glows white on the mountain tonight, not a footprint to be seen...

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #1: (Singing in French)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #2: (Singing in German)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #3: (Singing in Dutch)

SIEGEL: It goes on like that for about 25 languages. We just heard in French, German, Dutch; Mandarin was next. How did you find these singers? Did you hold auditions all over the world?

DEMPSEY: Yeah, we did. We held auditions. Some of the talent are popular in their local countries. You know, there are acting pools and local stage productions. We try to find someone who has a voice that's similar to what we're looking for, and I think we were really successful in finding all these incredibly talented women around the world.

SIEGEL: Similar is an understatement here. I mean, I thought I was hearing a polyglot female singer singing four different languages.

DEMPSEY: Yeah. You know, it's funny, if you look at the blogs on, you know, people who have seen this clip reel, it's pretty amazing. Some people will say: I didn't know Idina could sing in all those languages.

SIEGEL: Are there some languages that you know from the start are going to be the toughest to cast?

DEMPSEY: You know, certainly your territories where they have dubbed for many years are going to be easier - like, in France. But we have some new languages; like, Vietnamese is a fairly new language for us to dub in. We did Malay Bahasa, and that's a new language for us. So there's always going to be challenges when you're opening up a new market and dubbing there for the first or second time.

SIEGEL: Let's hear a little bit more. This time, this is from your video in which we hear all of these different languages. We're going to start now with a Bulgarian Elsa.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG MONTAGE FROM VIDEO)

SIEGEL: That clip included, also, Norwegian, Thai; I would have said French Canadian, you call it Canadian French; and then finally. Flemish. You do a French version and also, as you say, a Canadian French version.

DEMPSEY: Yeah, that's right. We really try to do a local interpretation of the film so we understand all the local idioms. At the end of the day, we want audiences to feel like this film was made for them in their country, even animated in their country. We want the lip sync to be that good.

SIEGEL: You've come a long way. I've read that for "The Lion King" in 1994, there were just 15 languages.

DEMPSEY: I think we started out in 15. That was one of the first films that we were able to go out day and date.

SIEGEL: The phrase day and date...

DEMPSEY: Well, that we release simultaneous to the domestic release. Back in the day, we had a little more time to create all the different international versions of the film. But we're in a day-and-date world to fight off piracy, and so we release it all at the same time.

SIEGEL: We're talking with Rick Dempsey. He's senior vice president with Walt Disney Studios; talking with us about casting the movie "Frozen" into 41 different languages. Rick Dempsey, thanks so much for talking with us.

DEMPSEY: Thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: And this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.