Spanish VS English Disney – Sleepy Hollow

I hate dubbed films. Since I was a child my dislike for dubbing has ranged from mild annoyance to utter abhorrence. I can’t stand them; the bad translations, the forced rapid dialogue, the mismatched lip-synch, the unbearable unconvincing voices! It’s horrible! I was so happy, as a child, when I convinced my parents to stop buying dubbed VHSs and get subtitled ones instead, for it meant never having to cringe at the poor voice acting ever again. Ever since I steadfastly refuse to watch any dubs anymore.


That said… I must confess I am partial to several Spanish-dubs of Disney films. NOT MANY! Just a few. I will defend them on two counts: one, nostalgia: I grew up with the Spanish versions and they are dear to my hear; and two, quality: the dubs are good if not better than the English version. It is on this second area (which I will convince [*read ‘delude’] myself into thinking, is more objective) that I will focus here. Despite everything that is said about Disney, is must be acknowledged that (most of the time) they pride themselves on quality in their products. This means that their dubbing studios are not just two bit recording booths but proper sound studios, and that the people they employ to dub films are talented voice actors (in whichever language they are translating the film into). Sometimes, in my opinion, the translation teams manage to do a better job than the original team. Of course, this can be argued (and probably should), and I’m probably biased through nostalgia, but this is my rant!


My main point of contention between the English and the Spanish versions is that I feel that the English versions were specifically targeted at children, while the Spanish versions of some of these films were targeted toward ‘everyone’. I would like to say that this has something to do with cultural differences and how English-speakers (Americans in particular) place a distinction between what’s ‘child-appropriate’ and what’s not, while Spanish-speakers (Latin America and Spain) are more open in this regard, but that would require me to study culture and social environments, etc., etc., and it’s way too time consuming.


Still, you can base your own opinion from these examples. Take the 1949 feature The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, and compare the versions of the song ‘The Headless Horseman’, and the way the English version seems to be much more ‘child-friendly’ while the Spanish version seeks to scare the pants off of everyone who hears it.

English version:

Gather ’round and I’ll elucidate
What goes on outside when it gets late
Along about midnight the ghosts and banshees
They get together for their nightly jamboree
There’s things with horns and saucer eyes
Some with fangs about this size
Some are fat and some are thin
And some don’t even wear their skin
I’m telling you, brother, it’s a frightful sight
To see what goes on Halloween night

When the spooks have a midnight jamboree
They break it up with fiendish glee
The ghosts are bad but the one that’s cursed
Is the headless horseman; he’s the worst
That’s right, he’s a fright on Halloween night

When he goes a joggin’ ‘cross the land
Holding his noggin in his hand
Demons take one look and groan
And they hit the road to parts unknown
Beware, take care he rides alone

And there’s no spook like a spook that’s spurned
They don’t like him and he’s really burned
He swears to the longest day he’s dead
He’ll show them that he can get a head

They say he’s tired of his flaming top
He’s got a yen to make a swap
So he rides one night each year
To find a head in the hollow here

He likes ’em little
He likes ’em big
Parted in the middle or a wig
Black or white or even red
The headless horseman needs a head

With a hip, hip and a clippity clop
He’s out looking for a top to chop
So don’t stop to figure out a plan
You can’t reason with a headless man

Now if you doubt this tale is so
I met that spook just a year ago
Now I didn’t stop for a second look
But made for the bridge that spans the brook
For once you’ve crossed that bridge, my friend
The ghost is through
His power ends

So when you’re ridin’ home tonight
Make for the bridge with all your might
He’ll be down in the hollow there
He needs your head
Look out! Beware!

[chorus repeat]

Note the use of words like ‘jamboree’, ‘spooks’, ‘a-joggin’ and ‘noggin’, ‘flaming top’, and worst still the chorus of ‘With a hip-hip and a clippity clop, he’s looking for a top to chop’. The song is made complete inoffensive! Who is supposed to be scared by this? Not even Bing Crosby’s amazing voice can make this sound serious. Compare it to a direct translation of the Spanish version:


I’m going to tell what I know to be true
and which will be happening this very night.
Ghosts and witches at midnight
make waste of their thousand spells
There are some with horns and other still
From far beyond hell itself
And some are thin, and some are old
And some are skinless
Today, night of the dead, they escape to scare;
Those who are alive they want to ensnare

On the night of the dead you mustn’t wander
Or go out for a walk
There are ghosts that cause horror
But the Headless one, he’s the worst!
(The Headless one is more than the worst)

When he goes searching upon his horse
For a head to cut off
Lucifer himself trembles
He won’t speak to him, nor look upon him
(The Headless one must be feared!)

The demon crosses himself when he sees him
He crosses himself before running away
He lost his head and wants to find
One that fits him just the same

One head that he beheaded
He tried it out, it didn’t fit
He said he would behead another
One with a long neck would do just fine

He likes to cut each one he sees
He’s searching for a head and has faith
In finding some mortal
Whom he can behead

At night you can see him ride
Chasing people to decapitate
He beheads by the bunch
He’s already filled a cemetery with the dead

I am certain of what I’ve told
I encountered him myself a year ago
And I did not lose my head
Because quickly I ran to the bridge
You must cross that bridge, yes!
For his power ends there

Tonight when you return home
Cross the bridge without tarry
I know he’ll be around
By the cemetery, watch out, I saw him there!

As you can see, there is no kiddie-talk here, no pandering to the children. Instead, the lyrics speak of a fearful creature of whom Lucifer and his demons are scared, who causes ‘horror’, and who ‘decapitates’ and ‘beheads’ people, unafraid to fill a cemetery with the corpses of his victims. The language used is very scary and graphic, particularly in the extensive use of the word ‘degollar’, which translates as ‘behead’, but which literally means ‘to cut someone’s throat’. In English the song is obviously a joke, on the part of Brom Bones, in Spanish, it’s downright sadistic. Which is why I love it so. It doesn’t speak down to its audience, but instead sets out to frighten them for the rest of their lives.

I don’t know if this says something about Hispanic culture; if anything it reflects our love for scaring our children. I am reminded of a bedtime story my mom used to tell me often, about a huge bloodied hand that haunts a poor man at night, creeping softly and silently into his house. It was my favourite story as a kid.

And that’s why I like some Disney Spanish dubs better than the originals; they’re simply more kickass!


That’s enough for now, see ya laters interwebbers,




Disney’s The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949), The Sleepy Hollow segment.

English Versoin, sung by Bing Crosby:

Spanish Version, sung by Tintán:

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