In local theaters, The Simpsons will finally prove themselves proficient in Hebrew. But will their humorous banter be compromised?
By NATHAN BURSTEIN
After nearly two decades on the air, The Simpsons have finally learned Hebrew. Members of the cartoon clan, stars of their own dysfunctional family sitcom for the past 19 TV seasons, will show off their mastery of the Holy Tongue as part of their much awaited move to the big screen next week. Aided by Hebrew-speaking voice actors, Homer, Bart, Marge and Lisa will speak the language for the Israeli release of The Simpsons Movie, set to arrive in local theaters July 26.
Though the film's Israeli premiere marks the first time the Simpsons will conduct their affairs in Hebrew, the movie is hardly the family's first exposure to Judaism or that other famous Jewish tongue, Yiddish. Members of the family have been familiar with the language since at least the show's third season, when it was revealed that Krusty the Clown's full name is in fact Herschel Krustofski, and that the pie-throwing children's entertainer had been disowned years earlier by his father, Rabbi Hyman Krustofski, for not continuing the family tradition and becoming a rabbi.
Based, rather ingeniously, on the Al Jolson classic The Jazz Singer, the episode follows Bart and Lisa's efforts to reconcile father and son, with each member of the Simpson family ending the episode a bit more knowledgeable about Judaism and Jewish culture than at its start. ("Mel Brooks is Jewish?" Homer asks at one point, full of surprise.)
In that early episode, Lisa Simpson studies the Talmud to make her case for reconciliation, but insistently tells her brother, "Bart, I am not learning ancient Hebrew." The character's grasp of ancient Hebrew may indeed remain incomplete, but the eight-year-old's knowledge of the modern tongue, delivered by 14-year-old voice actress Shira Manor, sounded rather convincing on clips of the new movie that aired on Israeli television this week.
In accordance with instructions by the film's producers, The Simpsons Movie has been dubbed into Hebrew by mostly unknown actors - a directive intended to ensure that Israelis' attention remains focused on the cartoon characters and not on those doing the dubbing. Hadar Shahaf, the actress and plus-size model playing Bart, told entertainment program Good Evening with Guy Pines that she was thrilled to get the part, calling it "completely wonderful" that she can now list the character on her resume.
Still unclear is how the film's translators will deal with The Simpsons' many catchphrases, among them such colorful expressions as "Eat my shorts" and "Don't have a cow, man."
("Why, you little ...," the phrase Homer consistently says before strangling his mischievous son, is translated in the show's Hebrew subtitles as "Piece of ...!")
Advice on dubbing should be widely available, however, with The Simpsons already speaking languages ranging from Japanese to Czech. A version of the show dubbed in Arabic hit TV screens just in time for Ramadan 2005, with Moe's Bar and the show's non-Muslim clergy members edited out to help the show fit Arab tastes.
But whether known to fans as The Simpsons, Mishpachat Simpson or Al Shamshoon, members of the Simpson family have been dealing with language issues since the series' very beginning, and implicitly recommended that most intensive of learning techniques - full immersion - as early as the show's debut season.
Expelled from school for putting cherry bombs in the toilet, the troublemaking young Bart is sent to France in a first-season episode called "The Crepes of Wrath." When his study-abroad program turns out to be indentured servitude at a neglected French vineyard, the spiky-haired fifth grader has no choice but to learn the local language.
Referring to his father at the end of the episode, Bart remarks, "Oh, mon pere. Quel bouffon!" (My father. Such a buffoon!)
Beaming over his son's new language skills, an uncomprehending Homer turns proudly to his wife. "You hear that, Marge? My boy speaks French!"
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