RSS feed

The translation of linguistic stereotypes in animated films: a case study of DreamWorks’ Shrek and Shark Tale

Pilar González Vera, University of Zaragoza


As a source for the socialisation of the child, animated films have attracted the attention of sociolinguistics which has traditionally been interested in the interaction between language and society. The role of language in the process of socialisation and in the creation and perpetuation of stereotypes is the focus of attention of this research. This study concentrates on the portrayal and translation of stereotypes on the basis of gender through the manipulation of the discourse in the DreamWorks’ films Shrek and SharkTale. With this aim, the research is divided into three sections. The first one provides a brief introduction to the concept of stereotypes, the second is devotedto the study of the role of translation inthe representation of gender stereotypes in the cases of two female characters, Fiona and Lola, and two male characters, Donkey and Lenny; and the third one presents the conclusions drawn from the previous analysis.


Stereotypes, gender, dubbing, animated films, sociolinguistic.

The concept of stereotypes

Films are part of cross-cultural communication and a way of reflecting other identities and cultures. Animated films have been, in principle, characterised by their simple plots and their classification of characters into two groups: the heroes and the villains. This simplification of reality is known as stereotyping, a concept introduced by Lippmann in 1922 (1922). Cultural studies have demonstrated that stereotyping is a fundamental mechanism of perception and categorisation, without which orientationand survival in a complex society such as ours would be virtually impossible (Rieger 2006: 279). Stereotypes reflect the way in which we perceive each other, especially individuals outside our group. The manner of presenting otherness is by differentiation and, as Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner (1998: 26) point out, it is “differences rather than sameness which we notice” and this tendency to highlight differences produces the creation of stereotypes.

As defined in the dictionary, stereotypes are unvarying forms or patterns, fixed or conventional notions of a group of people or an idea held by a number of people and which allow for no individuality or critical judgment (Michael and Grant 2010: 1394). The traits of those groups of people usually have an evaluative connotation that makes them view things either positively or negatively (Oakes and Reynolds 1997: 54). However, there is always a looming danger that stereotypical perceptions can become crystallised into prejudices (Rieger 2006: 280), since these attributes frequently acquire a negative connotation. Stereotypes can be the result of ignorance, distorted images, racism, cultural factors and generalisations based on exaggerations or oversimplifications.

In spite of being regarded as ‘fixed’ notions (Merriam-Webster), stereotypes are directly linked to the socialisation process and can consequently be changed. According to Macrae, Stangor and Hewstone (1996: 10), stereotypes are a reflection of a society’s collective knowledge of customs, myths, ideas, religions, and sciences. One way this knowledge is learned, transmitted and modified is through the information received from indirect sources such as the mass media (ibid.). The preconceived ideas usually make reference to cultural aspects such as patterns of behaviour and attitudes attributed to different groups of people. Thus, the classification of individuals on different bases may lead to different categories of stereotyping such as race, nationality or gender. Issues relating to gender will be discussed in the following section.

Gender stereotypes

Over the past twenty years, much research in translation studies has been concerned with the study of translation as a place of reproduction and/or split from hegemonic representations of gender in Western cultures (Kamensky 1996, Simon 1996 or Holmes and Meyerhoff 2008). As an analytic category of ‘reality,’ gender is a concept that refers not to difference but to the processes of differentiation that institute difference between the sexes (Sánchez 2007: 172). From this perspective, gender stereotypes are created on the basis of binary oppositions between the actions, roles and responsibilitiesconventionally attributed tomen and women.While men have traditionally adopted the role of businessman and breadwinner of the family, for centuries women have been stereotypically portrayed according to four distinct characteristics:

1) A woman’s place is in the home;
2) Women do not make important decisions or do important things;
3) Women are dependent and need men’s protection;
4) Men regard women primarily as sexual objects and are not interested in women as people (Shrikhande 2003: 11).

Although DreamWorks’ animated films are characterised by their deviation from those traditional gender stereotypes (Unger and Sunderland 2007, Decker 2010), the unconventional representation of masculinity and femininity could be said to remain on a superficial levelas can be observed in the portrayal of certain characters such as Princess Bala from Antz(1998), Ginger from Chicken Run (2000), Fiona from the Shrek Saga (2001, 2004, 2007 and 2010) or Lola from Shark Tale (2004). In order to see the degree of stereotyping in the characterisation of men and women, the portrayal of Fiona and Lola and Donkey and Lenny from the filmsShrek and SharkTale is presented in the following examples.


Fiona is the main female character in the film Shrek. This movie is considered to be a film where the classic fairy-tale paradigm is turned upside down. While fairy tales have tended to be highly conservative and have traditionally contributed to the perpetuation of stereotypes, especially in terms of gender stereotypes, Shrek presents a highly irreverent view of the classic fairy tale. It is a hilarious parody of fairy tales, lampooning everything from Snow White to Little Red Riding Hood. Shrek follows the adventures of an “ugly, stinking” ogre and his annoying side kick Donkey in their quest to save Princess Fiona and bring her to the scheming Lord Farquaad, in order for Shrek to regain his swamp.

When Fiona first appears, she projects the traditional heroine’s inability to act self-assertively (Rowe 1979: 237) typical of fairy tale princesses who wait sleeping to be rescued by their prince. However, this image quickly vanishes as can be seen:

Example 1

Shrek: Wake up!
Fiona: What?
Shrek: Are you Princess Fiona?
Fiona: I am, awaiting a knight so bold as to rescue me.
Shrek: Oh, that’s nice. Now let’s go!
Fiona: But wait, Sir Knight. This be-ith our first meeting. Should it not be a wonderful, romantic moment?
Shrek: Yeah, sorry, lady. There’s no time.
Fiona: Hey, wait. What are you doing? You should sweep me off my feet out yonder window and down a rope onto your valiant steed.
Shrek: You've had a lot of time to plan this, haven't you?

Shrek: ¡Despierta!
Fiona: ¿Qué?
Shrek: ¿Eres la princesa Fiona?
Fiona: Sí, lo soy. Y estoy aguardando a un audaz caballero que me salve.
Shrek: ¡Ah, qué bonito! ¡Andando!
Fiona: Más aguardad, señor. Es nuestro primer encuentro. ¿No tendría que embargarnos la emoción y el romanticismo?
Shrek: Ya, lo siento señorita, pero no hay tiempo.
Fiona: Ey, ¿qué estáis haciendo? Tendríais que llevarme en volandas ayeen de la ventana y por una cuerda bajar hasta vuestro raudo corcel.
Shrek: ¿Has tenido mucho tiempo para montar todo ese plan, no?

[Shrek: Wake up!
Fiona: What?
Shrek: Are you Princess Fiona?
Fiona: Yes, I am and I am awaiting a knight so bold as to rescue me.
Shrek: Oh, that’s nice. Now let’s get a move on!
Fiona: But wait, Sir. This be-ith our first meeting. Shouldn’t we be overwhelmed by emotion and romanticism?
Shrek: Yeah, sorry, miss. There’s no time.
Fiona: Hey, wait. What are you doing? You should whisk me away through yonder window and down a rope onto your valiant steed.
Shrek: You've had a lot of time to plan this, haven't you?]

In this scene, Fiona hears the knight’s footsteps and lays back down on the bed, preparing herself for a happy ending typical of fairy tales, the long-awaited moment in which she is to be kissed and rescued. However, she gets annoyed with Shrek because he is not interested in romantic interludes. Unlike the traditional princesses, Fiona reacts against Shrek’s rude behaviour, deviating from the stereotype of good women characterised by passivity. We can see how she confronts her ‘prince’ not only with her body language but also with her dialogue. She casts off her knight to berate him for not being sentimental making use of direct questions: “what are you doing?” and ¿qué estáis haciendo? in both the source and target texts, respectively. Direct questions are regarded as face threatening acts characteristic of male discourses in which men use them in an attempt to impose the speaker’s will over the hearer (Brown and Levinson 1987: 101-210). Fiona’s deviation from traditional stereotypes is stressed by the translator when relying on the male verbal strategy of using colloquial language (Pearson et al.1993: 158), inserting in the target text the colloquial expression llevar en volandas (‘whisk somebody away’) in Fiona’s formal discourse.

However, her deviation is not complete asshe can be said to succumb, in both the source and target texts, to her contradictory personality relying on the characteristic feminine verbal strategy of asking rhetorical questions (“Should it not be a wonderful, romantic moment?” and ¿No tendría que embargarnos la emoción y el romanticismo?), since as Coates (2004: 90) suggests: “for women, irony, rhetorical questions, and negative assertions used to convey the opposite (positive) assertion, are characteristic usages.”

As an untypical princess, Fiona represents a new female heroine who tries to reproduce “a sense of individual dignity and an urge for self-realisation” (Mei 1990: 25). She contrasts with the traditional fairy tale princess, as is shown in the following example that recreates the famous mirror scene from Snow White. The scene is also an intertextual reference to the television game show Blind Date where three singles are introduced to the audience and are questioned by a single member of the opposite sex, who chooses which one to take on a date.

Mirror introduces three princesses: Cinderella and Snow White, two famous Disney princesses who follow conventional female stereotypes, and Fiona, as the alternative.The personalities of the three princesses match the standard line-up of candidates in Blind Date which consist of three different types: the Charmer, the Straight person and the Eccentric. The Charmer who has perfect appearance would be represented by Cinderella in this case, the Straight person, a polite person whose appearance could be described as nice would correspond to Snow White, and the Eccentric who may appear to have been expelled from a mental asylum would be represented by Fiona (H2g2 Edited Guide Entry).        

Example 2

Farquaad: Evening. Mirror, mirror on the wall. Is this not the most perfect kingdom of them all?
Mirror: (chuckles nervously) So, just sit back and relax, my lord, because it’s time for you to meet today’s eligible bachelorettes.
And here they are! Bachelorette number one is a mentally abused shut-in from a kingdom far, far away. She likes sushi and hot tubbing anytime. Her hobbies include cooking and cleaning for her two evil sisters. Please welcome Cinderella (shows picture of Cinderella). Bachelorette number two is a cape-wearing girl from the land of fancy. Although she lives with seven other men, she’s not easy. Just kiss her dead, frozen lips and find out what a live wire she is. Come on. Give it up for Snow White! (shows picture of Snow White) And last, but certainly not least, bachelorette number three is a fiery redhead from a dragon-guarded castle surrounded by hot boiling lava! But don’t let that cool you off. She’s a loaded pistol who likes pina coladas and getting caught in the rain. Yours for the rescuing, Princess Fiona! (shows picture of Princess Fiona). So will it be bachelorette number one, bachelorette number two or bachelorette number three?

Farquaad: Buenas tardes. Espejo, EspejitoMágico. Decid, ¿no es este el reino más perfecto y feliz?
Espejo: Mi lord, os suplico que os pongáis cómodo, porque ya sin más dilación veremos lo más florido del mercado: las solteritas de oro.
La solterita número uno es una reclusa víctima de torturas psicológicas que vive en un país muy lejano. Le gusta el sushi y el jacuzzi. Entre otros pasatiempos le gusta guisar y limpiar para sus dos hermanastras. Demos la bienvenida a la Cenicienta (shows picture of Cinderella). La solterita número dos utiliza capa y viene del país de la fantasía. Aunque viva con siete hombres, no es una ligona. Besa sus fríos labios mortales mortecinos y descubrirás cuánta pasión despierta en ella. Un fuerte aplauso para Blancanieves (shows picture of Snow White). Y por último aunque no por ello la peor, la solterita número tres es una famosa pelirroja encerrada en un castillo custodiado por un dragón y rodeado de ardiente lava, pero que ello no os enfríe el ánimo. Ella es pura dinamita, le encanta la piña colada y bailar bajo la lluvia. Lista para ser rescatada, la princesa Fiona (shows picture of Princess Fiona). ¿Qué elegimos, la solterita número uno, la solterita número dos o la solterita número tres?

[Farquaad: Evening. Mirror, little magic Mirror. Is this not the most perfect and happiest kingdom of them all?
Mirror: My lord, I beg you to just relax, because it’s time for you to meet today’s eligible bachelorettes.
And here they are! Bachelorette number one is a mentally abused recluse from a kingdom far, far away. She likes sushi and jacuzzis. Her hobbies include cooking and cleaning for her two half-sisters. Please welcome Cinderella (shows picture of Cinderella). Bachelorette number two is a cape-wearing girl from the land of fantasy. Although she lives with seven other men, she’s not a flirt. Just kiss her deadly deathly frozen lips and find out how much passion would wake in her. Come on. Give it up for Snow White! (shows picture of Snow White) And last, but certainly not the worst, bachelorette number three is a famous redhead from a dragon-guarded castle surrounded by hot boiling lava! But don’t let that cool you off. She’s pure dynamite who likes pina coladas and dancing in the rain. Ready for being rescued, Princess Fiona! (shows picture of Princess Fiona). So will it be bachelorette number one, bachelorette number two or bachelorette number three?]

In this example, the portrayal of the Disney princesses fits to some extent the stereotype of the perfect housewife. Cinderella’s role as a domesticated wife interested in keeping a perfect house is provided by Disney whichsells products like “Cinderella cleaning supplies for young housewives-to-be” (Wohlwend 2009: 208). The same image is offered in the source and the target text by Mirror who relies on stereotypical female representations referring to Cinderella by her two hobbies “cooking and cleaning” (guisar y limpiar), typical tasks of submissive housewives.
In a similar way, Mirror alludes to Snow White’s prudish attitude, another quality a woman needs to possess in order to get married (Tonn 2008: 10). In the source text Mirror states that “she’s not easy” and consequently although she may havea relationship with the men she lives with, she would not have sex with them. By contrast, the translation, ‘she’s not a flirt’ (no esunaligona), emphasises her puritanical streakby giving the impression that she would not even go out with them. Another difference in the translation and portrayal of Snow White is observed in “kiss her dead, frozen lips and find out what a live wire she is.” The introduction of Snow White in the source text is closer to somebody with an infectious energy for life, not necessarily just a sexual energy, as is implied in the dubbed version by “how much passion would make in her.”

Finally, Mirror’s description moves from women’s role as virtuous housewives who are always in the kitchen and cleaning to Fiona’s passionate character. Fiona’s active and rebellious character challenges the conventional portrayals of princesses. The expression “fiery redhead” from the source text perfectly matches her physical and psychological profile. Not only does it refer to the red colour of Fiona’s hair, but it also alludes to her determination and independent character, which contrasts to the fairy tale paradigms where good women are submissive and depend on their princes. The adjective ‘fiery’ is usually associated with words such as temperament, temper and passion, features that characterise Fiona. Equally important is Hollywood’s contribution to the portrayal of ginger-haired women as strong female characters like Katherine Hepburn who is referred to as a “redhead”in the original version of The Philadelphia Story (1940).

In the case of Shrek, the translator’s substitution of “fiery redhead” for ‘famous redhead’ (famosa pelir roja) leads to a significant loss of the connotations which express Fiona’s autonomy and dominant position implied in the original by ‘fiery.’ The use of ‘famous’ instead of ‘fiery’ enhances Fiona’s passivity, a trait attributed to the stereotype of good women in fairy tales.

Fiona’s depiction varies from the source text to the target text in another instance, when Mirror refers to her as a “loaded pistol” in the original and as ‘pure dynamite’ (pura dinamita) in the dubbed version. The difference between the source and the target text lies in the fact that whereas the former alludes to Fiona’s mental instability, the translator’s proposal emphasises her sexual attractiveness. Like the expression sex bomb, ‘pure dynamite’ rests on an explosive device for referring to woman’s sexual passion. The enhancement of Fiona’s attractivenessnurturesonce more the stereotyping of Fiona as a fairy tale princess in the target text contrasting with the source text where her eccentric character sets her apart from the traditional fairy tale paradigms.

Fiona also seems to be characterised by her contradictory personality and struggles between breaking the traditional patterns and following them. Her charismatic personality together with her rebellious desires to flee the ‘happy housewife’ stereotype contrast with her romantic aspirations, shared by Disney’s princesses and shown on different occasions such as when Fiona awaits her true love, showing total reliance on external rescuers (Example 1), when cooking for Shrek, or almost at the end of the film when she is shown to revert back to patriarchy through marriage (see Sumera 2009). She thus states:

Example 3

Fiona: My only chance to live happily ever after is to marry my true love.

Fiona: Mi única posibilidad de ser feliz y comer perdices es casándome con mi amor verdadero.

[Fiona: My only chance to live happily ever after is to marry my true love.]

In this case, Fiona presents her bondage to her prince as self-sacrifice to achieve happiness. In both the source and target texts she stresses that marriage is the only solution when she says “my only chance” (mi única posibilidad), through this female subordination she contributes to the perpetuation of the patriarchal status quo characteristic of fairy tales (Rowe 1979: 237).


In SharkTale, Lola is a beautiful fish that embodies the stereotype of the femme fatale, a kind of “ruler of men” (Do Rozario 2004: 36). Herred hair and exuberant appearance evoke Disney’s character Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988), with whom she also shares a similar psychological profile. Both characters represent women of great seductive charm who lead men into dangerous situations. Lola’s dangerousness is revealed by Ludacris’s song Gold Digger that plays as background music (Example 4) when she is introduced to the audience.

Example 4

She’s dangerous, super bad. Better watch out, she’ll take the cash. She’s a gold digger. She’s a gold digger. She’s dangerous, super bad. Better watch out, she’ll take the cash. She’s a gold digger...

While the source audience receives the information about the character through two codes: the visual code—her voluptuous look—and the acoustic code—the lyrics of the song that refer to a type of woman who is just interested in money as Lola is in SharkTale—information is restricted in the case of the target audience who only has access to the visual code, since the lyrics are not translated into Spanish.

Lola’s characterisation as femme fatale is emphasised by the choice of the actress Angelina Jolieto provide the voice of this character. DreamWorks has followed Disney’s strategy for casting actors on the basis of voice recognition. As Lippi-Green points out (1997: 92): “actors and musicians who had already established a personality and reputation with the movie-going public were drawn, quite literally, into the animation and storytelling process.”

In this case, the audience can easily recognise Jolie’s distinctive big lips in the picture of Lola but also her voice in the original version. Voice recognition plays a fundamental role in the construction of the character as it attaches the distinctive features of Jolie’s previous roles to the character of Lola. By contrast, in the Spanish dubbed version, the target audience can neither count on the real voice of the actress to identify Lola with a femme fatale, nor on the voice of Nuria Mediavilla who usually dubs Jolie, as it relies on the actress Natalia Verbeke, who has only dubbed Jolie in this film (Table 1).
























Table 1 (Source: El Doblaje)

The Spanish audience has to rely on the attractive depiction of Lola and her ways of talking and behaving, as can be seen in the following examples:

Example 5

Lola: Oh, baby, you are so tense.

Lola: Oh, bombón, estás muy tenso.

[Lola: Oh, sweetie, you are so tense.]

Example 6

Lola: Look, deep down I’m really superficialand don’t get me wrong you are cute but you are a nobody.

Lola: Mira, en el fondo soy muy superficial. Mira, no me mal interpretes, eres mono pero eres un don nadie.

[Lola: Look, deep down I’m really superficial. Look, don’t misunderstand me, you are cute but you are a mister nobody.]

As happens in Disney films, Shark Tale also establishes a dichotomy of good and bad women, embodied inthe villainess Lola. As a femme fatale Lola is cunning and employs a clever ruse to manipulate events (Crawford 2006).Lola differs from traditional fairy tale heroines, in two main capacities—her active role in her own destiny and herovert sexualisation (Hynes 2010: 212). In Example 5, Lola seduces the protagonist to get his money, calling him baby in the original version and bombón (‘sweetie’) in the dubbed version. The use of these terms, which are recurrently uttered by men to flirt with women, in Lola’s discourse can be related to the fact that she, as a femme fatale, behaves and talks like a man. As Pearson et al. (1993: 158) argue, men tend to use a more colloquial register than women. The adoption of masculine language implies Lola’s interference in men’s sphere and consequently a threat to men’s liberty. Although Lola’s use of her charms to succeed in getting money is patently obvious in the source text, the translator opts to reinforce the stereotype of Lola as femme fatale in the target text by substituting ‘sweetie,’ the use of which is almost exclusive to men for referring to women when flirting, for ‘baby,’ a term limited neither to flirtatious situations nor to men.

Likewise, Example 6 reveals Lola’s overt sexualisation in both the source and the target texts when, after flirting using the colloquial adjectives “cute” and “mono,” she rejects the protagonist, Oscar. Her masculine discourse is also observed in her use of the expression “don’t get me wrong” (no me mal interpretes), a typical utterance used by men when breaking up a relationship. The reliance on masculine expressions empowers Lola. Like wicked witches in fairy tales, the power of speech allows her to cast a spell on her enemies rendering them helpless, such as making men do what she wants.

After discussing two gender stereotypes attributed to women: traditional housewife and femme fatale, the analysis concentrates on two male characters: Donkey who represents the deviation of the typical stereotype of masculinity and Lenny whose portrayal matches gay stereotyping.


Donkey plays the role of a very talkative donkey who becomes Shrek’s mate. Unlike Shrek’s, his portrayal is far from a manly man according to theBern Sex Role Inventory (BSRI) (Bern 1981). Bern’s early study of sex-role identity developed a trait-based measure of individual differences in the internalisation of societal gender descriptions. In it, the twenty most desirable feminine and masculine characteristics for a woman and for a man were recorded. As Prentice and Carranza (2002: 269-270) state, recent attempts to validate the contents of the BSRI femininity and masculinity scales, using a similar item-selection procedure, have provided evidence for the persistence of these stereotypes:

Feminine characteristics are: affectionate, cheerful, childlike, compassionate, does not use harsh language, eager to soothe hurt feelings, feminine, flatterable, gentle, gullible, loves children, loyal, sensitive to the needs of others, shy, soft-spoken, sympathetic, tender, understanding, warm, and yielding. Masculine characteristics are: acts as a leader, aggressive, ambitious, analytical, assertive, athletic, competitive, defends own beliefs, dominant, forceful, has leadership abilities independent, individualistic, makes decisions easily, masculine, self-reliant, self-sufficient, strong-personality, willing to take a stand, and willing to take risks.

Taking these into consideration, Donkey can be said to havenone of theseappealing masculine features but quite the opposite, as can be seen in the following scene:

Example 7

Donkey: Okay, don’t look down. Don’t look down. Don’t look down. Keep on moving. Don’t look down. Shrek! I’m lookin’ down! Oh, God, I can’t do this! Just let me off, please!

Donkey: Vale, yo no miro. Yo no miro, yo no miro pa bajo. No te pares, tú pa lante como un machote. ¡Shrek! Estoy mirando. ¡Cielos no puedohacerlo! Déjamemarchar.

[Donkey: Okay, don’t look. Don’t look. Don’t look down. Keep on moving like a macho man. Shrek! I’m lookin’ down! Oh, good heavens, I can’t do this! Let me off, please!]

In this case, Shrek shows masculine traits such as acting as a leader, being assertive and willing to take risks when leading his quest to rescue Princess Fiona; whereas the feminine characteristic of loyalty is observed in Donkey who follows Shrek despite being afraid of exposing himself to danger.

Donkey’s loyalty to Shrek and above all his wish of not being left behind makes Donkey take the risk of crossing a decrepit rope bridge over a moat of lava while encouraging himself to go on by saying: “keep on moving.” This gender neutral expression is modified in the dubbed version where the translator adds the masculine-charged comparative ‘like a macho man.’ The addition leads to the interpretation that Donkey desires to appear manly. The Spanish colloquial expression tú pa lantecomo un machete is popularly used to give boys confidence and not to act cowardly, reinforcing the idea that men should be strong and determined, a stereotypical belief that is “matched by a societal prescription that they should be strong and agentic” (Prentice and Carranza 2002: 269). In this case, the addition in the target text contributes to the perpetuation of gender stereotypes where boys are encouraged to reproduce attitudes attached to masculine stereotypes and girls to be tender.

Nevertheless, Donkey’s attempt to project a masculine image fails when he ends up looking straight down into the lava and starts screaming terrified, behaving in a melodramatic way and showing weakness and insecurity, traits which are regarded as undesirable for men according to Prentice and Carranza’s study (2002: 274-278).

In a similar way, Donkey’s lack of masculinity may be inferred from his discourse in:

Example 8

Donkey: This is gonna be fun! We can stay up late, swappin’ manly stories, and in the mornin’ I’m makin’ waffles.

Donkey: Será fenomenal. Trasnocharemos contándonos batallitas y por la mañana, prepararé churros.

[Donkey: This is gonna be great! We can stay up late, swappin’ war stories, and in the morning I’m making churros.]

Donkey who wants to bond with Shrek looks for activities that they can share. As Shrek is seen as a manly man, Donkey proposes manly activities. In this example, Donkey first suggests “swappin’ manly stories,” stressing the masculinity of the activity. The expression “swappin’ stories” reminds one of ‘telling war stories,’ something usually uttered by men when they reminisce about the old days doing their military service. However, the inclusion of the word ‘manly’ in the original ironically emphasises the femininity of the whole plan which recalls a pyjama party, an activity ascribed to girls. The same effect is achieved in the dubbed version but through a different strategy. The use of the diminutive batallitas (‘war stories’) instead of “manly” has succeeded in highlighting the lack of masculinity in Donkey’s discourse, since, as Katherine Schultz, John Briere and Lorna Sandler  suggest in an enlightening article (1984), a characteristic of women’s speech is the use of diminutive forms.

Traits of femininity are also observed in both texts when Donkey offers to cook as the culmination of their evening. The scene may bear a certain resemblance to that ofa couple where the woman wakes up to prepare breakfast after spending the night together, following the stereotypical representation of women as perfect housewives. In the source text, Donkey proposes to “make waffles,” a proper American breakfast, which is prepared on special occasions. The same idea is expressed by prepararé churros in the target text, as it likewise suggests a typical breakfast after a long or romantic night. However, the translator has opted for the domestication of the original cultural reference in this case in order to make the Spanish audience understand more easily the implications of the situation.


The other male character under analysis is Lenny who represents the son of a gangster shark that refuses to be a slayer. He does not eat meat; he is a vegetarian who does not fit the brutal killer prototype. This outsider who attempts to fit in is voiced by Jack Black. His vocal performance together with Lenny’s mannerisms such as ‘crossing’ his tail, ’snapping’ his fins agitatedly or disguising himself as a dolphin are very effeminate. They conform not to stereotypical representations of vegetarians but to those of homosexuals (See CBS News and Sydney Morning Herald).

His portrayal supports Butler’s (1993: 1-23) idea that gender identity is not something that is inherent inside a person’s body. Gender is “what being a man or a woman means in a specific society in relation to factors such as race, class and historical period” (De Marco 2009: 177). Lenny’s stereotyping as homosexual is based on the special emphasis put on the display of several of those traits regarded as desirable for a woman in Bem’s Sex Role Inventory (BSRI) (Bem 1981), such as being affectionate, cheerful, childlike, not using harsh language, eager to soothe hurt feelings, feminine and soft-spoken rather than typically masculine traits like aggressiveness or having leadership abilities.

Lenny’s effeminate behaviour is accompanied by discourses more typical of a woman than a man, as can be observed in the following examples:

Example 9

Lenny: Yeah. Gee, thanks, Pop. Here's the thing. I’m on a diet. […] You know how many calories are in one of those shrimps?

Lenny: Sí, vaya gracias, papá. Es que estoy a dieta. […] ¿Sabes cuántas calorías tienen esas gambas?

[Lenny: Yeah. Gee, thanks, Pop. Here's the thing. I’m on a diet. […] You know how many calories are in one of those shrimps?]


Example 10

Lenny: Ahh. Hey, a bed. Oh, yeah, that’s good. That’s heaven, yeah. Snuggly, buggly, wuggly. I love you, man.

Lenny: ¡Eh, una cama! Oh, sí, qué gustito. ¡Qué maravilla, sí! Ah, acurrucadito el bonito garbancito.

[Lenny: Ahh. Hey, a bed. Oh, yeah, so comfortable. That’s heaven, yeah. Ah, curled up the lovely little chickpea.]

The first example reinforces Lenny’s femininity by the choice of the excuse given in order not to eat the shrimps. The expression ‘I’m on a diet’ is frequently associated with women, since women are more concerned about their physical appearance than men. This happens in both cultures, the American and the Spanish, allowing the translator to make a literal translation of the expression in order to highlight the character’s femininity.

In the second example, his femininity is also conveyed by his use of the voice’s higher registers like women and by a rise in tone at the end of his sentences that, according to Bolinger (1989: 21-22), gives the sentence a feminine or effeminate nuance. Different strategies have been applied in his depiction as effeminate, although both the source and target texts count on the use of rhyme in the stereotyping of Lenny, as English and Spanish link its use with male effeminacy (Mack 2010: 45).

In the source text, Lenny’s soft way of speaking, is seen in the type of vocabulary he uses and his overuse of adverbs (‘snuggly,’ ‘buggly,’ ‘wuggly’) for referring to the way of lying on a bed. Firstly, the meanings1 of the adverbs may sound a bit twee and this could be related to the fact of appearing affected, taking into account that both terms, twee and affected, are considered synonyms (Hanks 2000: 1005); and secondly, the link between femininity and the overuse of adverbs is put forward by Andrews’ (1999) research, which suggests that women in Anglo-Saxon culture tend to an increased use of adverbs when they interact socially with peers. By contrast, in the dubbed version, the translator has opted to maintain the rhyme and use of the diminutive forms: acurrucadito, bonito and garbancito to emphasise Lenny’s sensitivity, since the use of abbreviated, diminutive and euphemistic words characterise women’s speech (Schultz et al 1984).


The way we behave and think is the final product of socialisation. Through it we also learn what is appropriate and improper for men and women. Since the moment we are born, we are moulded into the being that society wants us to be through different media. Animated films are an effective tool in the process of socialisation (Scanlan and Feinberg 2000). In these films children find patterns of behaviour and learn the established social stereotypes. This research has concentrated on those created on the basis of gender, understanding gender as a series of habitual behaviors, or performances, carefully constructed by society, which shape a person’s gender identity early in life.

The brief analysis of the four characters indicates that DreamWorks’ films Shrek and Shark Tale rely on the stereotypes for the portrayal of their main characters. The examples analysed show that, in spite of linguistic constraints, translation plays a fundamental role in the transmission of socio-cultural assumptions about gender.

With regard to genderstereotypes, one can observe that although Shrek is presented as a revolution in its portrayal of fairy tale princesses through Princess Fiona’s actions and her independent and active character, on closer inspection this is more superficial than it may at first appear. Although Fiona may be seen as a challenge to traditional gender stereotypes, this is not entirely consistent as the examples indicate. First of all, like many Disney princesses, Fiona is under a curse that makes her look like an ogre. She is also profoundly conservative in her view of love as is shown in her discourse (Examples 1 and 3). Her use of language is feminine in both the original and the dubbed versions, presenting usages of language characteristic of women like the use of rhetorical questions when being assertive (Example 1). However, it is interesting to see how the attempt to portray Fiona as independent and rebellious has been foiled in the dubbed version due to the translator’s intervention. In this case, lexical choices have led to the loss of the original connotations and consequently to a different representation of the character (Example 2).

The analysis of another female character, Lola from Shark Tale, suggests that voice recognition is an important strategy in the creation of stereotypes. The use of Angelina Jolie for voicing Lola in the original version is vital. The use of voice combined with Lola’s physical appearance which reminds the audience of Angelina Jolie is critical for associating the character with the femme fatale stereotype. The absence of the voice of the actress who usually dubs Jolie in Spanish may be to the detriment of that association. Likewise, the analysis demonstrates that the lack of translation of certain audiovisual elements like songs may also entail some loss of information for the audience in terms of the character portrayal.

In addition, the study of the two male characters, Donkey and Lenny, demonstrates thatthe concept of gender goes beyond a person’s body. It is related to the socially constructed ideas about the way of behaving and talking of men and women. The depiction of Donkey and Lenny conveys, both in the original and the dubbed versions, traits that may not be considered typically masculine. With respect to Donkey the deviation from masculine clichés is highlighted in the dubbed version through the translation strategy of domestication. In the same way, it is observed in the cases of Donkey and Lenny, that translators have rested, to a great extent, on the use of diminutive forms as the strategy to accentuate their femininity.

Overall, we might conclude by saying that the close linguistic correspondences and patterns between the original and the dubbed versions found in this case study reveal that US and Spanish cultures portray gender in similar ways. We have been able to observe that Princess Fiona’s defiant attitude has been described as ‘fiery;’ Lola’s use of masculine expressions has resulted in her portrayal as an evil femme fatale; and Donkey’s and Lenny’s lack of masculine linguistic forms has conveyed their lack of leadership skills. Regarding the role of translation in the transmission of stereotypes, DreamWorks presented itself as the spirit of renewal of traditional animated films which supported the status quo. However, the original and dubbed versions of Shrek and Shark Tale still reflect the perpetuity of those conventional assumptions about gender recorded by Bern (1981) in the 80s.

  • Andrews, Moya (1999). Manual of Voice Treatment: Pediatrics through Geriatrics. San Diego, CA: Singular Publishing Group.
  • Baker, Mona (1997). Routledge Encyclopaedia of Translation Studies. London/New York: Routledge.
  • Bem, Sandra (1981). Bem Sex-Role Inventory: Professional Manual. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press, Inc.
  • Bolinger, Dwight (1989). Women’s Voices, Like Men’s, Reflect the Difference in Body Size. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Brown, Penelope and Stephen Levinson (1987).Politeness. Some Universals in Language Usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Butler, Judith (1993). Bodies that Matter: on the discursive limits of ‘sex.’ New York: Routledge.
  • Coates, Jennifer (2004). Language and Gender: a Reader. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Crawford, Norlisha (2006). “Good, Bad, and Beautiful: Chester Himes’s Femmes in Harlem.” NWSA Journal 18(2), 193-217.
  • De Marco, Marcella (2009). “Gender Portrayal in Dubbed and Subtitled Comedies.” Jorge Díaz Cintas (ed.) (2009). New Trends in Audiovisual Translation. Bristol: Multilingual Matters, 176-194.
  • Decker, Jonathan (2010). The Portrayal of Gender in the Feature-Length Films of Pixar Animation Studios: A Content Analysis. Thesis.Graduate Faculty of Auburn University, Alabama.
  • Do Rozario, Rebecca-Anne (2004). “The Princess and the Magic Kingdom: beyond nostalgia, the function of the Disney princess.” Women’s Studies in Communication  27(1), 34-59.
  • Gerfen, Chip and Kathleen Hall (2001). Coda Aspiration and Incomplete Neutralization in Eastern Andalusian Spanish.
  • (Consulted 10.12.2011).
  • Hanks, Patrick (ed.) (2000).The New Oxford Thesaurus of English. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Holmes, Janet and Miriam Meyerhoff (2008). Different Voices, Different Views: an introduction to current research in language and gender. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
  • Hynes, Ashlee (2010). “Raising princesses? Gender socialisation in early childhood and the Disney princess franchise.” Critical Social Thinking: Policy and Practice 2, 205-216.
  • Kamensky, Jane (1996). “Talk like a Man: speech, power, and masculinity in early New England.” Gender and History 8(1), 22-47.
  • Lippi-Green, Rosina (1997). English with an Accent: Language, Ideology, and Discrimination in the United States. London: Routledge.
  • Lippmann, Walter (1922). Public Opinion. New York: Macmillan.
  • Mack, Sara (2010). “A Sociophonetic Analysis of Perception of Sexual Orientation in Puerto Rican Spanish.” Laboratory Phonology 1(1), 41–63.
  • Macrae, C. Neil, Stangor, Charles and Miles Hewstone (1996). Stereotypes and Stereotyping. New York: The Guilford Press.
  • Mei, Huang (1990). Transforming the Cinderella Dream: from Frances Burney to Charlotte Bronte. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
  • Michael, Agnes and Charlton Grant (2010). Webster’s New World Dictionary. New York: Webster’s New World.
  • Oakes, Penny and Katherine Reynolds (1997). “Asking the accuracy question: is measurement the answer?” Russel Spears, Penny Oakes, Naomi Ellemers and Alex Haslam (eds) (1997).The Social Psychology of Stereotyping and Group Life. Oxford: Blackwell, 51-71.
  • Pearson, Judy, Turner, Lynn and William Todd-Mancillas (1993).Comunicación y género. Barcelona: Paidos.
  • Prentice, Deborah and Erica Carranza (2002). “Women and men should be, shouldn’t be, are allowed to be, and don’t have to be: the contents of prescriptive gender stereotypes.” Psychology of Women Quarterly 26, 269-281.
  • Rieger, Marie (2006). “Rich points, critical incidents e Kulturstandards - quale contributo possono dare la psicologia sociale, l’antropologia e l’economia all’insegnamento delle lingue straniere?” Londei, Danielle, Donna R. Miller and Paola Puccini (eds) (2002). Insegnare le lingue/culture oggi: il contributo dell’interdisciplinarità. Bologna: Edizioni Asterisco, 277-289. (consulted 23.02.2011).
  • Rowe, Karen (1979). “Feminism and fairy tales.”Women's Studies: an Inter-Disciplinary Journal 6(3), 237-257.
  • Sánchez, Dolores (2007). “The ‘truth’ about sexual difference.” The Translator 13(2), 171-194.
  • Scanlan, Stephen and Seth Feinberg (2000). “The cartoon society: using The Simpsonsto teach and learn sociology.” Teaching Sociolology 28(2): 127-139.
  • Schultz, Katherine, John Briere and Lorna Sandler (1984). “The Use and Development of Sex-Typed Language.” Psychology of Women Quarterly 8(4), 327-336.
  • Shrikhande, Vaishali (2003). Stereotyping of Women in Television Advertisements. PhD thesis. University of Pune, India.
  • Simon, Sherry (1996). Gender in Translation: Cultural Identity and the Politics of Transmission. New York: Routledge.
  • Sumera, Lara (2009). “The Mask of Beauty: masquerade theory and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.Quarterly Review of Film and Video 26(1), 40-46.
  • Terraciano, Antonio et al.(2005). “National character does not reflect mean personality trait levels in 49 cultures.” Science 310(5745), 96-100.
  • Tonn, Theresa (2008). Disney’s influence on female’s perception of gender and love. PhD thesis. University of Wisconsin Stout at Wisconsin.
  • Trompenaars, Fons and Charles Hampden-Turner (1998). Riding the Waves of Culture: Understanding Cultural Diversity in Global Business. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Unger, Johann W. and Jane Sunderland (2007). Gendered Discourses in a Contemporary Animated film: subversion and confirmation of gender stereotypes in Shrek.
  • Norman Fairclough, Giuseppina Cortese and Patrizia Ardizzone (eds) (2007).Discourse and contemporary social change. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 459-486.
  • Wohlwend, Karen (2009). “Damsels in Discourse: Girl’s Consuming and Producing Identity Texts through Disney Princess Play.” Reading Research Quarterly 44(1), 57-83.
  • Antz (1998).Dirs. Eric Darnell and Tim Johnson. DreamWorks.
  • Chicken Run (2000). Dirs. Peter Lord and Nock Park. DreamWorks/Pathé.
  • The Philadelphia Story (1940). Dir. George Cukor. Loews/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
  • Shark Tale (2004) dir. Bibo Bergeron, Vicky Jenson and Rob Letterman.DreamWorks.
  • Shrek (2001). Dirs. Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson. DreamWorks.
  • Shrek 2 (2004). Dirs. Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury and  Conrad Vernon. DreamWorks.
  • Shrek 3 (2007). Dirs. Chris Miller and Raman Hui. DreamWorks.
  • Shrek 4 (2010). Dir. Mike Mitchell. DreamWorks.

Gonzales VeraPilar González Vera, PhD, teaches at the Faculty of Education in the University of Zaragoza, Spain. She holds a BA (Hons) in Combined Studies from the University of Central Lancashire and she completed her PhD in Audiovisual Translation at the University of Zaragoza. Her research interests include audiovisual translation and children’s literature. She is a member of a research group at the University of Zaragoza that studies domestication and foreignisation in translation.


Note 1:
Snuggly: Soft, warm, and comfortable. (

Buggly: other definition for “buggy” sounds cooler. (

Wuggly: adj. A term commonly used to describe very cuddly, cute dogs, but can apply to any animal. Nobody is actually sure exactly what the meaning is, but it is generally agreed to mean something related to cute, huggable, and nice.
Return to this point in the text