Popular streaming service Disney+ has launched in Iceland, but not a single one of the movies it offers has been localized into Icelandic.
Companies that launch in new foreign markets may decide not to localize for a multitude of reasons, the more stereotypical being that executives with purchasing power either don’t ‘believe’ in localization — the “everyone speaks English” philosophy — or, for whatever reason, don’t feel as though translation is accessible. This, translator Thorarinn Eldjarn contends, is part of what makes Disney’s decision not to localize so baffling: a multitude of Disney movies have already been dubbed or subtitled in the language, localization taking place at the time of the films’ release. Popular Disney character Donald Duck, for example, is already known in Icelandic as Andrés Önd, Winnie the Pooh as Bangsímon. “I do wonder why they don’t at least offer the old versions,” Eldjarn told The New York Times, “Either they think Iceland is too small and unimportant to bother with, or they assume everyone understands English.”
This complete lack of localization has prompted Iceland’s education minister, Lilja Alfredsdottir, to formally complain to Disney, sending a letter this month to The Walt Disney Company’s chief executive officer, Bob Chapek. Despite being spoken by the country’s entire population, Icelandic is considered to be an at-risk language. Among children, English is preferred and Icelandic literacy — as opposed to English language literacy — is down, leaving schools to reevaluate curriculum since students are unable to read the history and literature books traditionally used in the classroom.
Subtitling is required for all foreign shows broadcast in the country; however, streaming services aren’t held to the same governmental rules. Disney has localized its offering for other countries: Films shown on Disney+ are currently dubbed and subtitled in up to 16 different languages, depending on the movie — just not Icelandic.