Sunday, September 30, 2007

Arabic Disney DVDs in the US

As many of my friends are aware I am a huge fan of Disney’s Arabic dubbing of their films. Sorry for supporting a big many-tentacled international corporate monster, but there’s just no getting around the high quality job they do and the fact that they are one of the few companies with the resources to do such a good job. While I haven’t used them as often or as effectively as I would have hoped in teaching my kids Arabic, over the years I’ve built up a collection of Disney DVDs in Arabic. Disney Character Voices International does an AMAZING job of dubbing these things into Arabic, most of the time in Egyptian dialect (though I recently got the first one I’ve seen by them in Fusha – Mickey in The Three Musketeers). Really, you could totally think these were originally done in Arabic, including the songs which are just fantastic and a great way of translating/localizing jokes which a straight translation would typically render meaningless. They also manage to get big stars – Muhammad Hineidy is Mike Wazowski (Marid Wishwishni in Arabic) in Monsters Inc. for example and Abla Kamel is Dori in Finding Nemo (where Boutros Boutros Ghali even has a side role). One of my favorites is “Brother Bear” which I think comes across far better in Arabic than even the English (I could watch it in Arabic a dozen times and never get tired, but the English just doesn’t thrill me) and has a really cool catchy song called “Ana 3at-Tareeq” (“I’m on the way”).

Anyhow, I have tried for years and years to try and get a hold of these things in the US to no avail. I’ve been forced to rely on a relative in the Gulf (that source just dried up with his move back to the US) and the occasional lucky shot on an overseas website that usually sells a foreign Disney DVD that by chance also includes the Arabic track (that’s how I got Hunchback of Notre Dame from a German DVD - - and Mulan from an Australian website). Of course (1) this is an expensive route to be forced to go, and (2) getting these foreign versions means you have to get a region code-free DVD player. The good news on that is that most of the cheap-o $20 DVD players you can pick up at Wal-Mart and the like are easily hackable to become region-free. DVDs it turns out don’t have any inherent regional differences in them the way videotapes do, so it is the DVD player manufacturers that have to cripple the players to block other-region DVDs from working. Big companies like Sony put a lot of effort into doing so and hacking them is difficult to impossible, but pick up a cheap-o player and the region protection is only barely there generally only requiring punching in a few numbers worth of secret code to get the thing to work. To get the codes, I’ve found this website where people post the codes they find - They don’t always work for various reasons, but I’ve found if I search out a DVD player that has lots of comments posted with most showing people having success with the same 1 or 2 codes, that it has almost always worked. And if it doesn’t, given that the DVD player half the time costs less than getting one of these overseas DVDs, not such a big deal cost-wise. Oh, and the quality on these cheap-o DVD players has always been fine for me, even on larger screen HDTVs. Cartoons are very forgiving quality-wise on HDTVs and even live action films aren’t that bad with these players provided you use the red-blue-green component cables.

The Middle Eastern distributor used to be a company called Stallions Home Video ( but they only seem to physically sell the DVDs locally in the Gulf and there was no way for me to order in the US off their website. I actually called and talked to their manager in Dubai once (a French guy if I recall right), but he didn’t have any idea who I could talk to about getting them in the US. Disney stores, trying to call or email Disney (consumer or business sides) directly or Buena Vista all turned up dead ends. In short, it was literally impossible to get Arabic Disney DVDs in the US. [As a side note, the Gulf is the only place I’ve been able to find the original DVDs anywhere in the Middle East even. While knockoffs can be found in limited quantities elsewhere (including some websites which I was quite displeased to have paid full price to plus international shipping only to get a knockoff in the mail), I am presuming Disney decided they only trusted the upper-income economies of the Gulf enough to put them on the market locally without massive pirating. Even though they’re in Egyptian dialect, the only one I ever found in Egypt was a cheap Monsters Inc. knockoff. I’m sure more knockoffs could have been found, but that’s all I turned up in my several-day search of the standard Egyptian DVD souqs a few years ago. If anyone has more info than my admittedly limited experience on availability, I’d love to hear it.]

However, I just got a few fresh final DVDs from my relative before his return stateside and I noticed the Stallions Home Video logo on the back was gone and in its place was the Rotana logo. Rotana is the Saudi Alwaleed Bin Talal-owned entertainment megalopoly (is that a word?) of the Middle East. Did a quick Google search and found the article you can see below from last November. Apparently Rotana has signed up to be the new Disney distributor for the Middle East. I checked the Rotana website ( and while they have some DVD titles apparently for sale listed on their front page, (A) none showing yet are Disney, and (B) if you click on any of them you only get a message saying “coming soon”. The Rotana Europe website doesn’t have anything on DVDs. I am hoping however that all this means that it will soon be possible to pick these DVDs up via the Rotana website as they come out. Even if its still overseas shipping and Region 2 coded, there may at least be a straightforward way to obtain the latest stuff as it gets dubbed and released. The Incredibles is now dubbed into Arabic (very well done as always), and hopefully it won’t be long before Cars is available too.

For those of you learning spoken Arabic or teaching it (to kids or adults), I can’t emphasize enough what a great tool these are. They’re fun to watch, very professionally done, and have a wide range of vocabulary for usage (Egyptian anyways). Want to learn ocean terms? Finding Nemo. Family terminology? The Incredibles or Lilo and Stitch. Animals? Lion King or Brother Bear. Manners? Cinderella 2 (haven’t gotten/seen the original yet). Fairy Tales? Snow White and the 7 Dwarves or Sleeping Beauty. Lots more as well. If anyone is interested in the catalog I’ve built up which I think contains every major Disney film that is available in Arabic, let me know, I can send you a list. Disney actually translates far more than it releases on DVD, mostly regular Disney cartoons but also a few films that never make it to DVD in Arabic (I think for example that The Little Mermaid falls into this category). Most of the work (as I was told by an Egyptian opera singer who did the voice of Mickey Mouse and Ursula the sea witch) is done for the Disney Channel’s Middle East iteration and never goes all the way to DVD. But if you can get the DVDs that are out there, I highly recommend it. Wonderful resource and kudos to Disney for doing this. I believe they do this in dozens of languages worldwide too, so presumably whether you’re from Thailand or Iceland, you can get a similar quality product if you’re able to hunt it down. My only complaint to Disney is to stop being such corporate control freaks on your distribution! You've got a great niche product with these Arabized (and other local language) DVDs, you've got lots of little niche markets in diaspora communities around the world, you should make these things easily available to people wherever they are. You can keep it in your own distribution network still, just make them available for direct sale on your main DVD sales website(s) in whatever language people want to pick them up in.

Saudi's Rotana to bring Walt Disney to Middle East
Mon Nov 6, 2006 8:51am EST

DUBAI (Reuters) - Saudi-owned Arab entertainment company Rotana Audio Visual Co. will distribute Walt Disney products across the Middle East and North Africa, the company said on Monday.

Rotana, which is wholly owned by Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud, signed a three-year deal to sell video cassettes and DVDs produced by Walt Disney Studios, Touchstone and Hollywood Pictures in the region, the company said in a statement on Monday.

Rotana did not reveal the value of the deal, which could also include other Buena Vista Home Entertainment products.

"The deal complements (al-Waleed's) international business interests, including The Walt Disney Company and a stake in Euro Disney, France," Rotana President Salem al-Hindi said in the statement.

The first releases will hit the market before the end of the year, the statement said.
Rotana, which will likely sell shares in an initial public offering in 2007, is expanding its operations in movies, radio and music, pushing aggressively into the entertainment market, which caters to nearly 300 million Arabs in the region as well as those living abroad.
Last year, the company signed an agreement with British firm Virgin for the online sale of music by Rotana's artists in France.

Rotana Home Entertainment, a new company based in Dubai, will be in charge of distributing the Disney films, Hindi said.

Rotana plans to list on one of the three United Arab Emirates stock exchanges rather than in conservative Saudi Arabia, where cinemas are not allowed.

Kingdom Hotel Investments, controlled by Alwaleed, is listed on the Dubai International Financial Exchange.

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