I just watched Disney's Frozen (DVD) with my children and noticed (again) that the German subtitles differ from the German spoken text.

For example, right at the beginning, Anna wakes Elsa, and Elsa replies

  • in English (original, both subtitles and voice): "Anna, go back to sleep"
  • in German (subtitles): "Anna, schlaf weiter"
  • in German (voice): "Anna, geh wieder schlafen"

Both are perfectly valid and idiomatic translations, but it appears that the movie was translated twice by two different teams, which seems... terribly inefficient.

This is something I noticed with quite a few movies and TV shows by now, so there might be a perfectly good reason to it. What is it?

(I do have a theory: Maybe the foreign-language subtitles were done first, and then, when the voice was dubbed, they had to change the translation to match the mouth movements. But if that is the case, why did they do the subtitles first? And even if there is a good reason to do the subtitles first, why didn't they replace them after dubbing the voice? Should be easy - it's just text, right?)

  • 2
    Note: the same happens in 'foreign' language dubbed & subbed back to English [though I very rarely listen to the dub], so it's not just one-way.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Mar 6, 2021 at 19:20
  • 1
    Related - movies.stackexchange.com/questions/41505/…
    – Paulie_D
    Commented Mar 6, 2021 at 20:09
  • 3
    You're on the right track about the mouth movements. However its simpler than you think - the order doesn't matter. Dubbed voices are made to fit mouth movements if possible. Subtitled don't have to - they can stick more closely to the original meaning.
    – iandotkelly
    Commented Mar 6, 2021 at 21:50
  • Subtitles have limits wrt the amount of letters and words.
    – BCdotWEB
    Commented Mar 7, 2021 at 10:20
  • Also, english subtitles doesn't perfectly match with english audio in american movies, because they will too long ...
    – Candid Moe
    Commented Mar 8, 2021 at 19:22

2 Answers 2


it appears that the movie was translated twice by two different teams

That definitely happens. One striking example is the Japanese movie Akira, which has potentially four different English translations, two subs and two dubs.

Another factor is there is no motivation for the subtitles to line up with the mouths of the speakers, while the dubbed version is less distracting if there is some alignment between the dubbed audio and the actor’s mouths. So what you are almost certainly seeing is what is considered the clearest translation in the subtitles and a more flexible translation in the dub to make it line up with the visuals more precisely.

As to why they don’t match, why would they? It’s rare for someone to watch both the subtitles and the dubbed audio at the same time. Having watched a lot of subtitled movies, I prefer the more complete translation of the subtitle and I’m glad it is not made to match the dub. I’m probably not the only one.


Foreign language subtitles and foreign language overdubs have different constraints:

  • Overdubs must match the mouth and face movements of the actor if they are visible, and must at least be rhythmically plausible even if the actor's face is not visible. This may sometimes require rephrasing a sentence in such a way that it no longer perfectly matches the original meaning but better matches the original rhythm and movements.

  • Subtitles do not have such a constraint, but they have other constraints: they need to fit into a certain space and viewers need to be able to read them within the time they are on screen.

it appears that the movie was translated twice by two different teams

That is certainly possible as well. There are companies that specialize in dubbing and there are companies that specialize in subbing. There is no reason to think that they collaborate.

Note that often even the subtitles in the original language differ from what is actually spoken on screen!

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