Grab a bowl of Fruit Loops and keep your pajamas on.
It’s time to relive your childhood, because your favorite old cartoons can now become your guilty French pleasures.
Here, I’m going to be talking about the French-dubbed versions of our all-time American favorites, you know, the ones that play 24 hours straight on New Year’s Day.
Yes, I know there are famous French originals, but these cartoons also have their own small, bright place in French language and culture. Plus, you’ll want to be able to share the highlights of your own culture while chatting with new pals.
Cartoons are a reoccurring topic in conversation, so what happens when you’re in a great conversation with a French friend and they start asking you about your childhood? Wouldn’t it be terrible if you didn’t have a clue how to translate the titles, character names and classic bits from your beloved cartoons?
It would, but that’s where I come in…
So, here are a set of essential timeless toons bound to keep your French conversations glowing.
That’s All, Folks! 9 Classic Cartoons Translated into French
I’ll give you plenty of tips to get the most French learning possible out of these fun cartoons. I’ll point out key vocabulary and cultural facts that’ll make you think you’ve been watching these cartoons since you were un petit enfant (a little kid).
But what happens when you come across a word you don’t recognize while you’re watching?
That’s exactly the dilemma FluentU was built to solve. FluentU provides real-world French videos, including cartoons as well as music videos, commercials, inspiring speeches and more, that have been supercharged with language learning tools. For example, every video comes with interactive subtitles. You can click any word in the subtitles for an instant definition, grammar info and memorable picture.
There are also flashcards and fun quizzes built into every video so you retain all that new information. Plus, FluentU continually suggests new videos based on what you’ve already learned, so you can spend less time searching for great French content and more time enjoying it. You can explore the full library on your computer or with the mobile apps for iOS and Android.
“Les Pierrafeu” (“The Flintstones”)
Pierrafeu isn’t a real word in French—it’s part of a sentence, pierre à feu, “stone for fire.” Sort of like “Flintstones,” it’s a mumble-jumble of words crammed together to capture the spirit of a family of cave-dwelling people.
We all know what “stone” means in English, but do we know the definition of “flint-stone”? The one that seems to fit best is: A type of stone material (flint) that induces spark, kind of like for gunfire or cigarette lighters. This is quite similar to the French—just picture a caveman rubbing together two stones for fire (pierres à feu) and we get the name Flintstones!
In French, the definition for this type of flint is silex, and it’s technically the literal translation from the English word “flint,” but the French decided to stick with feu instead, since silex is used to make feu. It probably makes for a snappier-sounding name anyway.
So, the next time you’re in a conversation about cartoons, make sure you call the Flintstones les Pierrafeu—your language partner will be impressed! But if you really want to impress them, lend an ear to the “Les Pierrafeu” theme song. They lyrics aren’t too hard to learn, and they help plenty of fun French vocabulary stick in your brain.
If you’d like to instantly watch an entire “Les Pierrafeu“ movie in French, buy it and check it out here!
“Les Schtroumpfs” (“The Smurfs”)
If you thought this was an American classic, think again!
It was actually created by Belgian illustrator Peyo (Pierre Culliford) and first aired in the French language. Cool, huh?
I know the word schtroumpf doesn’t look at all French, and that’s because it’s not. It’s entirely made up. So where did this wacky word come from?
It all began when Peyo and his friend André Franquin were dining. Peyo asked him to please, “passe-moi…” but—like the best of us language connoisseurs—he had a brainfart and forgot how to say sel (salt) in French.
Instead, Peyo conjured up and blurted out the word schtroumpf and, as a joke, his friend said, “here’s the schtroumpf, when you’re done schtroumpfing, schtroumpf it back.” And so, the weird world of “Les Schtroumpfs” was born.
Interestingly, Belgium has three official languages: French, Dutch and German, so it’s understandable why Peyo may have confused his words. But strumpf (similar-looking to schtroumpf) in German actually means “sock” (which is chaussette in French)—so I honestly can’t tell you what Peyo was thinking when he wanted the sel.
And what’s even funnier is that the Dutch translation for Schtroumpfs is Smurfs, which is the famous name for those little blue gnomes we’ve come to know so well.
Speaking of the smurfs themselves, did you know that there are over 100 of them? Each smurf runs around with their own creative, cute characteristics—a great way for learning French adjectives. See how many smurfs you can describe while watching!
For more French Smurf trivia, here’s a list of translated Smurf names in both English and French.
There’s also an instant movie you can get online if you don’t feel like waiting for the mail to arrive!
Fun fact: Les Schtroumpfs were actually featured in a previous cartoon created by Peyo that never became as notable as “The Smurfs.” If you want to further deepen your French cartoon character knowledge, check out the show: “Johan et Pirlouit” (Johann and Peewit).
Bisou is the French word for “kiss,” a common way les Français physically express saying “goodbye” and “hello” to each other. Not to mention, it’s also the way they write “bye” via text or messaging—bisou/bisous.
Maybe that’s why it’s translated as “kiss teddy bears,” bisou-nours, instead of literally soin-ours, “Carebears.” Plus, the word “care” in French is a complex one, which is why it may not have translated well for the title “Carebears.” Let’s take a look at the different ways “care” is conveyed in French:
Prendre soin de — to take care (of something or someone)
Je m’en fous — I don’t care
Je tiens à toi — I care for you (intimate)
Je te soutiens or tu peux compter sur moi — I care for you or you can count on me (friendly)
As we can see, there’s no literal translation for “care,” and certainly no translation that fits into one little word that’s suitable for inclusion in a show title.
To explain a bit about the second half of the title, ours is, of course, “bear” in French, and this is how it’s spelled whether written plural or singular.
Nounours (hence the “n” in Bisounours), is a childish word for “teddy bear.” It can also be a French term of endearment for a male or young boy—mon nounours (my little teddy).
And like “Les Schtroumpfs,” there are multiple personnages (characters) within the “Bisounours” show that can also help you hone those French adjectives.
Note: Just keep in mind that if you’re in Quebec, this cartoon is known as “Calinours” or “cuddle-bears.”
“Minus et Cortex” (“Pinky and The Brain”)
I know the word cortex looks familiar…and maybe the word minus does too, but cortex actually means the same thing in French as it does in English—a part of your brain.
Cerveau is the word for “brain” in French, but I assume the French changed Brain’s name to Cortex to just give him that much more spunk and intelligence.
Minus, on the other hand, does not mean to subtract, nor does it refer to your pinky finger, as that would be petit doigt (little finger).
Minus in French is a synonym for idiot, imbecile, brute, etc., which is essentially the role Pinky plays in the show.
And so the theme song goes, “Minus et Cortex, -tex, -tex, -tex, -tex…“
But if you listen to the real French theme song, you’ll know that their version doesn’t actually sing the ending frame that way.
There seem to be two different theme songs in French for these two little lab mice. Their counterpart voices sound so exact, you’d be surprised. (The French are known to be spot on with dubbing), so check out this version as well and have a good listen! Can you spot the differences?
“Titi et Grosminet” (“Tweety and Sylvester”)
If you’re guessing that titi is the sound birds make in French, like “tweet-tweet,” nice try. These sounds would actually be more like cui, cui. Titi just looks as if it could be the most sound-fitting word for this translated name change.
There’s actually a famous French phrase commonly used by Victor Hugo (in “Les Misérables”) that made titi famous and a nice choice for this show’s character. It goes: titi parisien.
This formerly described a “street urchin,” typically a young person—a gamin (m) or gamine (f)—who knew their way around town (particularly Paris), but it can now refer to anyone, anywhere—as long as they’re “in the know.”
Hugo’s fictional character Gavroche Thénardier was given this nickname for his “street smart” persona. Now, gavroche is considered a synonym for titi parisien—so either of these two expressions will make do in la France!
And Grosminet, you might ask? It translates to a fat (gros) cat (minet). In case you’re unfamiliar with this vocabulary, minet is another word for “cat.” And, like nounours, it’s also used as term of endearment.
Other varieties of minet include minette (for females) and minou (both males and females). Minet is for a male cat or person.
Oh, and if you’re wondering how Sylvester shouts his notorious “sufferin’ succotash!” catchphrase in French, check out this mini-clip of “Titi et Grosminet”—it’s pretty hysterical! And you can check the availability of the rest of the series on Amaazon.
“Bip Bip et Coyote” (“Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner”)
Okay, so half of the characters’ name look similar to the English, but the secret behind Road Runner’s translation is hilarious.
Remember being a child and not knowing Road Runner’s real name? You’d be lying if you didn’t call him the sound he makes while running away from Coyote—”beep, beep.”
Well, that’s exactly how the French have decided to keep him named! Because, to be honest, Le Grand Géocoucou (The Road Runner), which is what the French literally call this type of animal, isn’t as easy to say as Bip Bip.
Imagine being a French child and trying say Le Grand Géocoucou—wouldn’t roll of the tongue as easy, eh? If you think about it, neither does “The Road Runner” for a child in English!
So, the next time you’re in France conversing over cartoons, don’t feel so bad calling the Road Runner Bip Bip, it’s totally normal over there (and here).
Oh yeah!—and Coyote, the French didn’t really cut him any slack. He’s called Vil Coyote—vile, not wile, which labels him as a bit more wretched and evil than wily does, which rather means cunning and sly. “Wile” in French would be something more like ruse (to be a trickster/trickery).
If you want to watch both Vil and Bipbip in “Acme” action, check out this clip!
There isn’t much of an exchange of words between them, but it’s fun to see how they translate the narration that’s normally absent in English.
“Pépé le putois” (“Pepé Le Pew”)
You’d think the French would keep Pepé Le Pew with the same name since he’s French, right?
Well, guess again. Although our American/English Looney Tunes portray Pepé as a French skunk looking for l’amour de sa vie, strolling around with a béret, baguette and a thick Franco-American accent, this isn’t the same case for French viewers.
In English, Pepé Le Pew it meant to suggest Pepé…”pee-yew!”—which is our wordless exclamation said when something stinky crosses our paths. In French, to describe “pee-yew,” they say pue, which is a conjugation of the verb puer (to stink). A common French expression with the verb puer is, les pieds qui puent (stinky feet).
And, thus, the English-speaking world began to steal pue and transform it into our very own “pew,” “pee-yew” or even “P.U.”! The fact that this skunk character ended up with French vibes stemmed from the stereotype that Americans have had of the French, that they don’t shower or that they stink.
As it turns out, the exact impression Americans have of the French is what they (the French) have of Italians. Which is why Pépé le putois isn’t a French skunk to the French, but rather, Italian! You can check out a great example of his Italian side (in the French show) here.
And putois? It’s a “polecat,” which is an animal that resembles a cross between a ferret and a skunk. I guess that makes sense now, considering he’s always chasing around a black cat who accidentally paints her tail white. What a funny, funny world we live in.
Don’t believe it? Check it out for yourself! Watch the American version of Pepé Le Pew and then the French one. You’ll notice he’s speaking with a heavy Italian-French accent (a lot of rolling of the r’s) instead of an English-French one.
“Georges le petit curieux” (“Curious George”)
This is another toon that America mistakenly takes all the credit for.
Originally written in French, “Georges le petit curieux“ initially missed out on European fame due to the rise of WWII.
It wasn’t until after the semi-successful children’s book “Cecily G. and the Nine Monkeys” (“Rafi et les 9 Singes”) that German-Jewish writers H.A. and Margret Rey were commissioned to write another story focusing solely on the monkey George, who at the time was called Fifi—and who wasn’t considered the main character in this first book (just one of Rafi’s—aka Cecily—friends).
Once the war broke out, the authors were forced to run away with the “Georges le petit curieux” manuscript in-hand on their bikes while the Nazis came to invade the city of lights.
Making their way to Brazil and eventually to the U.S., it wasn’t until the Reys reached the promised land that “Georges le petit curieux” was published and gained full-fledged fame.
Now there are T.V. shows, movies and numerous books based on the little monkey and the Man with the Yellow Hat.
There’s not much change in the translation other than the fact that George is a bit more petit (little), and more frequently described with this additional descriptive adjective.
You can find compilations of this show in French online, and you could even buy the French translation of the recent movie (starring Will Ferrell and Drew Barrymore) on Amazon.
“Snoopy et les Peanuts” (“The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show”)
We arrive at our final classic cartoon.
First things first, unless you’re talking to a true French fan (like the older generation), the younger crowd might not actually know who “Charlie Brown” is. Calling it “The Peanuts” probably won’t ring a bell either. But say the magic word, Snoopy, and get you’ll get an, ah, oui…
To the French, Snoopy is the star of the famous comic strip, which is why it’s called Snoopy et les Peanuts or sometimes simply Snoopy.
As of 2014, the French have decided to officially recreate the entire “Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show” series in their own language, a great way to start learning French through cartoons.
Another final fun fact: It’s believed that the name for Charlie Hebdo was inspired by Charlie Brown. I totally didn’t see that coming!
So there you have it!
And, as the Looney Tunes would say, “that’s all, folks!”
Enough cartoon lingo to keep your upcoming French convos creative and colorful!
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