To clear the palate before we embark, here is Bernard Hoffer's instrumental Panthro's Theme, a splendid example of the sort of music addressed in this post. It is also among the greatest hidden gems of serious non-electronic disco to emerge post-Funkytown.
Sadly, the Thundercats theme itself appears not to have been translated out of English, which leaves us with all the other cartoon theme tunes, which are mostly bad.
Let us start in earnest with Ulysses 31. Refamiliarize yourself first with the English version, where the musical notes make sense but the lyrics do not.
The ne plus ultra of foreign Ulysseses is Spain's Ulises 31, which heightens the English version's emotional landscape, then segues dizzyingly from booming male narrator to contralto female lyricist. The fundamental excellence of Denny Crockett and Ike Egan's pounding space disco maintains its sense of unity and place.
In the French version of Ulysse 31, our narrator sounds so bored you can almost see him throwing away his Gauloises and walking off after introducing the hero, muttering about how no-one understands his art. The energetic singing compensates superbly, however, especially when an unexpectedly masculine chorus kicks in. That said, a certain mental endurance is still required to get through the section voiced by Nono la petit robot.
Germany's Odysseus 31 begins with a friendly storyteller, but the hoped-for awesomeness kicks in as soon as the lyricist boots the narrators offstage and the theme proper begins:
Behold! The surreal nightmare of polish Ulysses 31 is at hand.
The theme tune to Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds, already vigorously unpleasant in English and Spanish, is even worse in other languages. The Italians wins outright, however, by replacing the theme's instrumentation with a synthesizer that just goes right through your head. It is deployed over multiple extra bridges and solos not present in the original; they also managed to find even higher-pitched child singers and stretched it out to nearly four minutes in length.
Dogtanian is also cringeworthy in France, Portugal and in Finland, whose rendition sounds like it was recorded on a Yamaha PSS-130 by drunks. There is even a Hebrew version of this immensely successful cartoon's theme song — one can imagine it occupying a place of honor alongside rubber hoses and damp towels among Mossad's most persuasive tools.
If you've gotten this far, this Afrikaans edition of David the Gnome is a reward of magnificent proportions; so much so I can hardly believe that it is real:
Returning to the era's real classics, we find that the french edition of Mysterious Cities of Gold -- the original! -- is very similar to the English. The co-produced Japanese screening, however, completely discarded Haim Saban's original theme in favor of a curious pop song by Nobuyoshi Koshibe:
French also being the native language of Inspecteur Gadget's creators, one would expect that version of the theme to offer a similar level of quality to the English production. Fortunately this is far from the case!
This version is available at the Amazon store as a high-quality MP3. There is, however, a suprise in Shuky Levi's original sound track: one of the toon's most oft-used interstitial tunes turns out to have a bizarre and haunting vocal track in its full-length version.
Another Shuki Levi classic, Jayce and Wheeled Warriers, offers Anglophones 'abroad' all the pleasure of an 1980s hair band, but with the benefit of being unable to understand what they are saying.
No tour of the 1980s TV toon landscape is complete without a look at Disney's saturday morning work, and it's true that the company translates its work widely and to high standard. This attention to maintaining vocal style, cadence and meter across languages is extraordinary, but has the unfortunate result of making every version rather similar. But here's Gummi Bears in Japanese:
I had high hopes for a macho, Putinesque lead for Russia's localization of Chip 'n' Dale: Rescue Rangers, but it was not to be.
Now, Around The World With Willy Fog. First, reacquaint yourself with the English version of this demented rendition of Verne's novel, for however long you can take it. One interesting thing about this show is that its cast of anthropomorphised animals is already an international ensemble; this allows each localization to embody crude ethnic charicatures without really offending anyone.
For example, if this Englishman ever learns to speak Spanish, I shall try to learn to speak it as Mr. Fog speaks it here:
My personal favorite, however, is Russian Willy. In Finland, the the little rat-creature, Tico, appears to vomit suddenly at the end of his line.
Anyway, I started this post with the best of intentions, but by the far end of international Ewoks I was reaching for the aspirin, so it's probably best I stop.
I'll leave you with He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, translations of which turn out to be surprisingly light-hearted compared to the English original. At least one season of Germany's showing received an appropriately muscular voicing, however. Here it is with helpfully translated English subtitles:
Post your favorite cartoon curiosities in the comments!
* According to a YouTube commenter.