FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The story of a clownfish who is encouraged by an energetic but absent-minded friend to “just keep swimming” in the search for his son is being told in Navajo.
The Navajo Nation announced this week that it is teaming up with Walt Disney Studios to dub the movie “Finding Nemo” in the tribe’s language. It’s the second major motion picture to be translated into Navajo after “Star Wars” in 2013.
Museum director Manuelito Wheeler said he’s hopeful the film’s tale of perseverance resonates with Navajos wanting to learn their language.
“The whole story is about human perseverance,” he said. “There’s the father that won’t give up looking for his child. There’s a child who won’t give up trying to escape. There’s Dory who won’t give up helping her friend.”
The Navajo language is in no danger of extinction. More people speak it at home than any other Native American language, a seemingly promising 169,000 people during a time when some tribes have lost their native tongue or are struggling to retain the words of their ancestors.
Yet Navajo is spoken far less by younger tribal members than the older generation. The Navajo Nation has about 300,000 members, and its reservation is the largest in the U.S.
Tribes increasingly are turning to pop culture — mobile apps, video games and computer programs — as a tool in preserving culture and language. Alaska Natives recently worked with a developer to launch a video game that draws on their art, language, humor and history of storytelling.
The Navajo Nation Museum has hosted classes to teach Navajo with Rosetta Stone and includes Navajo phrasing on its exhibits. Wheeler said the popularity of “Star Wars” in Navajo, which was shown throughout the country and produced on DVD, led to choosing a second film.
Wheeler said “Finding Nemo” was an easy pick for him and Rick Dempsey, senior vice president for Disney character voices, to engage Navajo children.
“We’re thrilled that, though our film ‘Finding Nemo’ and the unforgettable adventures of Nemo, Marlin and Dory, we’ll be able to help the museum share and inspire future generations to embrace the Navajo language,” Dempsey said in a statement.
“Finding Nemo” has not been produced in any other Native American languages, which are a rarity on the big screen. “Bambi,” which was dubbed in the Arapaho language, is the only exception for a Disney classic, the studio said.
A team of three Navajo linguists spent 36 hours translating the script for “Finding Nemo.” Voice auditions are being held Dec. 19 and 20 in the tribal capital of Window Rock. The dubbed film is expected to be released this spring.