What it's about:
Orphan Heidi spends the happiest days of her childhood with her reclusive grandfather, Almöhl, living in a simple wooden hut in the Swiss Alps. She and her friend Peter tend to the goats and enjoy the freedom of mountain life to its fullest. That is, until Aunt Dete takes Heidi to Frankfurt to be a companion to wheelchair-bound Klara under the strict eye of nanny Miss Meier. Will Heidi get back to the place she longs for?
What we thought:
If you don’t start humming the Carike Keuzenkamp song when you think of Heidi, then you were not raised Afrikaans properly. I myself have probably watched the animated masterpiece a million times as a wee one, and it remains a steadfast childhood favourite. When the Germans decided to do a live-action version, I was pretty excited for a nostalgia road trip. And then the Afrikaans started. Not subtitles, no, instead some genius thought Afrikaners can’t read and dubbed it with the worst Afrikaans voiceover imaginable. Despite your senses getting assaulted, a delightful and charming film peeked through the “Moedertaal” that would have been perfectly fine with Afrikaans subtitles.
Heidi, a young orphan, gets dumped by her aunt at her reclusive grandfather’s house high up in the Alps. Reluctant at first, the grandfather’s cold dead heart is melted by Heidi’s overflowing optimism and kindness as she also befriends a local goat herder. This newfound happiness is cut short when the aunt returns and takes (kidnaps?) Heidi to live with a rich wheelchair-bound girl Clara as her companion. Although she and Clara become fast friends, Heidi longs for the mountains of her grandfather.
Let’s just put the dubbing aside for now (I still have nightmares) and focus on the actual film. Although the story is a little more mature and they don’t shy away from the horribleness of the aunt, the Germans were pretty apt at replicating a lot of the animation, with pockets of scenes being exact replicas, even the mountains. They even managed to find actors that look exactly like the animated characters, and fans of the story will be delighted whenever they recognise the crossovers with the original. It’s also probably the longest advertisement for Swiss cheese, which will have you devouring a wheel of delicious Emmental afterwards.
Anuk Steffen beat out 500 other girls to play the role of Heidi and she justly deserves it. She is the epitome of sweetness, and her sadness just reverberates through the audience when she longs for her Oupa. Her chemistry with German veteran actor Bruno Ganz, who plays the grandfather, will melt anyone’s heart and it’s quite an achievement to connect across such a large age gap.
Everyone else is on par with German perfection, but the other real star of the film is Fräulein Rottenmeier, whose over-the-top sternness cemented her as the ultimate villain in my young mind. Played by German acclaimed actress Katharina Schüttler, Rottenmeier is as ridiculous and vile as one remembers, although they try to show why she has such an animosity towards Heidi. She is the only character to also have been enhanced by the Afrikaans dubbing, with a particular dining scene where the mismatch of “suiwer” Afrikaans and German severity provided a hilarious laugh. Let’s just say my new favourite word is “vrypostig”.
And we’re back to the dubbing. I get that Heidi’s popular appeal in South Africa will be the Afrikaans demographic, but you could’ve easily prevented the film from being ruined by just having Afrikaans subtitles. The film’s authenticity would have remained intact and you still get an Afrikaans release of the film, as well as four instead of three stars. It’s not even a good voiceover, with Heidi’s voice sounding like a 30-year-old woman failing badly at pretending to be a little girl, and there were many moments where it sounded like the same actress was voicing multiple characters. With the exception of Rottenmeier, the dubbing ruined your enjoyment of the film, and should only ever be used for animations.
Heidi is a well-produced lovely film that fell victim to Afrikaans purists, and English-speakers please note that there are no English subtitles, so you too are also deprived from enjoying a trip to the Alps. If at all possible, try and hunt down the German version with subtitles, and take your nostalgia road trip in the comfort of your own home. The only upside of watching this Afrikaans atrocity is that you get to sing along to the Keuzenkamp song at the end, which I did wholeheartedly.
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