WASHINGTON - Children love the song. Parents call it an “earworm” because once they hear it, it continues to pop uninvited into their heads: “Baby Shark” is a two-minute music video that has been dubbed into 11 languages and endeared itself to toddlers across the world.
Now, a 12th version is in the works, dubbed into Dine bizaad—the language of the Navajo—one of the largest Native American tribes in the U.S.
The project is the brainchild of Manuelito “Manny” Wheeler, director of the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Arizona, part of a part of a 54,000-square-foot center that works to preserve and interpret the Navajo culture through art, archaeological materials, photographs, film and recordings—including Navajo-language versions of major Hollywood motion pictures.
“We dubbed ‘Star Wars Episode IV’ and ‘Finding Nemo’ into Navajo. And we are just finishing up the classic Clint Eastwood Western [film], ‘Fistful of Dollars,’” said Wheeler.
Watch: a clip from the Navajo version of the 1977 movie "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope":
Each of these film projects was geared to a different Navajo demographic, Wheeler explained. It's all part of an effort to preserve and revive a language that, like many Native American languages, is endangered, and unless something is done, could face extinction in the coming decades.
“We want to stem the tide before the tide is irreversible, because it is changing,” said Wheeler. “We needed something that was geared for early childhood. And what better choice than ‘Baby Shark?’”
“Baby Shark,” is more than a song; it’s an international phenomenon. Produced by the South Korean entertainment company SmartStudy’s educational brand, Pinkfong, in 2015, it instantly went viral. Since then, Pinkfong has created spinoff videos—including “Baby Shark Dance.” Together, they have been viewed more than 3 billion times on YouTube.
“We're working closely with the Navajo Nation Museum for this project,” said Kevin Yoon, SmartStudy’s marketing communications manager, in an email statement. “Pinkfong will be producing the audio and video recording, but the Navajo Nation is advising us throughout the whole process, including localization [translation] and the audition for voice actors.”
The Navajo Nation Museum will host an open casting call Sunday, December 8. Wheeler hopes to announce the final selection of five voice actors by mid-December and launch the final project in time for Christmas.
Future collaborations are possible
On March 1, the first "Baby Shark Live" tour will open in Independence, Missouri, and for the following three months will travel to 100 U.S. cities, including many in states with large Native American populations, such as California, Oklahoma, Montana, New Mexico, and Washington state, to name a few.
Does Pinkfong have plans to meet with any other Indian tribes during the tour to discuss producing other Native language versions?
“Right now, we’re focusing all of our efforts on the Navajo ‘Baby Shar’k (Łóó’ Hashkéii Awéé’) project,” said Yoon. “While we don’t have future plans at this point, we are open to possibilities to collaborate.”