Crappy St. Patrick's Day, everyone. If you were planning to stream Darby O'Gill and the Little People on Disney+, I have some bad news. The version available to stream is terrible. And there's no reason for it, similar to their (ongoing) problem with The Simpsons on the platform.
It's a tragedy on top of so many other troubles. Even with parades being cancelled, and going on a pub crawl being the opposite of "social distancing," I was really looking forward to this year's St. Patrick's Day and that I could sit down and enjoy Darby O'Gill. But upon partaking, I was hit with a cold grim reality. This was not the Darby I remembered from my childhood.
The voices of Albert Sharpe as Darby and Jimmy O'Dea as King Brian were somehow just. . . different. Sean Connery was just as I remember him. Janet Munro was the same, too. But somehow the main characters had lost some of their edge, even their Irishness in some sense. It felt blander, more dumbed down.
At first, I thought this was some strange Mandela Effect, or perhaps just the worst impulses of nostalgia. Of course things are never as good as we remember them from our childhood. And maybe it was just my terrible VHS copy that was, in fact, the defective version.
But, no, as I did some internet sleuthing, it did indeed turn out that Disney+ had used dubbed over voice tracks for Darby and King Brian. I got my hands on the most recent DVD version of Darby O'Gill and the Little People and listened to its audio. This was what I remembered.
Here's an example of how the original actors' voices sounded, ripped from the DVD:
In this scene, Darby is telling the story of how he trapped King Brian in the ruins on the top of Knocknasheega, the fairy mountain, and forced him to grant him three wishes.
And just listen to this bastardized version of the same scene from Disney+:
King Brian sounds like he just came from protecting his marshmallow breakfast cereal from small children. It sounds weirdly not Irish, like how an American would want an Irish person to talk. Darby has a lot of the age and the whisky taken from his voice. It's not as gruff, as lispy, as guttural.
All of this begs the question: Who exactly is this for? Who asked for this? Where are the rampaging hordes complaining that somehow the one thing wrong with this Disney classic is sometimes the dialogue is too hard to understand? Ok, maybe sometimes that's true, but that's also because several lines or just random phrases are in Gaelic, but that isn't changed in the new version.
All of this continues a terrible instinct on the part of the Disney Corporation to sand off all of the rough edges of their intellectual property. It's not surprising that the company who wouldn't put up their library of cartoon shorts from the 30's, 40's, 50's and 60's, many of them in all their problematic glory, would feel the need to dub over the main Irish actors with the thickest brogues of the cast.
The saddest thing in all of this is it wouldn't be hard to fix. Simply offer the original audio, undubbed, as an audio selection just like anything else.
I get it. We Americans are dumb and don't like anything that is different from us. (Look who the president is.) But, we've also embraced Darby O'Gill and the Little People for decades now with no outcry. We're the same American film community that just gave Parasite the Best Picture Oscar, despite our country's hatred of having to read.
But this gem of a film didn't deserve this. So if you're going to watch Darby O'Gill and the Little People this year, don't watch it on Disney+. Get the DVD and honor these original actors for their work.
And if you happen to find a four leaf clover or a leprechaun, wish for Disney+ to get their $#!% together and release the original audio for Darby O'Gill and the Little People.