I'm kind of ambivalent about this film - humour is notoriously tricky to translate and many of the events of this film (apart from the many celebrated chase sequences) left me rather cold and ultimately exhausted by the frantic antics on display. I was interested though to compare the 'American subtitles' with the 'English' ones from an old television screening. Zazie utters a lot more "Bloody hells" in that version! I can kind of relate better to the English subtitles, especially since I find the use of the word "sod" funny in general anyway!
The harshest curse Criterion gives us is "asshole" in Zazie's spiel about her abusive father, and while I know much of Zazie et al's swearing is of the more gentle "crap" variety, it's hard not to notice the selective translations offered here
The opening sequence of the Uncle in the train station complaining about the odour of the general public gets interestingly interpreted. Criterion's translation at the start is "Holifart whatastink!" and the end of that short scene is rather limply translated as "...Still, what a stench!", while the English translation is "Why'dtheypongso?" followed by "...Still, wotawhiff!"
And the translation of 'cons' issue also comes up in the English subtitles in the early exchange inside the taxi:
Uncle: "Why don't you ask someone?"; Charles, the driver: "They're all pricks"; Zazie, interjecting: "That's very true" (The Criterion translation of 'cons' in that section is: "They're all morons")
And this scene then ends with the "Akshually, sometimes it's on porpoise, sometimes not" line similar to the Criterion but which in the English version continues with Zazie shouting "Don't take the mickey out of me, you two old pricks!" (The Criterion's translation is the slightly softer "Pull my leg will ya? You're two old farts!")
I also prefer Zazie's line at the end of that scene: "Napoleon my arse! A silly bugger in a poncy hat!" (The Criterion's is "That dumb cluck and his stupid hat"!)
The young child sat amongst the merchandise in a flea market stall is better, and more cruelly translated, in the Criterion version however with the sign he is wearing saying "Secondhand" (In the English subtitled version it is more simply: "Bargain"!). Plus bizarrely while Zazie refers to her father as an "asshole" in the Criterion, as domino notes, the English version just has her saying he is a "twit"! Which I think is better in a way as it lends a sense of disappointed anger at the remembrances of the father rather than a more simple hatred to Zazie's recollection.
The more the film goes on, the more I think it is a wacky, unruly companion to the highly controlled Playtime (or even Trafic in the car sequences!), prefiguring that film in the way it shows a city from an outsider's eye view and featuring a similar climax with anarchy followed by a bittersweet departure. I prefer Playtime more (it seems as if it likes its characters better, even when they are dwarfed by the sets) but I get the sense that Zazie may also grow on me with a couple more repeat viewings. I also casually wondered whether the end of Zazie, with the destruction of the sets during a big brawl, could have had any influence on the end of Blazing Saddles too!
One of the things that I really like about the film is that normally films dealing with precocious children often end up with the child who is supposed to be lovable and witty instead becoming unbearably annoying or even borderline psychopathic (I'm thinking of films along the line of Home Alone or Curly Sue)! Zazie here comes close but always feels as if she is behaving like a child (albeit a very headstrong one!), not an adult filtering their sensibility through a child. Even more importantly the film makes Zazie appear more sympathetic by making the adults far more badly behaved than she is (apart from the sexy, surrogate mother figure of Albertine). She also gets pushed into the role of amused, or bemused, spectator at many points, including being almost comatose during the final anarchical section, as if her annoyance at the Metro being on strike sets off all these other characters into their wild performances and she is left to watch their reactions.
It also perhaps gets towards a deeper truth of adults being nothing more than overgrown children, albeit ones who can destroy the fabric of society if they go off the rails, or follow their obsessions too blindly! Zazie's final line when asked by her mother what she did over the weekend - "I grew up" (In the English version it is the more ambiguous "I've aged") - perhaps is not just dismissive of her experiences but also a way of acknowledging that she is not perhaps as far removed from the silly adults as she may have once felt herself to be.
Anyway, I suppose the character I most identify with in the film is the guy in the polar bear suit - on the sidelines as much as Zazie during the final sequences and perhaps not quite as crazy as the rest, instead just going with the flow of events. Yet having said that, he's still the only person dressed as a polar bear!