Thursday 5 October 2023

‘Cool Runnings’ Director Feared Disney Would Fire Him If Actors Didn’t ‘Sound Like Sebastian The Crab’

 The director of “Cool Runnings” said he received specific instructions for how the actors should sound in the Disney film, including guidance around not making the accents too authentic.

Director Jon Turteltaub and the cast of the 1993 sports comedy reunited to discuss the film in honor of its 30th anniversary this year. 

“Cool Runnings” is the story of four Jamaican bobsledders who dream of competing in the Olympics despite never having experienced snow. They team up with a disgraced former bobsled champion (John Candy) to achieve those goals.

“Cool Runnings” is loosely based on the true story of the Jamaican national bobsleigh team that competed at the 1988 Winter Olympics. Actor Rawle D. Lewis told The Independent that the original script had “drugs, racism and the characters were getting laid a lot.”

“I saw it morph into the movie that it is now,” Lewis continued. “It was something that had never been told before – Jamaicans in tights? People were like, ‘How’s this going to go under the Disney umbrella?’”

Once it became a Disney production, the executives had strong opinions about the cast’s Jamaican accents. 

“They wanted me to sound like a black Aladdin,” actor Just Leon (Derice Bannock) said. “They wanted a Disney version. It was tough because if anybody wants to be authentic, it’s me — but I’m a professional and I had to do the job.”


“They’d say, ‘People in Middle America won’t be able to understand you.’ At that time, people had less access to cultural differences and didn’t know how Jamaican really sounded,” Malik Yoba (Yul Brenner) said. 

Turteltaub recounted the experience of getting a late-night phone call from then-Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg. “He said, ‘If you can’t get these accents to where I can understand them clearly, I’ll find a director who can.’”

“The next day, I told the cast, ‘I’m going to get fired if you don’t sound like Sebastian the Crab. Please don’t get me fired,’” the director continued. “We joked about it but they got it. They understood. ‘We’re not going to do Sebastian the Crab but we’re going to make an Americanized version of the movie that people around the world can understand.'”

Turteltaub also reflected on the idea of making a comedy like “Cool Runnings” in 2023. “Times have changed a lot in 30 years,” he said. “There’s zero chance I’d get this job – and I probably shouldn’t get it. I’m on the side of the people who say I shouldn’t have directed this and yet we ended up with a pretty great movie. It’s tricky.”

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