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Director Reveals Disney Threatened to Fire Him If Actors Didn’t “Sound Like Sebastian the Crab”

Cool Runnings Actors Accents
Credit: Buena Vista Pictures

It’s hard to believe, but it has been thirty years since Disney released the cult-classic movie Cool Runnings. The film was loosely based on the true story of the Jamaican Bobsled Team that competed in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada. It was the first time a Jamaican Bobsled team competed in the Olympics. Cool Runnings was a hit at the box office, making more than $154 million.

Cool Runnings

Credit: Disney

Cool Runnings was directed by Jon Turteltaub, who has also worked with Disney on National Treasure, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, and the Disney+ original series, National Treasure: Edge of History. The movie starred Leon as Derice Bannock, Doug E. Doug as Sanka Coffie, Rawle D. Lewis as Junior Bevil, and Malik Yoba as Yul Brenner.

Cool Runnings

Credit: Disney

Related: Cool Runnings Returns – Jamaican Bobsled Team Returns to the Olympics

John Candy also stars as Irving “Irv” Blitzer, a former Olympian who retired to the Caribbean after being disqualified for cheating.

In celebration of the film’s 30th anniversary, the film’s actors — minus Candy, who passed away in 1994 — and director sat down to talk about what it took to make the film. And some interesting things were revealed, including the issue of the accents used in the film.

Cool Runnings

Credit: Disney

In speaking with Entertainment Weekly, Turteltaub revealed that Disney threatened to fire him if he couldn’t get the actors to “sound like Sebastian the crab.” Sebastian was the Jamaican crab featured in Disney’s iconic film, The Little Mermaid. Disney felt that the audience wouldn’t be able to understand what was being said if the accents weren’t altered.

Walt Disney Studios executives allegedly tussled with Turteltaub over the cast’s accent work…

Turteltaub said he eventually received a phone call from then-Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg at 1 a.m.: “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,’” Turteltaub added. “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’.”

Cool Runnings

Credit: Disney

Leon said that Disney even made a reference to another classic film, Aladdin.

“They wanted me to sound like a black Aladdin,” said Just Leon. “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.”

Malik Yoba added, “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.”

Cool Runnings

Credit: Disney

Related: Cold Weather Live-Action Sports in Disney Movies

Turteltaub also spoke about the transformation that the script went through at Disney. When the studio first received the script, it was full of “drugs, racism, and the characters were getting laid a lot,” according to Rawle D. Lewis. Drugs were a major part of the story, as the story was originally going to take a darker look at the future Olympians getting out of the slums of Kingston. Of course, it was Disney, so sex and drugs were an absolute no.

Cool Runnings

Credit: Disney

While it seems hard to picture Cool Runnings without John Candy, he wasn’t Turteltaub’s first choice for Coach Blitzer. Turteltaub actually wanted Kurt Russell. However, Jeffrey Katzenberg — the former Chairman of Walt Disney Studios — suggested Candy. Turteltaub mulled it over and realized that Candy would be perfect for the role.

Kurt Russell Miracle

Credit: Disney

Ten years later, Kurt Russell would work with Disney on another successful sports film, Miracle. Russell played the US Men’s Olympic Hockey coach Herb Brooks. Russell was praised for his role in the film, which told the story of the “Miracle on Ice” when the United States beat the heavily favored Soviet team in the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, New York.

Cool Runnings is currently available to stream on Disney+.

About Krysten Swensen

A born and bred New England girl living the Disney life in Southern California. I love to read, to watch The Golden Girls, and love everything to do with Disney and Universal. I also love to share daily doses of Disney on my Disney Instagram @BrazzleDazzleDisney!

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