Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”
Title: Cool Runnings
Source materials: It is loosely based on the true story of the Jamaica national bobsleigh team’s debut in competition during the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Budget: $17 million
Box office: $154.9 million
Plot: Derice Bannock, a top 100m runner, fails to qualify at the Olympic Trial for the 1988 Summer Olympics when fellow runner Junior Bevil trips and falls, taking Derice and another runner, Yul Brenner, with him.
To compete in the Olympics, Derice and his best friend, Sanka Coffie, a champion push cart racer, seek out Irv Blitzer, an old friend of Derice’s father Ben who tried to recruit sprinters to the bobsled team years ago. Irving is an American bobsled two time Gold Medalist at the 1968 Winter Olympics who finished first in two events again during the 1972 Winter Olympics but was disqualified from the latter for cheating and retired in disgrace to Jamaica, where he leads an impoverished life as a bookie. Derice’s persistence eventually convinces Irving to be their coach and return to the life he left behind. They eventually recruit Junior and Yul, though Yul is still upset over Junior’s mistake at the Olympic Trial.
The four try to find various ways to earn money to get in the Olympics but no sponsor takes the idea seriously and their various enterprises, from singing on the street to arm wrestling, and holding a kissing booth, all fail. Junior comes through for them when he sells his car, which gets the team the money that they need.
Later on in a hotel room, Junior reprimands Sanka for hurting Yul’s feelings over his ambitions to make a replica of Buckingham Palace as his home. Junior tells Sanka about his own father’s struggle and how he became rich with hard work. Instead of being rude about it, Sanka should take a lesson from Yul in not giving up on his dream and this makes him feel guilty over how his life has been. Junior encourages Yul not to give up on achieving all of his goals and the two begin to show a mutual respect for one another.
In Calgary, Irving manages to acquire an old practice sled, as the Jamaicans have never been in an actual bobsled. The Jamaicans are looked down upon by other countries, in particular the East German team whose arrogant leader, Josef Grull, tells them to go home, resulting in a bar fight. At the hotel room, Derice reprimands Sanka, Yul, and Junior for embarrassing their team. The three are not taking him seriously until Irv shows up infuriated by their behavior. He reminds Sanka, Yul and Junior what is at stake for the team if they do not start listening to him and Derice. The team resolves to view the contest more seriously, continuing to train and improve their technique.
They qualify for the finals, but are subsequently disqualified due to a technicality which the Olympic committee trotted out as retribution for Irving’s prior cheating scandal. A frustrated Irving butts in on the committee meeting and confronts his former coach from the 1972 Olympic Winter Games, Kurt Hemphill, now a primary judge of the 1988 Olympic Winter Games. He takes responsibility for embarrassing his country with the scandal and implores the committee to punish him for his mistake, but not the Jamaican team. Irv reminds them that the Jamaicans deserve to represent their country by competing in the Winter Games as contenders. That night at their hotel, the team gets a phone call informing them that the committee has reversed its decision and allows the Jamaicans to compete once again.
The Jamaicans’ first day on the track results in more embarrassment and a last place finish. Sanka identifies the problem as Derice trying to copy the Swiss team which he idolizes and convinces him that the best they can do is bobsled “Jamaican”. Once the team develops their own style and tradition, the second day improves; the Jamaican team finishes with a fast time which puts them in eighth position. Derice asks Irving about why he decided to cheat despite his gold medals and prestige. Irving tells Derice he aspired to make winning his whole life, citing that “a gold medal is a wonderful thing, but if you’re not enough without it, you’ll never be enough with it;” and convinces him to think of himself as a champion even if he fails to win the gold.
For the first half of the final day’s race it looks as though the team will push into medal contention, until misfortune strikes: due to the sled being old, it cannot handle the high speed and eventually one of the sled’s blades detaches from a loosening screw, causing it to flip onto its side as it comes out of a turn, leaving the team meters short of the finish line. Determined to finish the race, the team lift the sled over their shoulders and walk across the finish line to rousing applause from spectators, including Josef, Hemphill, and Junior’s father. The team, at the end, feel accomplished enough to return in four years to the next winter Olympics. A brief epilogue states the team returned to Jamaica as heroes and upon their return to the Winter Olympics four years later, they were treated as equals.
Background: Before Jon Turteltaub was officially hired, Jeremiah S. Chechik was slated to direct until he moved on to do Benny & Joon instead. Brian Gibson was also considered to direct, but he dropped out to do What’s Love Got to Do with It instead. Turteltaub used actual ABC sports footage from the 1988 Olympics and incorporated it into the film. The film was shot in Calgary and Jamaica in February and March 1993. The cast and crew filmed in Calgary first, to take advantage of the snow. Then they filmed at the Jamaican parishes of Discovery Bay and Kingston.
Changes from the Source Material: There were several creative liberties taken by the filmmakers in order to complete the story.
- The members of the team in the film are fictional characters. The real team consisted Devon Harris, Dudley Stokes, Michael White, Freddy Powell, and last minute replacement Chris Stokes.
- Irving “Irv” Blitzer is a fictional character; the real team had several trainers, none of whom were connected to any cheating scandal.
- In the film, the team is formed by Jamaican sprinters after failing to qualify for the 1988 Summer Olympics. The Jamaican Summer Olympic Trials would have occurred following the Winter Olympics in Calgary.
- The International Olympic Committee (IOC) did temporarily disqualify the Jamaicans, but it was not an appeal by the coach that led the IOC to reverse this decision. Prince Albert of Monaco was among those who made the successful appeal.
- The bobsled competition in the film consists of three individual runs held on three consecutive days, whereas in reality the Olympic bobsled competition consists of four runs – two runs a day held over two consecutive days.
- In the film, the Jamaicans are regarded as unwelcome outsiders to the Games by other countries and ridiculed. In reality, the Jamaicans were treated as equals and there was no real animosity between the team and their competitors; in fact, the Jamaicans were aided by the United States team who lent them one of their backup sleds so they could qualify, so they did not have to buy another team’s spare sled.
- In the film, the crash happens on the third run and is depicted to have been caused by a mechanical failure in the front left blade of the sled. As the driver steers, a nut and bolt on the control column work loose, eventually causing a loss of control as the bobsleigh comes out of a turn and subsequently crashes.In reality, the crash happened in the fourth and final run, and it was deemed that driver inexperience, excess speed, and regressing the turn too high caused the sled to become unstable and top heavy seconds prior to it toppling onto its left side.
- After the crash, the film depicted the Jamaicans carrying their sled on their shoulders to the finish to a slow-building standing ovation. In reality, they did not carry the sled but walked next to it.
- The film focuses entirely on the four-man bobsled team, however, it ignores the fact that two members of the team (Dudley Stokes and Michael White) also competed in the two-man sled competition and successfully completed all four runs, finishing in 30th place out of 38 teams that finished all runs. The film depicts them as forming the team as a four-man bobsleigh team right from the start. However, in reality they started the project intending to compete in the two-man bobsleigh event only. They only decided to compete in the four-man event after having already completed the two-man event in Calgary.
- In the movie the weather is depicted as bitterly cold with a temperature of −25 °C (−13 °F). Actual temperatures in Calgary during the Games were well above normal, including some daytime highs above 16 °C (61 °F).
Cast: This was John Candy’s final film to be released within his lifetime. 1 Doug E Doug made this film before he made Operation Dumbo Drop.
Leon Robinson 2 as Derice Bannock. Robinson is best known for his roles as David Ruffin in the TV Movie The Temptations J.T. Matthews in The Five Heartbeats, and as Shep in Above the Rim. Rawle D. Lewis as Junior Bevil. Film roles include Spy Hard, K-PAX , and Hybrids. On television, he has appeared in the shows Where I Live. and Malcolm & Eddie
Malik Yoba 3 as Yul Brenner. He is known for his starring role as NYPD Detective J. C. Williams on New York Undercover. He also appeared as former FBI Special Agent Bill Harken on Alphas, Jim Hudson in Revolution, Vernon Turner in Empire, FBI Deputy Director Jason Atwood in Designated Survivor. He was a guest host of the popular weekly music series Soul Train in May 1997. In 2018, he joined the Netflix drama Seven Seconds.
Critical Reception: Janet Maslin of the New York Times writes, “A cute, buoyant sports fantasy, jolted along by a reggae soundtrack and playfully acted by an appealing cast.”
My take: It’s a cute movie despite the alterations to history. Candy demonstrates dramatic range and I sometimes wonder what his latter day career would have been like. I’m old enough to remember the real event and seeing the images in Sports Illustrated. Doug is particularly funny and over the top.
Available on Disney +?: yes
Next Week: A film based on a beloved theme park ride: The Country Bears