Cool Runnings (1993), written by Lynn Siefert, Tommy Swerdlow, and Michael Goldberg, is a classic Disney movie. How’s the screenplay? Let’s analyze it.
- Draft Read: 11/23/1992
- Type: Spec
- Page Count: 118
- Reading Speed: Moderate
- Setting(s): Jamaica, Calgary, Canada
- Plot Structure: Linear, Spanning multiple months
- Genre(s): Comedy, Biopic
- Theme(s): Sports, Friendship, Race, Forgiveness, Embracing uniqueness
- Protagonist Change: Minimal
Cool Runnings is the classic Disney DVD people growing up in 90s/00s had sitting around their homes. It’s an uplifting story that highlights a number of relevant and timely themes.
I took a personal record of 17 notes while reading the script because there’s a lot there, both good and bad.
Who’s a memorable supporting movie character that has minimal dialogue? I’ll throw out a couple: McLovin from Superbad (2007) (okay, he does have a decent amount) and Creed Bratton from The Office (2005-2013). But the best comedic sidekick of all time? That probably goes to Sanka from Cool Runnings. Here’s just one of his many jokes (Page 26):
Oh, yeah? How ’bout I beat your ass?
How ’bout I draw a line down the middle of your head so it looks like an ass?
There are some intense and powerful scenes in the script too. How about this exchange on Page 57:
Seemin’ to you like nobody likes us?
We different… And people always scared of what is different.
Or how about Junior’s little monologue on Page 67:
He (Yul) doesn’t have to be. All he has to do is know what he wants and work hard for it. If he wants it bad enough he’ll get it… Believe me, the more guys like Yul Brenner we got makin’ it, the better off this world would be, especially for Jamaicans.
Or Irv’s speech to the boardroom on Page 94, or Irv’s speech to Derice, or Sanka’s speech on Page 105. Okay, I have to add the latter one because it’s that good:
So am I… He told us to look deep inside and when I look deep inside, I only see Jamaica.
Derice, mon, I known you since before Meriene Jefferies asked to see your ding a ling and I’m tellin’ you as a friend…. If we look Jamaican, walk Jamaican, talking Jamaican, and is Jamaican, then we sure as hell better bobsled Jamaican.
Why did they have to add the joke!? It would’ve been much more impactful without it. Regardless, look to Cool Runnings if you want to talk about powerful dialogue that carries WEIGHT.
The opposition comes from a few characters, but doesn’t really build. First there is the Jamaican Olympics Committee (wrong term?) who refuses to fund the team. There are the former colleagues on Irv, who try to get the Jamaicans thrown out of the Olympics. Then there are the other Olympians, particularly the East Germans, who don’t feel the Jamaicans belong. All of these groups make for okay villains but aren’t especially strong. Of course, all support the Jamaicans by the end.
But the strong critics are those that come from within, particularly Irv, who has to overcome his past mistakes. And that strong internal villain leads to a powerful change of internal stakes after the climax. Junior too, overcomes his lack of self-confidence by standing up to the East German and then his father.
This script is loaded with offensive language and stereotypes. Examples: the use of, “Mentally retarded,” to describe the four bobsledders (Page 83) and a reference to a, “Chinese Fire Drill” (Page 103). Things have changed in the 30 years since this screenplay was written, but it’s pretty shocking to see that language used in a Disney script in 1993.
Some scenes feel rushed. For example, on Page 18 Irv, the coach, goes from saying “Kid, I could coach you twenty-four hours a day and cry real tears and you still couldn’t make it to the Olympics,” to “Alright, kid… I’ll take a look (i.e. give you a chance).” No matter how persuading Derice, one of the bobsledders, is, Irv’s flip is too quick. Likewise, on Page 22 Yul goes from wanting to kill Junior and quitting the team to agreeing to ride with Junior as long as, “He… stay clear the hell away from me.” Again, too fast.
This highlights the trouble of a screenplay that deals with an ensemble cast. Even though Derice is the protagonist, the other characters have character arks and must compete for limited screen time, forcing quick evolutions.
There are some slower parts too. Act Two suffers the most, even though it isn’t that long. For example, a scene where the bobsled scene goes ice skating on Page 54 doesn’t add anything to the story and isn’t that funny.
Cool Runnings have their haters too. Here’s one article titled: Jamaicans Are Bobsledding Again but Cool Runnings Is Still Racist, which unfortunately is Paywalled so I can’t read it. This local article discusses the White Savior debate in regard to Cool Runnings from two sides. Perhaps the most interesting part? None of these people seem to have read the script. Because one read through and it would be thrown out of any classroom for the offensive references shared above.
While the weaknesses are plentiful, I want to reiterate that this is a strong script with powerful lines delivered from well-thought-out characters. And while I don’t feel knowledgeable enough to add an opinion on the stereotype concerns, it’s obvious that Irv, the white coach, is helped just as much if not more so, than he helps anyone else.
The story of the four members of the 1988 Jamaican Bobsled team. The plot mostly follows their qualifications (both officially and psychologically) to compete, with the actual Olympics taking place relatively late in the Screenplay.
Irv and Derice are the main characters, with Sanka, Yul and Junior, the other members of the team. Dervice doesn’t really experience much of a change while Irv goes from depressed to redeemed, Yul from angry to inspired, and Junior from cowardly to cofnident. Sanka, as noted, is the funny man and experiences the least amount of change and provides some of the most wisdom (or at least headspace to reflect) to others.
Does Sanka have the best character introduction of all time? Sitting on a pushcart with a kid, he says (Page 3):
You know, Winston… As I sit here thinking about all the greatness which is me… I begin to realize what an honor this must be for a boy such as yourself. To ride with the gifted one… The grand Poobah of the pushcart… Sanka Coffie.
Dialogue & Pacing
I’ve shared many examples of dialogue above.
As noted, the pacing was okay. The act breaks happen later than usual, which makes for some dull moments in Acts 1 and 2, especially in the latter.
The climax of the script and the movie diverge in certain ways. In the script, Junior spots his dad in the crowd (whom he recently had a fight with) before their final race. However, this pivotal moment in the movie occurs after the race, a strategic decision that amplifies the shift from a negative to a positive climax.
A movie that has strong messages should lead to a strong emotional impact. The fundamental issue with Cool Runnings is that it’s perhaps too funny: There are too many one-liners, particularly during important scenes, to take it seriously. On the flip side, without the comedic support, it may have really dragged.
Best Part of The Script
The final race (starts on Page 113). You can watch the scene too (bonus points to whoever can spot the most amount of directing & editing mistakes):