The American brain was Disneyfied ages ago, so can it be long before someone looks at the heartbreaking saga of Li'l Elian and sees, frankly, market potential?
Wait! Are you thinking what we're thinking?! We want to get on this gravy train. Flip open that Palm Pilot, switch on the Nokia and get Disney chief Mike Eisner on the horn! (Latin music, adorable child loses mother, historical conflict, angelic dolphins! This has big, big year-end bonus written all over it! Quick, before that weaselly Katzenberg at DreamWorks SKG gets a whiff!)
We've got the two-hour animated Disney Elian musical nearly hammered out, right down to the Happy Meal tie-in (Did somebody say McPlantains?), and don't worry, we've smoothed out some of the story's "rougher" and "sadder" edges. We've made it palatable for the shopping-mall market. Open your heart and follow our treatment of "Elian!" featuring the voices of Jennifer Lopez, Gloria Estefan, Jimmy Buffett, Ricky Martin and more . . .
The film opens in the quaint seaside town of Cardenas, Cuba. Elian Gonzalez (starring the singing voice of Dominic Domingo, Placido's grandkid, and the speaking voice of Jonathan Lipnicki, nailing multi-demographics at once) is running along a beach after a picnic with his mother, Elizabet (Jennifer Lopez), and her
boyfriend, Lazaro (Bruno Campos, from the sitcom "Jesse").
His mother calls out to him to get ready. In the car, she whispers to him that pretty soon they're going to sneak away in a boat to America. Cue song: "What's America?" Elian asks, and that's when Che Cohiba (Ricky Martin), the friendly talking cigar, pops out of the glove compartment of Lazaro's '57 Chevy, and sings about life in the USA:
They got cell phones/ y Internets/ y four kinds of Coke/ I cannot think of anyplace/ I'd rather get smoked, Che sings, and Elian joins in: No more neckerchiefs/ malaria begone/ I can fall into the Gap/ and catch "Pokemon"!
Back at the village (Note to animators: Disney brass say Cuba has to look faded, gray--you know, communist--think Dorothy's Kansas, with a splash of peeling pastel) Elizabet's neighbors give her a hard time about wanting to leave Cuba. She and her neighbors erupt into a debate about the risks of boating to Florida ("Had It With Habana"), singing, The buildings are leaning/ Our lives have no meaning/ and we're the only ones left/ wearing acid-wash denim! . . . Proletarian, contrarian/ we're living in the past!/ Haven'chu heard about Berlin walls/ and SUVs that go fast? . . . I've had it with Habana/ So you won't see me manana.
Her soapboxing is interrupted as a motorcade passes by carrying their leader, Fidel Castro, voiced by Hank Azaria (who plays Moe on "The Simpsons").
The evil dictator greets his people ("Fidel's Motorcade"): I say: How ees everyone today/ and the answer ees? (Crowd replies, We are always, always just okay). Fidel sings: Have you no complaints/ living in this breezy land? and the crowd sings, We have everything we want/ 'specially sand.
That night, Elian and his mother sneak away to meet Lazaro. Elian hides Che the Talking Cigar in his pocket, whispering, "But don't tell Mom." The would-be exiles push their boat out to sea.
The next day, the boat runs into trouble, no thanks to Chango (voiced by Geoffrey Holder), the Santeria warrior god of lightning and thunder ("The Storm"). Everyone but Elian and Che drowns. (Note: Folks, we really have to "Fantasia"-ize this part with giant waves, and remember, these people have to drown in a non-scary way, as per Eisner, et al.) Before she dies ("disappears," please--as per Eisner), Elian's mother sings to him, Think of angels, mi pepito/ and hold tight to this inflatito/ Pray hard and they'll come down/ Los angeles won't let you drown. (Note: Ahem! Not "drown." Last warning, people.)
Grieving, clutching an inner tube, Elian ponders his fate in our big chart-topping, heartbreaking ballad "Where the Heart Belongs (Elian's Song)": Where the heart belongs/ you can never know/ If a boy like me stays strong/ his heart knows where to go . . .
Still adrift, Elian wakes up and sees he's surrounded by a bunch of crrr-razy dolphins who live the laid-back Key West lifestyle, the leader of which is Jesus (voiced by Jimmy Buffett). (Note to writers: Jesus?) They entertain him with a song about their favorite place, Florida, and help point the way. ("I'm a Dolphin, Too, Like You," Elian sings in response.) Halfway through the number, we encounter the Barracuda Vista Social Club, whose members also do a little ditty warning Elian about all the things he and Che are going to miss about Cuba: Drinking mojitos, the smell of sofritos/ And rides in a '55 Dodge. . . .
Elian is spotted and rescued by two guys in a fishing boat (Note to writers: Can we make this more fun, more . . . I dunno, more visual? Can he just be found by a talking boat? Can the dolphins just bring him right to the dock?) and is taken to Miami, where he meets his great-uncle Lazaro and cousin Marisleysis (voiced by Andy Garcia and Gloria Estefan) and a whole community of happy exiles who give him cargo pants and stuffed animals and a hero's welcome. (Note to everyone: We're still working on a huge exile musical number here, tentatively titled "Miami Is Just a State of Mind," and the brass really want some high-tech cha-cha-cha.) Some working lyrics include the great-uncle singing: Fidel, they salute him/ and pretend that they adore him/ "Si, Commandante, si, Commandante"/ While they simply abhor him, and Marisleysis joins in, Such a great mind/ so much Fidel knows/ Then why has the man/ not once changed his clothes?
Fidel Castro learns that Elian has made it to America and, boy, is he mad ("Despot? Yo Soy!"). He immediately demands that Elian be sent home: Despot soy! Ahora! Inmediatamente!/ He must come home today!/ Have you tontos no memory/ of those pigs and that stinking bay?
Castro is joined in this number by Elian's grandmothers (voiced by Chita Rivera and Rita Moreno), and we also meet Elian's father, Juan Miguel (voiced by Marc Anthony), who walks the beach and sings: Hijo mio, where is your destiny/ in the land of plenty or here, home with me?/ What can I give you that they cannot?/ Isn't there something we all forgot?/ You are a child, not a pawn, not a prize/ I see the sadness in your deep brown eyes.
Meanwhile, Elian is having the time of his life in Miami. (Note: Marketing needs to get started now on product tie-ins, as per Eisner: cell phones, cargo pants, junk food.) We segue to big ensemble number ("Tenemos the Boy") involving the entire cast. (Note: Folks, we're watching "West Side Story" at 2 p.m. TODAY in the conference room to brush up on multi-lyric layering. Lemon squares and Starbucks provided.)
Elian and his cigar friend, Che, hide under the bed while no one's looking. He's confused and scared, but the cigar tells him everything will be okay. (Note to everyone: We've cut the cigar's ballad. Someone tell Ricky Martin.)
Elian is sent to see Dr. Namby-Smythe, a child psychologist (David Hyde Pierce), who asks him where he'd rather live, but the little boy is torn. Why, he asks, does he have to choose? ("Yo No Se.") The doctor sings: What do you see when I show you this blot?/ They say you're American and then say you're not!/ Yo no se, you don't know, yo no se, I don't know!/ Stop jumping on the couch/ and tell me where you'd like to go.
While Elian is at the shrink's office, Che makes a very important cell phone call--to Fidel Castro! The cigar is actually a spy! Castro tells Che that he is sending the grandmothers to America. Incite a riot, Castro says, and we'll snatch Elian from the exiles.
Elian's newfound family takes him to Disney World. (Note to entire animation department: All Disney characters that have ever appeared on film or television join in this once-in-a-lifetime musical number. This is going to involve all of us, folks. It means we are delaying production on other projects, like that borrrring "Sacajawea.")
Elian meets Mickey Mouse and friends, who implore him ("Wouldn't You Rather Be One of Us?/It's a Small World") to move to the Magic Kingdom: Supercalifragilistic-EXILE-aladocious/ We were also Cuban once/ but not nearly so precocious . . . Then Walt Disney boatlifted us,/ gave us names and costumes, too./ Now we have a new star to play with/ and that new star is you.
On a chartered jet, the grandmothers admit to one another that they are scared of going to America, but they are more scared of Fidel ("The Grandmothers' Lament"): Some vacation/ I never would have planned it/ "Free trip to Florida,/ but don't come back empty-handed," sings Raquel (Rivera). They want to meet at their casa/ We'll take Fidel's cell phone/ Call a big press conference/ and quick, catch a jet home, sings Mariela (Moreno).
All of Miami is in a tizzy. Elian is now revered as a kind of messiah sent to deliver all of Cuba from Fidel's clutches. But as Janet Reno (Note: We haven't cast the voice yet. Regis Philbin's people are stalling) points out to Elian, "Policy Is a Tricky Thing." (The Republicans get a few lines in this song, too: It's one last chance/ for Cold War guffaws/ Like when the CIA tricked him/ with exploding cigars.)
Elian tries to understand that it's not about him at all, that it goes way back, and he is more confused. He decides to run away from home to a new place. The cigar tells him that's a good plan, only instead of helping, he tricks him into taking Fidel's cell phone to the home of a nun, who delivers him to a liberal church coalition. They spirit Elian away to the airport, ready to take him back to Havana ("Consider Yourself Sent Home").
When the exiles find out that Elian is missing, there's a big riot ("The Riot!"). Che is killed. As he dies, he tells Elian that, all along, the boy has the choice to do what he wants.
Elian pleads with everyone to stop fighting. ("Elian's Song" reprise. Note: Yes, there's an Enrique Iglesias version for pop radio; music and lyrics by Elton John and Phil Collins.) The boy sings: True to who?/ True to me?/ Shouldn't I have the right to choose/ Where I want to be?
This is when Babalu-Aye, the Santeria god of health and well-being, comes down in a blaze of chicken feet, voiced by Jack Nicholson. He tells everyone he's decided Elian should go home. He gives back all the toys. Everyone decides Elian really might be an angel and, perhaps one day, America and Cuba will be friends ("One Day, Someday, Somehow, Some Way").
Even Fidel--perhaps not so evil after all, his heart melted by Elian's utter cuteness--joins in the finale. Elian's mother, Che and the singing dolphins are there. We end on a sad but somewhat optimistic note.
(Note: Eisner suggests an alternative ending. Audiences will hate this movie if Elian doesn't get to stay in the land of the free, home of the brave, blah blah blah. He suggests Babalu-Aye comes down, but instead arbitrates an agreement between the U.S. immigration officials and Castro: Elian gets to stay in Miami, and Cuba gets that little Pepsi girl, plus a few cases of Pepsi. Even-steven, crisis over.)
CAPTION: For Elian's saga, some choice voices: From top, Jonathan Lipnicki, Rita Moreno, Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez.