Title: Cool World (1992)
Director: Ralph Bakshi
Cast: Brad Pitt, Kim Basinger, Gabriel Byrne
I remember going to the theater back in the late eighties to see Robert Zemeckis’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). Now this was an event film, it was the kind of film that people went to see more than once, it was that entertaining. Also, it was ground breaking in many ways. The technique of mixing live action with animated characters had been used before in the past, but director Robert Zemeckis used this filmmaking technique in ways that had never been seen before. I remember being completely blown away by it. Not only was it a successful amalgamation of animation and live action, it was a great story, with great actors and to top things off, it had heart. Technically speaking (as is the norm in a Robert Zemeckis film) it had shots and filmmaking techniques that made you wonder “how in the hell did they shoot that?” Another plus was that the animated characters had personality, these cartoons performed, you felt like they were alive. I remember being a bit frightened by the ‘Judge Doom’ character played by Christopher Lloyd. Roger Rabbit was a rampant success; it won awards and accolades left and right. It’s success gave birth to similar films that hoped to duplicate Roger Rabbit’s success. Don Bluth’s Rock a Doodle (1991) is one example, so is the low budget horror spoof Evil Toons (1992), Space Jam (1996) and yet another notable example was Ralph Bakshi’s Cool World, the film we’ll be talking about today. I guess Bakshi saw this sudden interest in animated films as an opportunity to revitalize his animation career, which had been dormant up to that point.
Bakshi on the Cool World set
Cool World tells the story (or tries anyways) of Jack Deebs an ex-con who spent his years in jail creating a comic book called ‘Cool World’. The comic book is an underground success, and when he gets out of jail he learns that people worship him for his comic book. But something weird happens one night, Deebs somehow ends up inside of the world he created himself! Nevermind how it happens, but it does! Not only that, Deebs ends up falling head over heels for one of his own creations: the super hot ‘toon Holli Would. Some of the toons living in Cool World want to cross over to the real world, so they can be truly alive; one of these doodles is sexy Holli. Will she ever get her wish to cross over to our world?
Believe it or not, writing a synopsis of Cool World is not an easy task because the film is a real mess story wise. This film being a mess is not big surprise for me because many of Bakshi’s films are this way, messy and convoluted. In fact, it’s something I’ve come to expect of is work. Check out Fritz the Cat (1972) or Wizards (1977), two very interesting animated films, unfortunately when it comes to telling their story, they are not very clear films. But in spite of all that, the animation and the themes of these films make them watchable. Unfortunately, Cool World is Bakshi’s sloppiest stab at storytelling. Too many questions are left up in the air with no answers in sight. Why do Dweeb and Frank end up in Cool World? Why can’t toons have sex with humans? Why is Frank so hell bent on stopping toons and humans from having sex? Why is there such a thing as a spear that can make Cool World spill into our world? Why does Holli want to go to the real world to “feel” when she so obviously feels in the cartoon world? And why does she want to turn the real world into the cartoon world she was trying to escape from? I thought she wanted to be real? Why does Frank’s mother’s death cause him to appear in Cool World? And why does he apparently forget about her as soon as he is in Cool World? So many questions and absolutely no answers. This friends is a major flaw in this movie. Reportedly, this film is supposed to speak about the “dangers of casual sex” but honestly, I couldn’t pick up on anything this film was trying to say. The film said nothing to me!
But this wasn’t necessarily Bakshi’s fault, the film he had planned was not the film we ended up seeing on the silver screen. He had a better film planned, more structured. In fact, Bakshi’s original concept was something closer to a horror-comedy film. The characters were darker, more adult oriented; something closer to Frank Miller’s Sin City. You can actually pick up a bit of that “film noir” vibe in Cool World. Unfortunately after the studio decided to finance Bakshi’s film, producer Frank Mancuso Jr. took the script and had it changed to the point where it was not what Bakshi had originally intended. Reportedly, Bakshi was so furious at this that he punched Mancuso Jr. in the face! Don’t know how much truth there is to that story, but damn, an action like that one could certainly be justified. The studio bought Bakshi’s pitch for the film, but then they twisted it around until we got the messy film we ended up getting. The studio threatened to sue Bakshi if he didn’t finish the film, so Bakshi had no choice but to finish a film he really didn’t have his heart in making, and it shows. According to Bakshi himself, he ended up trying to have as much fun with the animation process as possible, but that’s about it. One look at the film and it’s clear, Bakshi’s heart was not on this one. The animation feels unfinished, unpolished, rushed. Now, most of Bakshi’s animated films have that sketchy nature to them, but here it seems even more so. If this was supposed to be “Roger Rabbit on acid” as Pitt said in an interview, the animation had to at the very least be as good as Roger Rabbit. Unfortunately, you don’t feel like the cartoons are there with the actors, you feel like the cartoons were added in. Sadly, what is most important in this kind of film -the interaction between actors and animated characters- was not pulled off convincingly. This is one of the crucial elements that breaks this film.
But not everything is gloom and doom in Cool World, the film does have a couple of good things going for it. Number one, the background art, the way Cool World looks, was pulled off by this great artist known as Barry Jackson. He achieved the twisted nightmarish look of Cool Worlds buildings and architecture; honestly it’s pretty cool looking if you pardon the pun. Buildings have mouths and faces, the buildings are twisted and contrived…loved it. These paintings really do give Cool World a bit of a horror look, closer to what Bakshi wanted. The soundtrack got more praise then the film did, it even includes a David Bowie song written specifically for the film called “Real Cool World”, too bad it’s a cool song for such a crappy movie! Another plus in the film is of course, the beautiful Kim Basinger, she just looks stunningly sexy on this one. I hear she was a big problem during the production, in fact, she was part of the reason why the film was “softened up” to become a PG rated film instead of the hard ‘R’ that Bakshi wanted. Apparently she thought since it was animated, it would be a film for kids and so she pushed for the film to be more family friendly. It seems she knew nothing of Bakshi’s body of work which always mixed adult themes with animated characters. Still, Basinger brings the film up with her bodacious curves, her acting, sadly isn’t all that, ditto for the rest of the cast. This is one of Brad Pitt’s earliest performances, before he became the super star he is today. Gabriel Byrne plays the cartoonist who creates Cool World and falls for Holli. A pretty decent cast, the problem is that these actors seem to struggle to pull this movie off, the story is so convoluted, it seems even the actors where having a hard time making it all work.
Final words are that this isn’t a good movie; it’s extremely hard to follow and doesn’t make an iota of sense. At some point during its early stages, it had something worth doing, but then the producers decided to bastardize it and make something more family friendly, which they failed at doing anyways. Holli is too sexually suggestive for this to be a childrens film, she’s always talking in double entendres, always posing in alluring ways. Hell, this story is all about the follies of humans having sex with cartoons? How is that the basis for a family friendly film? This film suffers from that dreadful ailment some films suffer from: it’s a film that doesn’t know its target audience, a malady that many of Bakshi’s films suffered from. Worst part is that the animation, which is basically the big draw with these type of films, is crude. Too bad, because the film offered an interesting concept, it just wasn’t executed very well. I recommend this film only to animation/Ralph Bakshi fans, as a curiosity, as a way to see a project gone horribly wrong, but not as a film you will enjoy.
Rating: 1 1/2 out of 5