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Here's my review of Ralph Bakshi's 1992 Paramount Picture "Cool World",
starring Brad Pitt, Gabriel Byrne, & Kim Basinger.
I won't give a plot synthesis, as that would spoil the fun. Instead, I'll cut straight to the chase and give you my brutally honest opinion on this film. I'll start with my view on the widely-held opinion that "Cool World" is a rip-off of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit". Even though "Cool World" is undeniably Roger Rabbit-esquire, and Brad Pitt said in an interview that "'Cool World' is like 'Roger Rabbit' on acid", sexy cartoon women and combining live-action and animation have been staples of Bakshi's films before Gary K. Wolf even created Roger Rabbit. "Cool World" reminds me more of "Gremlins 2: The New Batch", because A: The rule that noids (humans) and doodles (cartoon characters) can not have sex with each other is similar to the 3 rules for owning a Mogwai because they are ancient sacred rules that must not be broken, lest cartoon-type chaos wreck havoc, & B: Holli's goons (Slash, Bash, Mash and Bob) reminded me of Gizmo's 2nd batch of offspring (Mohawk, Daffy, George and Lenny).
Anyway, there are a lot of things wrong with this movie. First of all, there are lots of plot holes and plot points that are never fully explained. This might be fun for those with imagination, but most would find it lazy and rushed. Kim Basinger is a pretty lousy actress in this movie. True, her character Holli Would was meant to be hated, but the doodle and noid versions of Holli look and behave so differently it's almost hard to believe that they're the same character. Gabriel Byrne plays a pretty dull character in this film, and only part I was interested in Jack was when he became a super-powered doodle, and that wasn't even Gabe voicing Super Jack, it was Maurice LaMarche (who is based known as the voice of Brain from 'Pinky and the Brain'). Also, the combination of live-action and animation is not nearly as smooth (in both the way the cartoons are placed onto the live-action and in the live-action actors' interactions and responses to the cartoon characters that are added later) as it was in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" and similar films like "Space Jam" and "Looney Tunes: Back in Action" and "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle". To top it all off, the whole film just feels dated, even for 1992, I guess partly due to it using ink-and-paint-on-cells instead of digital ink-and-paint, which even Bakshi's protégés at the Ren and Stimpy show were able to afford on an animated TV series budget and use in several episodes of its 2nd season, which premiered only a few months after "Cool World"'s release.
But the disaster this film ended up being is actually not entirely Ralph Bakshi's fault. Ralph's original script for this had Holli (originally called Debbie Dallas) and Jack having a son who was a strange combination of live-action and animated body parts and who hated himself for what he was & what he wasn't and attempted to murder his father. But producer Frank Mancuso Junior (whose father, Frank Mancuso Senior, was then the head of Paramount Pictures) had the script completely rewritten which heavily muted the film's messages of the importance of fatherhood and the dangers of casual sex, and hired Kim Basinger (who was a pain in the butt during shooting and ruined the movie even more) and Gabriel Byrne (whom Bakshi felt was too much a foreigner to play an American underground cartoonist) when Bakshi wanted Drew Barrymore and Brad Pitt to play the leads.
But even with Mancuso's bastardizing Bakshi's original vision for the film, there are still some things in "Cool World" to enjoy. For one, the animation is mostly quite good and reminded me at times of Tiny Toons and Ren & Stimpy. Also, Brad Pitt does a rather decent job acting in this picture (despite his interactions with cartoon characters leaving a good amount to be desired, as he's no Bob Hoskins) as his character Frank Harris is rather likable. Also, Harris's arachnid doodle partner Nails is a delightful nutty character voiced by Charlie Adler, my personal favorite voice-over actor who has done many of my most favorite cartoon characters like Buster Bunny, Cow and Chicken, Ickis, Ed and Bev Bighead and many more. The secondary and minor doodles like Lonette (whom I consider a much more desirable woman than Holli due to her being a brunette and having a caring personality), the aforementioned Goons, Sparks and Doc Whiskers are all interesting (plus they're voiced by greats like Candi Milo and the aforementioned Maurice LaMarche), as are the noids Jennifer and Isabelle Malley. Too bad they're kind of stuck in the background. And there are quite a few memorable laugh-out moments that make this film worth seeing at least once IMHO.
So in the end, although this film would be perfect for Mystery Science Theater 3000, I still find "Cool World" interesting and enjoyable. It's certainly not as great as "Who Framed Roger Rabbit", I'm not quite sure if I find it better than "Space Jam" and "Looney Tunes: Back in Action" and I definitely find it better than the well-intended but ultimately lame "Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle" movie (despite AoR&B having better production values than CW). All in all, "Cool World"'s not a very good, but it is very interesting and I recommend that everyone should watch it at least once (but it's not for the immature and/or overly sensitive).
Look out for: Future Ren & Stimpy producer Steve Worth in a cameo as a comic book store patron (he's the fat guy), and also for Maggie "Maude Flanders" Roswell.
I wish to state that I don't mean my review title to be sarcastic. I have a
tough time being "cruel" to a movie like this because I was informed
beforehand of Bakshi's well-meaning intentions here. I'm not a Bakshi fan,
but I appreciate what he has been attempting to do even if I personally
don't care for the content of his movies.
While Bakshi certainly has a reputation for creating films that have outraged, offended and (with certain audiences) entertained, he is also known by those who have met him for being someone who indeed genuinely cares about people, wants to use his medium to show how messed up our modern society is and how folks can triumph over the worst of difficulties while trapped within it. The only problem is that he has a tough time communicating with others, both personally and through his films. Somewhere beneath all the X-ratings and reputation, there is indeed (believe it or not) a very caring, sensitive man.
Believe it or not, he had thought of COOL WORLD as a statement speaking out on the dangers of casual sex (his proclamation, not mine). He's trying to point out just how dangerous such actions can be so as to caution his audience about bodily responsibility. And, he had hoped, might even help save lives.
The problem is that his movie is simply a mess. I've been informed all about the insiders' stories regarding what went wrong with this production (apparently there was even at least a couple of extra hours of this movie made!!), including the fact that its storyline was made up as Bakshi went along (a habit he has, I'm told, with all of his films).
The technical flaws, acting and everything else here are by now legendary to the public, so (even though it's certainly not a favourite title of mine) I'm going to instead point out four things I *did* actually enjoy about the movie.
(1) Conceptual designer Barry Jackson's background designs and paintings are absolutely brilliant. People familiar with my own work already know that I've spent a lifetime drawing stuff similar to this sort of "twisted background" style, so I in particular was fascinated and impressed by Jackson's amazing work even if it was emotionally the exact opposite of the sort of atmospheres I create. I actually took the time back in 1992 to call him up and compliment him personally on his material in COOL WORLD; it's that impressive. But VERY dark as it appears in this film, which is as a city imagined in the troubled and desperate mind of a jailed cartoonist.
(2) I enjoy most of the music on the soundtrack: Mark Isham's score is to die for, and many of the songs here are a lot of fun, especially David Bowie's title piece that plays over the ending credits and The Thompson Twins' "Play With Me" which blares over the opening. (An interesting piece of musical trivia here: there is a song called "Mindless" which only credits itself as "Written by Mindless", "Performed by Mindless" and "Produced by Mindless". I wonder who it really is...? Spooky...)
(3) Holli Would is a thoroughly detestable character; many say she has no personality, but that isn't the case. She has one, alright... a selfish, cruel, insensitive personality that doesn't care about anybody or anything else (much less the results of her own actions) as long as she gets her own way. She may be physically more beautiful technically than Jessica Rabbit, but Jessica is by far the more wonderful "ideal woman" of the two in terms of her true blue intentions and personality. So it probably comes as no surprise that there is *ONE* scene in the whole film which *IS* funny; it's at the very end, after the Spike of Power is plugged back where it belongs. For a split second, we see Holli do in shock the most hilariously unflattering take you have EVER seen! Watching her be put through such a hysterical piece of animation after her being so selfish and design-perfect throughout the rest of the film is a delight. ...and finally,
(4) Yes, it is a sloppy film. And so far, I'm convinced it's the messiest film of it's type I've ever seen. But at least it had good intentions, which does place it a mark above other movies out there which were simply offensive dreck without any intentions at all. I may not enjoy the movie and never will, but I do personally forgive Bakshi this film because I know he was trying to say something important for others' sake.
A mixed bag, to be sure, but not (at least in my opinion) the disaster that's widely believed to be. The story may be weak and the technology sometimes flawed, but there is one thing you can't accuse Ralph Bakshi of, and that is a shortage of imagination and creativity. The screen is filled with mostly enjoyable throwaway characters and gags, and even though the film keeps changing tones rapidly (from "slapsticky" to erotic to sad), it doesn't lose your attention. Neither does Kim Basinger, at her most gorgeous here. (**1/2)
"Cool World" is one of those films that feels unfinished, and comes across
as a well done test-market film, but not one that's ready for theatrical
release. The actors seem to have a hold on their characters, but lack some
The animation is good, though the mixture of genres'll probably throw some people. The story's incomplete, the characters are never entirely explored, and the mechanics of the fictional worlds aren't fully explained. The result is a film that's a bit of a mess, but still holds some interest for its unique take on an old animation genre.
Ultimately it's a film that should've been more than what it ultimately became. It's not a film for kids, watch only if you're into animation.
Animated films and cartoons have always been looked upon as an art form that
caters primarily to a younger audience. Though this may be an unfair
assessment to make, it is a logical one, since the child-friendly Walt
Disney Company has dominated the animated film industry right from its
inception after introducing the world to Mickey Mouse in 1928. After that,
there has only been a handful of daring artists who have tried to disengage
the squeaky-clean stereotype that animated films had since been branded
with. Ralph Bakshi was such a man.
In 1972, Bakshi wrote and directed FRITZ THE CAT, a full-length animated feature film that touted a self-imposed X-rating and worldwide critical acclaim. Exactly twenty years later, Bakshi would go on to direct COOL WORLD, his sixth and most recent adult-oriented animated film to date.
On its own, the artwork and animation in COOL WORLD is excellent. The girls are sexy, the villains are ugly, and the backdrops have a surreal, almost psychedelic quality to them. The use of rotoscoping (still a relatively new technology at the time) to fluidly illustrate some of the more complex human movements was a wise choice, making the animated `Doodles' seem all the more lifelike. The animators went to great lengths to make their characters' interactions with live actors and actual scenery seem genuine. Many subtle touches, like the cartoons casting real shadows in the Humanoid world, and the direct eye contact between the Noids and the Doodles, were added to enhance the believability of these otherwise unbelievable situations.
Still, despite the great animation and the artists' valiant efforts at making the two-dimensional animation intermingle with our three-dimensional universe, the movie's visuals, while very impressive, are ultimately ineffectual. No matter how well these images are drawn, their lack of depth makes the contact with the live actors seem awkward and even distracting at times. Granted, they did the best they could at combining two very different mediums, but no amount of detail can shake the feeling that you're merely watching a 2-D overlay atop of a 3-D film, rather than 2-D characters within a 3-D film as was intended.
The high point of the film, I think, was Kim Basinger's portrayal of Holli Would as she fervently attempts to adjust to Humanoid life. Basinger is suitably perky as the deviant Miss Would, and did an outstanding job emulating the actions and mannerisms of her cartoon counterpart. Basinger succeeds at making Holli's reactions to the Las Vegas public both hilarious and embarrassing for the viewer, a feat which is probably not easy to pull off.
Gabriel Byrne's performance as Jack Deebs is another example of fine acting in this film. Byrne's character, although probably not as scared or confused by his predicament as he should have been, is portrayed convincingly, and there's enough of a well-developed backstory to accept his antisocial attitude and somewhat pessimistic outlook on life. Byrne also handles Deebs's gradual transition from calm and collected to a state of panic and exasperation exceptionally well, and his sheepishness as he futilely attempts to disassociate himself with Holli and her embarrassingly eccentric behavior is another high point in the film.
Brad Pitt plays his role as Detective Frank Harris in typical Pitt fashion. This is not to say he did a bad job, but his performances tend to be bland and unmemorable, and this movie is no exception. Even as early as 1992, the year COOL WORLD was released, we've already seen Pitt play the same no-nonsense `tough guy' character in a half-dozen or so other films, and he doesn't exactly add any kind of flair to make this role distinguishable from his others.
COOL WORLD's plot, although thin, is exciting and very original. The pacing is lightning fast, constantly jarring the viewer with over-the-top cartoon sight gags and playful innuendos. There are chase scenes, fight scenes, sex scenes, and death scenes; all seemingly back to back, and all set to an awesome adrenalin-pumping techno soundtrack. From the opening title to the closing credits, COOL WORLD plays out like a cinematic roller coaster.
However, as exciting as the movie was, I couldn't help feeling gypped after finally seeing it. COOL WORLD, although undoubtedly a clever picture, lacks the social themes and political commentary (as well as the bold, overt explicitness) that Ralph Bakshi is famous for. In FRITZ THE CAT, Bakshi takes jabs at a wide variety of hot-button issues and events that were controversial at the time, such as the Black Panthers, the alarming rise of police brutality, and the hippie movement. Cool World, at least from my own personal interpretation, is devoid of any kind of theme or commentary whatsoever.
Overall, COOL WORLD doesn't really do anything that hasn't been done before. We've already seen adult-oriented animation in FRITZ THE CAT. We've already seen the `cartoon/reality crossover' in WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT. And we've already witnessed rotoscoped animation in Bakshi's own THE LORD OF THE RINGS. But just because it isn't groundbreaking does not mean it isn't entertaining. When it comes to action, excitement, and eye candy, COOL WORLD definitely delivers the goods.
It is obvious watching this movie that it was high-quality stuff until
some team of idiots destroyed the script through multiple rewrites,
forced it to be released early and threw away any integrity it had left
by making it adhere to a PG-13 rating. If you think cartoon characters
having sex with live humans sounds like a badass movie idea, you are
quite right, because it is. And there's an intriguing, though never
developed, concept of Brad Pitt's character choosing to live in a
cartoon fantasy land because he can't emotionally face the real world
(that's the most frustrating part of all: the feeling that this movie
was supposed to be *about* something). Too bad the final product looks
like something Don Bluth would create if he went insane. It's like
"Rock-a-Doodle" times 1000.
Nothing in this bad trip of a movienot one line nor scenemakes sense. Watching it you are faced with endless unanswered questions: What the hell is Cool World? How did Jack the cartoonist dream up an exact replica of a world that has apparently existed since before he was born? Why are Cool World comic books so popular when the actual Cool World appears to be so lame? Why is Brad Pitt so hell-bent on preventing Noids from having sex with Doodles? Why does Holli Would complain that she can't feel anything in cartoon form when by all indications she can? Why does Holli want to touch a spike on top of a hotel to turn the entire universe into a cartoon land when she previously wanted to be a real person? Come to think of it, why IS there a spike on top of a hotel that turns the entire universe into a cartoon land? Why is Jack turning into a cartoon? Why is the scientist dude running around Las Vegas in a trenchcoat? Why is any of this happening?
At some point, it's best to just quit asking questions and let the train wreck unfold. The only part of Cool World that is actually cool is the hellish, twisted background art of the cityscape, but it contrasts heavily with the badly designed and animated characters in the foreground who look like they're out of some early 90s Nickelodean cartoon. They're unlikable and irritating, and their dialogue is endlessly corny and stupid ("He's fulfilling his destiny! He's becoming a hero!"). The human actors look extremely uncomfortable in every scene. Ralph Bakshi completely blew it with this one. Another year in production and a smarter script and it may have been legendary. Instead it's a painful viewing experience that you'll want to get rid of with intense therapy. 2/10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When I saw this movie in a theater years ago, people threw things at
the screen: popcorn, soda, candy boxes. One man threw his shoes. Seldom
have I seen a film so universally hated as Cool World. The movie looks
like it was patched together with scotch tape. Did the animators even
know what a storyboard is? As delightfully integrated as the
live-action/animation is in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Cool World is
exactly the opposite: the live-action actors look like they are talking
to the coat racks they were talking to before the animation was added.
The division between live-action and animation is crystal clear.
Brad Pitt's incomparable acting skills are not enough to allow a willing suspension of disbelief that he is actually immersed in the animated world. BTW, never again will I watch Brad Pitt in anything without hearing his 1930s cartoon voice "What's in the boooooooooox? What's in the booooooooox?" from Se7en.
The long, awkward pauses that pepper this movie from start to finish guarantee that you can keep it running AND get a snack from the fridge without missing a beat, provided of course that you don't lose interest twenty minutes into the thing and perhaps throw a shoe at the t.v. If you get to the end, you experience the enviable pleasure of Kim Basinger being turned back into a cartoon again, as though her live-action performance isn't already cartoonish. And you get to see super-long cartoon arms that save the day for everyone.
Sigh. It's as bad as Monkey Bone, Pluto Nash, and Deuce Bigalow put together. I wonder if I can get a government grant to track down all copies of Cool World and destroy them.
There are people who fantasise about having sex with Disney heroines
Wonder Woman; from the evidence presented here, I would say that Ralph
Bakshi is among them. Note that I said, "from the evidence presented
I'll be the first to admit it's not very good evidence. "Cool World" is
badly organised, devoid of passion, and just plain dull. It certainly
doesn't FEEL like any kind of window into Bakshi's soul, or anyone
Here's the scenario. There are two worlds: cool world, which is animated, and our own world, which isn't. They exist in some kind of unstable equilibrium which can be disrupted with disastrous, but unspecified, consequences, if - get this for a lark - a person from one world has sex with a person from the other. (Is this like "Species", or what?) The central cartoonist character thus spends most of the time on the verge of having sex with the animated Holli Wood. That's the scenario. (No, it really is.) The PLOT, on the other hand, is anyone's guess.
Many of the sets consist of cardboard cut-outs filmed precisely head on, so as to look like cartoon backgrounds but allow actors to walk through them. A great visual idea, huh? Well, it seems that Bakshi didn't think any further than that; for, as if there weren't enough problems already, you can tell that the actors are walking around very gingerly indeed, obviously aware that their slightest movement might case bits of furniture to wobble or fall over. As for Holli herself - she just doesn't do it for me, I'm afraid. Her Saturday-morning temptress look has straight-jacketed her animators, and she's so sexy-by-the-numbers that she isn't sexy at all. The rest of the film is painfully clumsy and dull and she could easily have been the best thing in it. She isn't.
Gabriel Byrne plays a cartoonist who is sucked into an alternate reality where a cartoon character named Holly, Kim Basinger, thinks that having sex with a human is the key to entering the real world. . Not only is this loud and obnoxious film poorly-acted and badly-animated, it is also thoroughly incomprehensible. It tries to be another "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," but fails so miserably that the comparison shames it. This film really sucks. I can't think of a good thing to say about it.
This ambitious and more adult version of WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (1988) has its moments, yet its the very extreme contrasts of the now fading old animation cartoons and live action that carried the movie that with today's computer digital animation would not be possible. The technical seamless nature of the fusion of animation and live action isn't quite as crisp and not quite as effective even in comparison to ROGER RABBIT of four year's earlier. The storyline is clear, the cartoon humor consistently adult, yet the ultimate possibilities and opportunities for a serious use of this media remain untapped. Nevertheless, the effort improves on the basic initial introduction of ROGER RABBIT and the fantasy of comics is well captured and the strongest moment is how the adult relationship in the real world is concluded in the movie that makes this movie stand out from the more typical television episodes or average comedy-drama, though the ending could still have used a bit more sophisticated, layered, and unfinished polish.
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