Cool World (1992)
Dir. Ralph Bakshi
First off, does anyone even remember when Cool World came out? If you were a kid like I was, you probably wanted to see this movie since it looked like Looney-Tunes, with cute, talking, anthropomorphic characters, but your parents probably couldn’t take you to see it, since for some reason it was rated ‘R’. That’s right, Cool World, like most of Ralph Bakshi’s films, was intended for adults. You might have heard of his earlier works like ‘Coonskin’, otherwise known as ‘Coonskin No more’, otherwise known as ‘Harlem Nights’, Otherwise known as “Bustin’ Out”, otherwise known as ‘Street Fight’…. gained a lot of controversy in 1975 for its racist content. Yet, I must confess I have not seen it, nor any of Bakshi’s works before. So I’m not really one to have much of an opinion on him.
No, doing a review of Coonskin would have just made for a much more interesting review where I could have made lots of racist puns. This is why it only makes perfect sense to start with one of his least cherished works: Cool World. A work that’s according to rumour, less Bakshi and more of a committee-written abomination.
Well…ok, the truth is that I’m doing this review because this is the only one of his movies I could actually find, but I promise to get to Coonskin one of these days. The nice thing about starting with Cool World is that I get to start watching Bakshi with a clean slate, free of biased opinions. For that reason, I may even enjoy this film more than previous critics.
Well, I have a copy right here and I’ll be right back in one and a half hours…
Ok, I’m back.
Now what did I just see? Well…this is the part where you probably expect me to slam ‘Cool World’ for being a bad film, but to be frank, I actually did enjoy it. The most obvious thing I could compare it to was ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’, since both movies combined live- action footage with animation. In fact, most of the movie felt like that one really obnoxious scene in ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ where Bob Hoskins’ character visits Toon-Ville. I first have to say that ‘Cool World’ was obnoxious indeed. It’s loud, annoying, stupid, doesn’t make any attempt at subtlety, but it was also a lot of fun.
The animation by itself is the real star of the movie, and it is gorgeous. Parts of it are overused, but it was so well done and imaginative that it’s easy to forgive. The background paintings alone were beautiful and it was interesting to see how some of them were used as matte backgrounds for some of the live action segments. Unfortunately what really drags in this film are the live-action segments, which can be even more cartoony in how hammy the dialogue is. The live action characters are badly acted, stiff, and most of the time aren’t convincing enough alongside the cartoon characters they’re supposed to be interacting with.
The movie stars Brad Pitt as a brooding detective who’s decided to stay in ‘Cool World’ after being sucked into it by a mad scientist named Whiskers. The movie does a lousy job of setting up his character’s motivations for remaining in the ‘Cool World’, but we can assume that it had something to do with a motorcycle accident that kills his mother at the beginning. This scene is forgotten about almost immediately after it’s shown. We also aren’t told anything about Whiskers’ character either.
We then very abruptly switch over to cartoonist Jack Deebs who’s been serving jail time, played by Gabriel Byrne. He is just as abruptly teleported to what he believes is his own pen-and-ink creation known as Cool World. Upon arriving in Cool World, he is exposed to our femme fatale for the evening Jessica Ra---sorry I mean ‘Holli Would’ voiced by Kim Basinger. Jack is soon warned by Brad Pitt not to have sex with Holli, who for some reason wants to bang any human she sees so that she can become part of the real world. It’s kind of a hard thing to avoid when Holli goes around dressing like a stripper in every scene. Apparently humans and cartoons, called ‘doodles’ in Cool World, are not allowed to exchange ink, if you know what I mean. It seems to be the only law that exists, seeing as Pitt’s character has nothing better to do but follow Holli around and act as her personal vagina guard.
One question remains though. Did Jack actually create Cool World along with Holli? Or did Cool World exist long before him and merely plant the idea for drawing Cool World in his head? This question is only really brought up once and is never made terribly clear like so much in ‘Cool World’. It’s left-on-the-typewriter moments like this that I feel had it panned by just about every critic. There really is a lack of exposition or story, and this weakness becomes especially clear in the middle portion of Cool World which borders on being terrible. Rules for how Cool World operates seem to be made up on the spot. At some point I had to abandon all expectations of rationality and appreciate Cool World for what it actually is: A stupid, high-budget cartoon that’s more style than substance, but it’s certainly a delight to watch. The spectacular love-it-or-hate-it ending manages to redeem many of its earlier faults. It’s a shame that a lot of the sexual innuendo gave it an R-rating because some of the toned down language almost made me feel like it could have been originally intended for kiddies to see.
Yes, it’s cheesy, but what do you expect from a movie called ‘Cool World’?