Video Vault: COOL WORLD
The history of maverick filmmaker Ralph Bakshi‘s 1992 return to feature length films, Cool World, is the quintessential example of a studio’s complete disregard for artistic vision, maximization of profits, pandering to the powerful, double dealings, manipulation, and Hollywood nepotism. The film marked the end of a 9 year movie hiatus for Bakshi, he has not made an animated feature since. No doubt, this is due to the bullshit he dealt with while making Cool World. The film was originally pitched to Paramount by Bakshi as a hard-R animated horror film in which a half-cartoon/half-human escapes the cartoon world to murder the father that abandoned her. Sounds pretty damn sweet, right? Unfortunately, the final product is quite different. The film’s producer Frank Mancuso Jr., son of then Paramount president Frank Mancuso, Sr. had Bakshi’s original screenplay secretly rewritten and then threatened Bakshi with a lawsuit if he did not complete the mostly new, much tamer, non-horror film.
Obviously, the production was pretty much doomed from that point. The actors Bakshi wanted were not cast either. Further tensions mounted when the film’s star, Kim Basinger, attempted to re-write the film half-way though production because she “thought it would be great if she would be able to show this picture in hospitals to sick children.” I can’t imagine how many face-palms Bakshi went through during this production. What could have been a filmmaker’s magnum opus simply became an exercise in technical animation and experimentation. No longer having any attachment to the story, Bakshi’s animators where just told to do something funny, whatever they wanted to do, and they never saw a script. While we can dwell on the what-ifs all day long, Cool World still manages to retain some Bakshi spirit and the film we do have is still quite unique. Brad Pitt and Gabriel Byrne also star in this frenetic anti-Roger Rabbit.
The film begins with Frank Harris (Brad Pitt) returning home from WWII with a motorcycle he won in Italy. When he takes his mom on a joy ride the duo are hit by a drunk driver. Frank’s mom is killed instantly while Frank is accidentally teleported in to the cartoon universe of Cool World by the world’s self appointed protector, Doc Whiskers, who was attempting to send himself in to the real world. Frank becomes a police officer in the hyper-violent Cool World which is inhabited by beings known as “doodles”. 47 years pass. Nympho femme fatale Holli Would (Kim Basinger) has been metaphysically filling cartoonist, Jack Deebs, with images of Cool World from which he has created a successful comic book in the real world. Jack murdered some dude his wife was banging and on the night he is released from jail Holli successfully transports Jack in to Cool World with hopes of seducing him because sleeping with a human (or “noid” as they are called) will send her in to the real world.
Despite repeated warnings that noid-doodle copulation is dangerous, Holli is successful. Holli and Jack return to real world Las Vegas with Frank hot on their trail. After Hollie sings a song with Frank Sinatra Jr., she and Jack start flickering between human and cartoon. She starts searching for a Spike of Power conveniently located atop a casino that she believes will turn her human forever. Reality is that removing the spike will actually destroy both the real world and the Cool World. In the outrageous finale Holli removes the spike turning Las Vegas in to a montrous animated world. Frank saves the day but is murdered by Holli in the process, fortunately, he is reborn as a noid in Cool World since he was killed by a “doodle”. There’s a lot of other kooky shit that would not be my first choice for screening to sick children in the hospital going on too.
What I enjoyed about this film is that there are still plenty of adult themes and dark humor despite being presented in a softer way than Bakshi would have wanted. Cartoon fetishism is not really explored much in mainstream Hollywood. While the live-action/cartoon integration is unconvincing, the animation itself is phenomenal. Every animated frame is packed with cartoon wackiness happening in the background…and all around the main action really. Cool World is a frantic place with parodies of different styles of animation from Disney to Fleischer Studios happening simultaneously. The finale sequences of an apocalyptic animated Las Vegas are also impressive. Unfortunately, character development is absent and the script is all over the place. Basinger’s obnoxious performance is further proof that her Oscar should be revoked. Pitt and Byrne don’t add much either, I don’t think it’s their fault though. On a final positive note, the soundtrack is pretty sweet. The score is a mix of jazz, orchestral, and electronic themes and the film also features the song “Real Cool World” written for the film by David Bowie.
The last interesting tidbit of information you should know about this film is that as part of the marketing campaign the D in The Hollywood Sign was altered with a giant 75-foot cutout of Holli Would. It was a big controversial hullabaloo. Man, the 90’s were cray cray.