Dir: Ralph Bakshi, 1992
Ralph Bakshi is a bit hit and miss for me. I can appreciate the artwork and the social commentary of his early output, but rarely did I find them funny.
Bakshi has got the ideas but doesn’t know what to do with them. He has trouble with the execution.
Very adult in nature and tone, films like Fritz The Cat and Coonskin tapped into the consciousness of seventies America. Racism, grass, sex, sleaze were all used to impressive effect.
At their heart, Bakshi’s films are comedies. Parodies of a time that is, now, unrelateable. A time of controversy and social upheaval and anger.
Animation was the perfect medium to express that feeling. Using anthropomorphic characters, Bakshi was able to go anywhere and do anything he wanted in terms of storytelling. However, they are an acquired taste and received limited distribution.
As a result of this, his cinematic work slowed down significantly to, virtually, a standstill. 1992’s Cool World was his last attempt at making a theatrical film.
Conceived as a horror, Cool World was taken out of his hands and extensively re-written with the final result bearing little, if any, resemblance to his original idea.
In 1945, US soldier Frank Harris (Brad Pitt) is, accidentally, pulled into the cartoon universe, Cool World, by Professor Whiskers.
Forty seven years later, comic book artist and creator of comic book Cool World, Jack Deebs (Gabriel Byrne) is released from prison after murdering the man his wife had an affair with.
Jack is also pulled into the universe by the comic and universe’s femme fatale, Holli Would (voiced by Kim Basinger and playing her real life counterpart).
Holli is desperate to enter the real world and uses Jack as the gateway. But Harris is now a detective for the Cool World Police Department (CWPD) and has barred anybody from crossing the two realms.
With Holli now running loose around Las Vegas, alive and real, Harris has to re-enter the real world and take Holli back.
That’s a very brief synopsis as there are several little subplots that don’t go anywhere and questions that aren’t answered.
It doesn’t explain how Cool World existed years before Deebs created the comic. Is it a coincidence that the characters he created already live in Cool World? What does killing Harris’s mother off, have to do with the plot? It’s mentioned that Deebs was in prison for murder but never spoken of again. What point is there to the next door neighbour? She doesn’t have any impact on the film. Harris is a detective for the CWPD but, as far I can tell, the only person who works there. For a detective, he seems to hold a lot of power of the universe.
I could go on but you get the idea.
The animation is brilliant. A common criticism of the film from reviewers is that the blending of animation and live footage was unconvincing.
IT’S A CARTOON! Of course it’s unconvincing. It isn’t real. Cartoons are not real. That’s just critics picking fault for the sake of it.
Like a more mature Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Bakshi’s movie is one of lighthearted entertainment. Oversexed and raunchy, Cool World relies on Basinger’s sex appeal to grab audiences rather than the muddled plot.
It’s clear that Bakshi had no interest in the film once the script had been overhauled. Any semblance of editing and care, has been defenestrated by the director. Confusing and incoherent, the movie is a smorgasbord of unfiltered ideas, creating an uneven mix of brilliance and frustration.
As a work, Cool World feels incomplete. Characters and items are introduced to the story but fail to go anywhere, leaving them, and the audience, hanging. There’s no satisfactory resolve to the abundance of loose ends and plot holes.
But, having said that, there is much to enjoy, here. The set design of Cool World is wonderful and gives a neo-noir vibe, successfully mirroring the lunacy and sordid sleaze of its inhabitants.
As a comedy, it isn’t funny. As a story, it isn’t even interesting. Everything about the film is purely aesthetic.
It’s not a film to recommend unless you’re an aficionado of Bakshi or you can appreciate the artwork.