Published on May 3rd, 2013 | by Clint Davis
Cool World 
Summary: Outside of an interesting visual style, this movie takes way too long to develop into anything resembling a story. A watered-down version of Ralph Bakshi's typically edgy animated style.
PG-13 | 102 min.
Director: Ralph Bakshi | Screenplay: Michael Grais, Mark Victor
Starring: Kim Basinger, Brad Pitt, Gabriel Byrne
Studio: Rough Draft Studios | Distribution: Paramount Pictures
Live action mixed with animation was a sub-genre that, thankfully, petered out after about a 15-year run. Robert Zemeckis’s classic Who Framed Roger Rabbit blew audiences away in 1988 and by the time Looney Tunes: Back in Action hit theaters in 2003, the kids who stared at Jessica Rabbit in wonder were old enough to know this whole thing had run its course. In 1992, indie animation trailblazer Ralph Bakshi (Fritz the Cat) decided to try and translate his brand of offbeat, adult-minded humor into a live/animated crossover–what came out was Cool World.
This mess of a movie is about…well…honestly, I don’t think the screenwriters could tell you what it’s about. I can tell you we begin in 1945 Las Vegas where a World War II soldier named Frank Harris (Brad Pitt) is transported to an animated city called Cool World, following the tragic death of his mother. Skip ahead to 1992 where celebrated cartoonist Jack Deebs (Gabriel Byrne) is finishing up both a prison sentence and another issue of his popular series “Cool World”. Jack somehow gets pulled into the animated world by his comic’s sexy siren Holli Would (Kim Basinger), who wants nothing more than to have sex with a real live human. In Cool World, Harris has become a detective and he warns Deebs that noids (humans) and doodles (‘toons) don’t sleep together because it could destroy both universes. Of course as any single man would, Deebs succumbs to Holli’s temptations and destruction ensues.
Visually, Cool World is a fine piece of work–but once you get beyond that gimmick, your left with nothing that works. The script is downright awful with dialogue that’s cringe-worthy at times, especially from Pitt, who puts on an accent that’s like a 14-year old boy’s attempt at a hardboiled detective. This movie’s plot takes no less than an hour to finally develop into something resembling a story–but then it just feels like they are making up the rules as they go along.
For me, this movie struggles to identify its audience. It’s got too much sexual content to be for kids (and not enough for teens), but too many zany cartoon moments to be made for adults. Bakshi is known for being a fiercely independent filmmaker, his cartoons are sardonic, edgy, and unflinching in their depictions of debauchery. With Cool World, it feels like he was pressured into making a safe version of his earlier work. It’s rumored that his original idea for the film was a horror treatment that featured a deadbeat dad cartoonist who fathered an illegitimate half-human/half-cartoon daughter who eventually tries to kill him–but of course a studio rewrite was ordered. It’s a classic example of a groundbreaking artist producing an easily-digested commercial project that ends up being completely watered down.
Gabriel Byrne brings some needed weight to the screen and Kim Basinger was a solid casting choice as the blonde bombshell–but her performance is much better once Holli turns human, as her voice-acting is pretty bland. The interactions between human and cartoon in Cool World are mostly just awkward. The effect is much more convincing in Warner Bros. flicks like …Roger Rabbit and Space Jam (yep, I just used Space Jam as an example of better filmmaking). This movie is just so busy, it’s like they tried to cram too many slapstick cartoon trademarks into each frame–even when a fairly serious scene of dialogue is taking place there’s some distracting animated element happening sometimes in the foreground of the shot. If I had acted in this movie, I would have been pissed when the premiere rolled around and they covered half of my best scenes with a safe randomly dropping on some toon’s head.
I will give Cool World credit for having a fun soundtrack that features a lot of unabashed, high-energy 90’s jams. You’ll probably try to search the film for a deeper message, but the best I could come up with was a take on interracial marriage about thirty years after that would have been a suitable theme. I guess if you get down to brass tacks it’s also a story about defying conventional wisdom and breaking the rules…wait, did I just see that purples gorilla’s anus?!