Pretty much every classic animated character gets revived at some point or another. In the late 80’s it was MIghty Mouse’s turn with a Saturday morning version called “Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures.” But a controversy arose when a family values organization claimed that one episode depicted the animated hero snorting drugs. It didn’t help that the show was produced by Ralph Bakshi, a director of animated films usually geared towards adults…most notably the X-rated cartoon “Fritz the Cat.” A few years after the Mighty Mouse controversy, Bakshi returned to the big screen with a live-action/animated mix that was most definitely not for the kiddies…1992’s “Cool World.”
The film begins in 1945 with former GI Frank Harris (Brad Pitt) returning to his mother and their Las Vegas home. Celebrating his freedom from the military, Frank purchases a motorcycle and takes his mom out for a ride. Of course, barely a mile or two down the road, they end up in an accident. Mom is dead and Frank is seriously injured. But at the same moment, a strange animated scientist is messing around with something called “the spike” which ends up opening a portal between our world and this animated locale known as “the Cool World.” Before long, Frank ends up being whisked off to the land of cartoons.
Fast forward to the 90’s where a comic book artist named Jack Deebs (Gabriel Byrne) is locked up in prison for killing a man his wife was having an affair with. While in prison, he has continued drawing his comic book “Cool World,” and it has become quite popular. Frank thinks that he created Cool World, not knowing that it is a real place. How exactly all this ends up in his brain is never really made clear to us. He has also become quite obsessed with the shapely lead character of his comics, Holli (Kim Bassinger). He often has moments where it seems like Holli comes alive right on the page he is drawing. Soon he seems to be actually pulled into the Cool World, where he sees Holli seductively dance for him.
Jack ends up released from prison a few days later…pretty short sentence, apparently. Still, he continues to have these moments where he is whisked off to Cool World. Holli, of course, is orchestrating all this, and with good reason. You see, if she manages to have sex with a “noid” (that’s what humans are called in Cool World) she can become real and go live in the real world. Of course, Jack is more than willing to help Holli out in this department. She ends up returning with him to our world, now as a real flesh and blood human. Unfortunately, this threatens the entire fabric of the universe and it’s up to Frank, who has been working as a cop in Cool World these last 50 years, to bring her back to Cool World before she destroys everything.
Four years before “Cool World” there was a film called “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” Oh, you’ve heard of it?! No kidding, the thing is what we call a milestone! The mixture of animation and live actors in that film was, and still is, mind-blowing. “Cool World” was most definitely a reaction to Roger Rabbit, but with a much more adult slant. Sadly, the thing that works against this film more than anything else is that it is years behind Roger Rabbit from a technical standpoint. The characters just don’t have any depth…and I’m not talking about their personalities here, I mean their flat! Two dimensional! Now, this is 2D animation, we were still several years away from “Toy Story” here. But think about Roger Rabbit…in that film the characters looked perfectly natural walking next to humans. They had weight, they had depth. In “Cool World” the characters are as flat as a tortilla.
The animation also lacks focus. Most of the scenes that take place in Cool World (which is essentially like Roger Rabbit’s Toontown on acid) are over crowded with grotesque animated characters hitting each other, eating each other, blowing things up…it’s downright headache inducing. In several moments, Bakshi has strange characters float or run through the scene as Byrne and Pitt are performing. Why? He was bored maybe? It just makes no sense!
I do want to give Bakshi and his gang some props when it comes to the character design. The look of many of the lead animated characters is quite creative. The design of Holli brought Al Capp’s Daisy Mae (from Li’l Abner) to mind for me, and you gotta admit the scenes of her dancing feature some pretty sleek animation. Though, knowing Bakshi’s penchant for rotoscoping, it’s probably a fair assumption that his animators may have done a little tracing along the way.
“Cool World” is a film that is not without promise, but it is severely lacking in execution. None of the technical advancements that Roger Rabbit brought to the screen four years earlier are put to use. In the end, it makes this film look like a step backward more than anything else.