The sad, recent passing of Bob Hoskins inevitably saw legions of film fans revisit the film veteran’s memorable turn in Robert Zemeckis’ trailblazing 1988 combo of live-action and animation Who Framed Roger Rabbit? The love that still exists for this classic flick got me thinking – for all the regard surrounding Zemeckis’ ground-breaking caper, nobody seems to remember Hollywood’s next big attempt to splice reality and ‘toons, 1992’s much-hyped Kim Basinger vehicle Cool World.
On paper, the madcap, sexy tale of a comic strip vamp looking to seduce her cartoonist creator in order to cross over into the real world must have seemed a tempting proposition. Batman star Basinger was Hollywood’s sex-symbol of choice, while Miller’s Crossing’s Gabriel Byrne brought serious acting chops. Heading off the cast was a young Brad Pitt, fresh from setting ladies’ loins alight with his smouldering performance in Thelma and Louise. With Paramount splashing out to have the Hollywood sign altered to include a saucy 75 foot tall cut out of Basinger’s character, sassy femme fatale Holli Would, Cool World was generating some serious hype. Disastrously, the picture would bomb and barely scrape back half of its $28 million budget. What the hell went wrong?
This was money well spent.
Originally pitched as an off-kilter animated horror film, Fritz the Cat director Ralph Bakshi’s original screenplay was scrapped and heavily rewritten, much to the chagrin of the director who was forced to soldier on regardless. The finished product is a tonally awkward, uneven, often infuriating mess. Roger Rabbit worked because it smartly mashed-up real actors with loveable, recognisable cartoon icons like Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse. Cool World’s main issue is that it invites us into the messed-up imagination of Bakshi, whose cartoons, like Wizards and Fire and Ice, are invariably trippy and grotesque, aimed at a niche, mature audience. It’s not hard to see why Cool World’s creepy, razor-clawed babies and sex-obsessed gangsters didn’t feature on many lunchboxes.
Family friendly PG-13 fun!
This, remember, is a film about the consequences of making whoopee with an animated character. It’s hard to imagine who the film was made for, aside from dudes who were perhaps a little too ‘entertained’ by the sultry shenanigans of Jessica Rabbit. Sadly, that Paula Abdul video with the cat is sexier than this.
Given its troubled genesis, it’s no surprise that Cool World’s script is a muddled mess. For reasons unclear, Byrne’s ex-con cartoonist Jack Deebs is sucked into an insane cartoon dimension populated by weird, wonky cartoons called ‘Doodles.’ Here he encounters the foxy, calculating Holli Would, the voluptuous blonde bombshell who haunts both his dreams and his sketch-pad. Holli pouts and dances seductively, purring in a manner reminiscent of the afore-mentioned Mrs Rabbit, and it becomes clear that Deebs would very much like to dip his pen in her ink. Pitt’s human hard-boiled detective shows up and warns them that the unlawful mating of ‘Noids’ and Doodles can have dangerous consequences.
Don’t worry Brad, things will get better.
Of course, Holli and Deebs do the deed anyway, in a gruelling scene that is far from gratuitous, but uncomfortable to endure, such is its overarching wrong-ness. Apparently Doodles like to watch… Amazingly, this bizarre inter-species love-making causes Holli to become human and the pair jump over into ‘our world’ for reasons that are, again, never fully explained, with Frank hot on their tails.
Cool World’s big problem is that its internal logic and characters’ motivations are never properly explained. We never really learn what the Cool world actually is, what its rules are, or why it invades Deebs’ dreams, leaving plot threads dangling. More frustratingly, there is practically zero exposition, meaning we get no sense of who Deebs really is and his entire presence in the film seems to be solely for the use of his manhood as a plot device. Byrne is given little to work with and mugs gamely until the film’s denouement where a cartoon effigy mercifully takes his place.
Similarly, Basinger does little more than pout and sigh breathlessly, giving her best Marilyn Monroe, before live-action scenes allow her to rehash the curious, fish-out-of-water naivety she perfected in My Stepmother is an Alien. Despite Basinger’s game performance, underwritten, sex-crazed Holli is an obnoxious one-note nympho who brings a whole new meaning to the term ‘two-dimensional’.
Gabriel was really struggling to hold in a fart.
Channelling the slickness and charm of James Dean, Pitt fares slightly better, his spunky, detective at least afforded a tragic backstory and even a doodle girlfriend, but the film never makes it clear who we’re supposed to be rooting for. Is Frank the hero? Is he a killjoy? Is Deebs just a patsy? The script is muddled and underdeveloped and isn’t helped by the surfeit of gratuitous animated guff that routinely invades the frame.
Cool World’s painstakingly painted backgrounds are lovingly crafted, eye-pleasing masterworks, while the buxom, serpentine Holli is scintillatingly well-animated. However, Bakshi’s film is purposefully odd, with the pointless slapstick shenanigans of various hyperactive, outlandish Doodles regularly interrupting the action. These shabbily animated vignettes feel like ‘filler,’ and are ugly, jarring distractions from the narrative, as though Bakshi never bothered to give his animators an actual script.
Likewise, the spell of this animated fantasy world is shattered every time a human actor interacts with a cartoon counterpart. Whenever Frank embraces his cartoon beau, it’s very obvious we are witnessing animator’s ink sketched over Pitt’s graceless, choreographed movements, while the majesty of the film’s gorgeous painted sets is spoiled whenever someone walks past a shoddy, 2-D cardboard lamp post.
There are neat moments, such as the magical ‘Midas touch’ Deeb’s develops, causing everything he touches in the real world to become animated, resulting in some startling, chucklesome set-pieces. The dialogue also occasionally sizzles, with piquant, noir-ish ‘keep your pencil in your pocket’ puns flying back and forth, although the ‘pencil dick’ joke is vastly overused and quickly grates, as though the writers’ well of double entendres dried up before the end of the first act.
Cool World will be remembered as a grand act of folly, its anarchic, far-out juxtaposition of cartoons, sexuality, and the grotesque resulting in a smutty, heady brew that is never boring, but leaves a sour taste in the mouth. There is certainly no shortage of imagination and creativity on show, but major script flaws and lack of a cohesive directorial vision result in a baffling, underdeveloped shambles. The film can’t decide if it wants to be funny, sad, sexy, or scary with a script that rarely bothers to explain itself, making it no wonder that audiences were in no hurry to revisit Bakshi’s kooky kinky cartoon kingdom.
Hentaiphiliacs, however, could do a lot worse.
Take a Drink: every time Holli dances suggestively (this could get messy…)
Take a Drink: every time a bizarre, malformed animated thingy invades the frame
Take a Drink: every time someone makes a dodgy pencil-related double entendre
Have a Bonus Shot: after you google ‘hentaiphiliac’ and feel instantly disturbed