Today I watched Ralph Bakshi’s Cool World (1992)
Cool World is a world of cartoons, populated by creations straight out of a Tex Avery piece, but overrun by a dystopian city which takes the aforementioned Avery style and combines it with a little H.R. Giger and a little Blade Runner. In 1945, our real world, Frank Harris returns home to Vegas from the second world war. He meets his mother and takes her on a motorcycle ride, which ends in tragedy. Overcome with grief, Harris suddenly finds himself transported to Cool World. Cut ahead to 1992 and Jack Deeds, a cartoonist doing time for murdering his wife, is about to be released from prison, when he suddenly enters Cool World as well, though his stays are more temporary as it turns out Harris has taken up permanent residence as a cop. Jack Deeds is called to Cool World by Holli Would, a femme fatale who wants nothing more than to be human, which she can attain by having sex with a human, which is the worst crime in all of Cool World. Deeds falls right into her trap and thus it is up to Harris to stop this bizarre occurrence from progressing as it will spell the end of both the real and the Cool World.
This movie has problems, it was originally pitched as a horror movie but the studios wanted a sexier Roger Rabbit. This leads to a clash of style and tone that is jarring in every scene of the film. While the animation is largely pretty great, it doesn’t mesh with the real world stuff in any kind of convincing manner and don’t get me wrong, this isn’t just an animation problem, when actors have to mime interaction with said animation, it is woeful. Then there is the soundtrack, which is as early Nineties as it gets and also clashes horribly with the animation style which takes so many cues from old Americana. Tex Avery style antics and early Nineties raves just don’t go together in my mind, it just does’t work for me. Then there is the cast and in my opinion, every main character is miscast, Brad Pitt just can’t play a noirish gumshoe at this stage in his career, Kim Basinger is just atrocious in every way, and Gabriel Byrne is, well, fading from my memory as I write this.
This film can’t decide if it wants to be a cartoon sex comedy or surreal and disturbing and those two extremes pull this movie completely apart. Dramatic and intense scenes are undercut by random foreground cartoons while comedic scenes are sabotaged by the disturbing implications they have on the drama. There are good things this movie has going for it, the design work in Cool World itself is amazing, I just wish it had a story to match. While that is hardly enough to save this film for me, it is enough to make it worth a viewing, it is worth seeing the creativity that manages to shine through the mire of narrative dissonance, but let’s be honest, it’s still terrible. 2/5