Cool World is a 1992 American live-action/animated thriller-fantasy film directed by Ralph Bakshi, and starring Kim Basinger, Gabriel Byrne and Brad Pitt. It tells the story of a cartoonist who finds himself in the animated world he thinks he created, and is seduced by one of the characters, a comic strip vamp who wants to be real.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Ralph Bakshi|
|Produced by||Frank Mancuso, Jr.|
|Music by||Mark Isham|
|Cinematography||John A. Alonzo|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Budget||$30 million|
|Box office||$14.1 million|
Cool World marked Bakshi's return to feature films after nine years. The film was originally pitched as an animated horror film about an underground cartoonist who fathers an illegitimate half-real/half-cartoon daughter, who hates herself for what she is and tries to kill her parents. During production, Bakshi's original screenplay was scrapped by producer Frank Mancuso, Jr. and heavily rewritten by Michael Grais and Mark Victor in secret. Reviews praised the film's visuals, soundtrack and mostly the animation but criticized the story and characters, as well as the combination of live-action and animation, which some critics felt was unconvincing. The film would eventually gross only half its production budget.
In 1945 Las Vegas, World War II veteran Frank Harris returns to his mother and invites her to a ride on his motorcycle. The two are involved in a traffic collision; Frank's mother dies, while Frank is transported to an animated realm named the "Cool World". In 1992, cartoonist Jack Deebs is serving a prison sentence for the murder of a man he had found in bed with his wife. During his sentence, he has visions of the Cool World and the femme fatale Holli Would, who seems to beckon him. Jack spends his sentence creating a series of comics based on his visions. Meanwhile, Frank has become a detective in the Cool World and keeps his eye on Holli to ensure that the two worlds do not intertwine. Shortly after his release from prison, Jack is transported into the Cool World and smuggled into a club by Holli.
Frank aggressively confronts Jack, explaining to him that the pen in his pocket is a dangerous weapon in the Cool World. He also informs Jack that Cool World has existed long before Jack created the comic series, and warns him that sexual intercourse between "noids" (humans from the real world) and "doodles" (the inhabitants of the Cool World) is forbidden, as this can break the fabric between the two dimensions. Despite this, Frank himself is in love with the doodle Lonette, but limits himself to platonic advances. Holli, wanting to become a noid, seduces Jack and has sex with him. Holli becomes human and secretly steals Jack's pen, which she uses to entrap Frank's partner Nails. Jack and Holli leave for the real world, where Holli finds herself experiencing real sensations. Due to the damaged interdimensional fabric, Jack and Holli spontaneously flicker in between their doodle and noid forms. While contemplating their situation, Holli tells Jack about the "Spike of Power," an artifact placed on the top of a Las Vegas casino by a doodle who crossed into the real world, and admits she wants to use it to become human permanently. The Spike would also release the denizens of the Cool World into the real world, as well as turn all noids into doodles. When Jack displays skepticism about the idea, Holli abandons Jack to search for the spike on her own.
Frank learns what has happened and goes to the real world, where he teams up with Jack in a bid to stop Holli. They arrive at the casino and climb to the roof, where Holli kills Frank by pushing him off the building and seizes the Spike. Noids begin transforming into doodles, and a multitude of doodles begin pouring into the real world. The Spike also transforms Jack into an animated superhero, who manages to defeat the doodles and returns the Spike to its rightful place, restoring the balance between the two worlds. All doodles, including Holli and Jack, are transported back to the Cool World. The freed Nails brings Frank's body back to the Cool World. Because Frank was killed by a doodle, he is revived as such, and can pursue his dream of love with Lonette.
- Gabriel Byrne as Jack Deebs, the cartoonist seemingly responsible for the creation of Cool World.
- Brad Pitt as Detective Frank Harris, a detective for the Cool World Police Department who is bent on catching Holli. Pitt also provides Frank's voice in doodle form.
- Deirdre O'Connell as Isabelle Malley
- Frank Sinatra, Jr. as himself
- Michele Abrams as Jennifer Malley
- Janni Brenn–Lowen as Agatha Rose Harris
- Marilyn Monroe (archival footage)
- Kim Basinger as Holli Would, a femme fatale doodle who wishes to be real in the real world. Basinger also portrays her in live action.
- Charlie Adler as Nails, an anthropomorphic spider who serves as Frank's partner.
- Joey Camen as Interrogator No. 1 / Slash / Holli's Door
- Jenine Jennings as Craps Bunny
- Michael Lally as Sparks
- Maurice LaMarche as Interrogator No. 2 / Mash / Dr. Vincent "Vegas Vinnie" Whiskers / Super Jack
- Candi Milo as Lonette / Bob
- Patrick Pinney as Chico the bouncer
- Gregory Snegoff as Bash
In 1990, Ralph Bakshi decided that it was time to make another animated film. According to Bakshi, "I made 1,500 bucks in 10 years of painting; I thought it would be nice to pick up a piece of change. So I called my lawyer, who was still speaking to me because no one ever leaves Hollywood, and asked him where I should go to sell a movie." Bakshi pitched Cool World to Paramount Pictures (where Bakshi had worked as the final head of the studio's animation division) as an animated horror film. The concept of the film involved a cartoon and live action human having sex and conceiving a hybrid child who visits the real world to murder the father who abandoned her. Bakshi states that Paramount Pictures "bought the idea in ten seconds".
As the sets were being built in Las Vegas, producer Frank Mancuso, Jr., son of Paramount president Frank Mancuso, Sr., had the screenplay rewritten in secret, and gave Bakshi a new screenplay by screenwriters Michael Grais and Mark Victor that "was barely the same". Larry Gross also contributed to the script, but his work would later go on to be uncredited. In interviews at the time of the film's release, Mancuso, Jr., who was best known for the Friday the 13th franchise, stated a desire to move away from horror films, and wanted to produce a film "about what happens when someone creates a world, becomes defined by it, and then can't escape [...] a film about being trapped by your own creation." Bakshi remembers that he got into a fight with Mancuso, Jr. and "punched [him] in the mouth." Paramount threatened Bakshi with a lawsuit if he refused to complete the film. "I thought if I did the animation well, it would be worth it, but you know what? It wasn't worth it." Bakshi also stated that he "had a lot of animators there that I'd brought in and I thought that maybe I could just have fun animating this stuff, which I did." Bakshi had developed the film as a mix of comedy and horror that he described as "a hard R-rated story" but Paramount wanted a PG-13 film, one of the reasons for the doomed and angry relationship between filmmaker and studio.
Bakshi had originally intended to cast Drew Barrymore and Brad Pitt in the film's leading roles. Brad Pitt was cast as Frank Harris instead, with Gabriel Byrne as Deebs and Kim Basinger as Holli. The film's voice cast includes Maurice LaMarche, Charlie Adler and Candi Milo. According to Bakshi, Basinger had attempted to rewrite the film halfway into its production because she "thought it would be great [...] if she would be able to show this picture in hospitals to sick children [...] I said, 'Kim, I think that's wonderful, but you've got the wrong guy to do that with.' [...] [Mancuso] was sitting there with Kim [...] agreeing with her."
The visual design of the live-action footage was intended to look like "a living, walk-through painting", a visual concept Bakshi had long wanted to achieve. The film's sets were based upon enlargements of designer Barry Jackson's paintings. The animation was strongly influenced by Fleischer Studios (whose cartoons were released by Paramount) and Terrytoons (where Bakshi once worked, and whose Mighty Mouse character was also adapted into a series by Bakshi). The artwork by the character Jack Deebs was drawn by underground comix artist Spain Rodriguez. The film's animators were never given a screenplay, and were instead told by Bakshi to "Do a scene that's funny, whatever you want to do!"
A soundtrack album, Songs from the Cool World, featuring recordings by My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, Moby, Ministry, The Future Sound of London, and others, was released in 1992 by Warner Bros. Records. It included the track "Real Cool World" by David Bowie, his first original solo material in roughly three years; the song was written exclusively for the film. The soundtrack received stronger reviews from critics than the film itself, including a four-star rating from Allmusic. Mark Isham's original score for Cool World, featuring a mixture of jazz, orchestral pieces, and electronic remixes, and performed by the Munich Symphony Orchestra, was released on compact disc by Varèse Sarabande, and in complete form in 2015 by Quartet. It also received positive reviews, as did the work of John Dickson.
Release and receptionEdit
Promotion and merchandisingEdit
As part of the film's promotion, the Hollywood Sign was altered to include a 75-foot-tall cutout of Holli Would. The alteration angered local residents. In a letter to the city's Recreation and Park Board, commission officials wrote that they were "appalled" by the board's approval of the alterations and that "the action your board has taken is offensive to Los Angeles women and is not within your role as custodian and guardian of the Hollywood sign. The fact that Paramount Pictures donated a mere $27,000 to Rebuild L.A. should not be a passport to exploit women in Los Angeles." Protestors picketed the unveiling of the altered sign. The promotional campaign was focused on the sex appeal of Holli. It was considered by some experts as misaimed, with Paramount's marketing president Barry London saying "Cool World unfortunately did not seem to satisfy the younger audience it was aimed at," and designer Milton Knight recalling that "Audiences actually wanted a wilder, raunchier Cool World. The premiere audience I saw it with certainly did."
Several different licensed video games based on the film were created by Ocean Software. The first game was developed by Twilight and released in 1992 for the Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64 and DOS. Two different games were released in 1993 for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Super NES, alongside a Game Boy version of the former. A four-issue comic book prequel to the film was published as a miniseries by DC Comics. It featured a script by Michael Eury and art work by Stephen DeStefano, Chuck Fiala and Bill Wray. 
The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes carries a score of 6% based on 48 reviews, with an average rating of 3.17/10. The consensus reads, "Cool World throws a small handful of visual sparks, but they aren't enough to distract from the screenplay's thin characters and scattered plot." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote that Cool World "misses one opportunity after another", describing it as "a surprisingly incompetent film". Deseret News reviewer Chris Hicks described it as "a one-joke movie – and it's a dirty joke. [...] And much of what's going on here seems more angry and nasty than inspired or funny." Variety reviewer Brian Lowry compared the film to an extended music video, praising the soundtrack and visuals, but panning the story. Leonard Maltin described the film as "too serious to be fun [and] too goofy to take seriously", and the lead characters as "unlikable and unappealing". The Washington Post reviewer Hal Hinson wondered "whether Kim Basinger is more obnoxious as a cartoon or as a real person," and felt that the combination of animation and live action was unconvincing. Contributing to the low box office was the fact the studio withdrew all advertising support after the opening weekend.
In 1997, John Grant wrote in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy that Cool World "stands as one of the fantastic cinema's most significant achievements, an instauration fantasy that reveals greater depths with each viewing." Animation historian Jerry Beck described the film as being "for adults and Bakshi completists only," writing that the film "has a great premise, a great cast, and the best animation he's ever been involved with," but critiquing it as a "pointless rehash of many of Ralph's favorite themes, and the story literally goes nowhere." The film garnered a Razzie Award nomination for Worst Actress (Kim Basinger; also for Final Analysis).
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