Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Ralph Bakshi|
|Produced by||Frank Mancuso, Jr.|
|Music by||Mark Isham|
|Cinematography||John A. Alonzo|
Rough Draft Studios (in-credits)
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
Cool World is a 1992 American live-action/animated 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. 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 him.
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, 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, World War II veteran Frank Harris returns to his mother in Las Vegas. Riding a motorcycle that he won in Italy, Frank and his mother are struck by a drunk couple. Frank survives, but his mother dies. As an ambulance takes her away, Frank is transported to Cool World, an animated city of weird landscapes and random cartoon violence. He was inadvertently teleported by Dr. Vincent Whiskers, a doctor who created a "spike" that was supposed to take him to the real world, but brought Frank to Cool World instead. Whiskers finds Frank useful enough to run things in the Cool World while he is gone to the real world.
Forty seven years later, Jack Deebs, a cartoonist, is detained after murdering a man he found in bed with his wife. He creates the highly acclaimed comic book series Cool World, which features the femme fatale Holli Would. On the night before his release, Holli summons Jack into the Cool World, and he sees Holli dance in the local dance club. After he sees her dance, Jack is teleported back to the real world. It turns out that Holli wants to enter the real world, but is forbidden to do so by Frank, who is now a detective for the Cool World Police Department.
After he is released, Jack is transported to the Cool World once again and meets Holli and her goons Slash, Mash, Bash, and Bob. They have been encouraging his misled beliefs that he himself created the Cool World. In reality, Holli has simply been bringing him there, and Jack created his comic book series on what he's seen there, which he initially believed were his own dreams. Meanwhile, Frank is about to go on a date with his longtime girlfriend Lonette when his partner Nails the Spider tells him about Jack's presence. Holli and the Goons take Jack to the local Slash Club where Mash uses his motives persuade the bouncer Chico to let Jack into the club. While in the club, Jack is then confronted by Frank who puts him against the wall as Jack claims he has no knowledge of "drawing" Frank. While confiscating his fountain pen and stating that he is with the Cool World Police Department, Frank informs Jack that his fountain pen is a dangerous weapon in the Cool World. Frank then tells Jack the truth: Cool World has existed long before he created the comic series and forewarns him that "noids", real humans from the real world, are not allowed to have sex with "doodles", the cartoon inhabitants of the Cool World. He further advises Jack not to get involved with Holli before Jack returns to the real world.
Holli brings Jack back into the Cool World, where he is taken to Holli's apartment. Holli and Jack have sex, transforming Holli into a real human. While Frank attempts to mend his relationship with Lonette, he temporarily leaves detective duties to Nails. Nails receives a call from an informant named Sparks, who tells him that Jack and Holli have had sex and are leaving for the real world. Nails decides that he can do this on his own and goes off to stop Holli. Nails attempts to stop her from leaving the Cool World, but Holli uses Jack's fountain pen to suck Nails in. Jack and Holli return to the real world, where Holli sings "Let's Make Love" at a nightclub with Frank Sinatra, Jr.. Frank discovers that Nails is gone and decides to venture into the real world to pursue Jack and Holli. Meanwhile, Jack and Holli have started to flicker between real and doodle states. While contemplating their situation, Holli tells Jack about the "Spike of Power", an artifact placed on the top of the Union Plaza Hotel by a doodle who crossed into the real world. When Jack displays skepticism about Holli and the idea, Holli abandons him to search for the spike on her own.
Frank meets up with Jack later on, explaining that the flickering both Jack and Holli have been experiencing is the disappearance of both worlds. They decide to team up and stop Holli from removing the spike. They get Jennifer, the daughter of Jack's neighbor to drive them to the casino. On the way, Frank explains that it was Doc Whiskers who crossed worlds and put the spike on the top of the hotel and if it were removed, it could potentially destroy both the real world and the Cool World.
Holli is escorted out of the casino for not spending any money, all the while asking about Vegas Vinnie, which is the alias of Doc Whiskers. When she spots the Doc, she tells him that she couldn't find him. When she starts to flicker between real human and doodle state again, she begins to become suspicious and starts to see through Doc's disguise and shakes him out of it, revealing his identity. Doc tries to convince Holli not to get the Spike of Power, but Holli becomes enraged and threatens Doc Whiskers with the fountain pen. When Frank, Jack, and Jennifer get to the destination, Frank pursues Holli on the casino, while Jack and Jennifer put Doc Whiskers back together after being popped by Holli's pen. Frank chases after Holli throughout the hotel, while she's still flickering from real to doodle state. While in doodle form, Holli pushes Frank off the building to his death.
Holli finds and takes the Spike of Power, transforming her, Jack, and everyone in Vegas into doodles and opening a gateway between the two worlds, releasing numerous monstrous doodles. When Jack is transformed into a superhero doodle called Super Jack, he gets a hold of the spike. Holli tries to seduce it away from Super Jack. Instead, he returns the Spike of Power to its place trapping him, Holli, and the rest of the doodles in Cool World.
Meanwhile, Nails escapes from Holli's pen as he and Doc Whiskers return Frank's body to Cool World. Lonette discovers that Holli was a doodle when she killed Frank. She explains when a noid is killed by a doodle, he is reborn in Cool World as a doodle. Frank is then revived as a doodle, allowing him to pursue his relationship with Lonette. Meanwhile, Super Jack and Holli are last seen together in the panels of a comic book. Super Jack is planning out how they will live, much to Holli's dismay.
- 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. Brad 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. He actually has four arms and two legs.
- 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 Deebs
- 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 and Charles Adler. 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", a David Bowie song written 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.
Release and reception
Promotion and merchandising
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. 
Cool World opened at sixth on the North American box office, with $5.5 million. Its lifetime gross was $14.1 million, a little more than half its reported $28 million budget. The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes collected a sample of 45 reviews and judged 4% of them to be positive. 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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- Associated Press (July 7, 1992). "Cartoon Character Opens Landmark Rift". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved 2008-09-22.
- Chazanov, Mathis (July 7, 1992). "'D' as in Disagreement Cartoon Character Atop Landmark Sign Sets Off Protests". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2008-09-22.
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