|Directed by||Ralph Bakshi|
|Produced by||Frank Mancuso Jr.|
|Cinematography||John A. Alonzo|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$14.1 million|
Cool World is a 1992 American live-action/animated black comedy 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, but has actually existed long before. In this world, he is seduced by one of the characters, a femme fatale who wants to become human.
Cool World marked Bakshi's return to feature films after nine years. The film was originally pitched as a live-action/animated horror film by Bakshi. The screenplay was rewritten without Bakshi’s knowledge by Michael Grais, Mark Victor, and Larry Gross from adult horror to more of an adolescent comedy-fantasy as per orders from the studio, Paramount Pictures.
Upon its release, Cool World received negative reviews due to its story, acting, animation, and the effects combining that animation with the live-action footage. The soundtrack and visuals received praise. The film grossed $14 million against a budget of $28 million, becoming a box office bomb.
In 1945, Las Vegas, WWII veteran Frank Harris returns to his mother and invites her to a ride on his motorcycle. The two are involved in a traffic collision where Frank's mother dies. Afterwards, Frank is inadvertently transported to a cartoon-like alternate universe called the "Cool World", where he restarts his life.
In 1992, underground cartoonist Jack Deebs is serving a ten-year prison sentence for the murder of a man he found in bed with his wife. During his sentence, Jack has recurring visions of Cool World, most notably femme fatale Holli Would, who seems to beckon him. Jack spends his sentence creating a series of comics based on his visions. Meanwhile, Frank, having since become a detective for Cool World's local police department, keeps a valiant eye on Holli to ensure that the two dimensions do not intertwine.
Shortly after his release from prison, Jack is transported into Cool World and smuggled into a local nightclub by Holli and her henchmen. Frank aggressively confronts Jack, explaining that Cool World has existed long before he created the series. He also informs Jack that his fountain pen is lethal and warns him that sexual intercourse between "noids" and "doodles" is forbidden, as this can dangerous for both dimensions.
Despite these warnings, Frank himself is in love with another doodle, Lonette, but limits himself to platonic advances. Holli later seduces and has sex with Jack, which transforms her into a noid. Holli then secretly steals Jack's pen, which she uses to entrap Frank's partner Nails in when he attempts to stop her. Jack and Holli leave for the real world, where Holli finds herself experiencing real sensations. Due to Holli's presence there, she and Jack spontaneously flicker in between noid and doodle forms. While contemplating their situation, Holli tells Jack about the "Spike of Power", an artifact which was the cause of Frank being transported into Cool World and placed on top of the Union Plaza Hotel by a doodle who crossed into the real world, and admits she wants to use it to remain in her noid form permanently. When Jack displays skepticism about the idea, Holli abandons him to search for the spike on her own.
Frank learns what has happened and returns to the real world, where he reluctantly teams up with Jack in a bid to stop Holli despite hostility between one another. They arrive at the hotel as Frank climbs to the roof where Holli pushes him off the building to his death and seizes the Spike. A multitude of monstrous doodles begin pouring into the real world, affecting its surroundings. The Spike also transforms Jack into a superhero-like doodle, who returns the Spike to its rightful place, sending him, Holli and the invading doodles back from whence the creatures came and restoring the balance between their dimensions.
Nails, having been freed from the pen in the ensuing chaos, brings Frank's body back to Cool World. As Lonette mourns him, she finds out from Nails that Holli was briefly in her doodle form when she killed Frank and explains that when a noid is killed by a doodle, the noid is reborn in Cool World as a doodle. Sure enough, Frank is then revived as a doodle, allowing him to continue his relationship with Lonette. Meanwhile, Jack, who is still in his doodle form, and Holli are last seen as Jack begins planning their new life together, much to Holli's dismay.
- Gabriel Byrne as Jack Deebs, an ex-convict cartoonist who is seemingly responsible for the creation of Cool World.
- Brad Pitt as Frank Harris, a former World War II veteran-turned-detective for Cool World's police department who is intent on catching Holli.
- Pitt also voices Frank in his 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
- Kim Basinger as Holli Would, a femme fatale doodle who wishes to be real in the real world.
- Basinger also portrays Holli in her noid form.
- Charlie Adler as Nails, a spider-like doodle and Frank's partner.
- Joey Camen as Slash, a diminutive primate-like doodle and one of Holli's "Goons".
- Camen also voices the sentient door of Holli's apartment building (credited as "Holli's Door") and one of the doodle interrogators Frank meets when he first enters Cool World (credited as "Interrogator No. 1")
- Michael Lally as Sparks, a doodle criminal who works as an informant for Cool World's police department.
- Maurice LaMarche as Doctor Vincent "Vegas Vinnie" Whiskers, a kind, wise and eccentric doodle scientist who inadvertently transported Frank to Cool World through his usage of the Spike of Power.
- LaMarche also voices Mash, a massive bestial doodle and one of Holli's "Goons"; Jack in his doddle form (credited as "Super Jack"); a drunk patron at the Slash Club (credited as "Drunk Bar Patron"); and one of the doodle interrogators Frank meets when he first enters Cool World (credited as "Interrogator No. 2")
- Candi Milo as Lonette, Frank's doodle love interest.
- Milo also voices Bob, a drag-wearing doodle and one of Holli's "Goons".
- Gregory Snegoff as Bash, a lanky doodle and one of Holli's "Goons".
- Patrick Pinney as Chico the Bouncer, a doodle who works as a bouncer at the Slash Club.
- Jenine Jennings as Craps Bunny, a rabbit-like doddle who plays craps with the Goons.
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 took his original Cool World pitch 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 cartoonist who created a comic book while in prison that makes him an underground "star". The cartoonist would go on to have sex with "Debbie Dallas" (named after Debbie Does Dallas) and father a half-human, half-cartoon hybrid child with her, who would grow up resenting its human father for abandoning it and travel to the real world in an attempt to kill him. 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., hired Michael Grais, Mark Victor, and Larry Gross to revise the screenplay. In addition to Bakshi's initial draft, Grais and Victor wrote their own initial drafts (going off of Bakshi's original concept). The original Bakshi, Grais, and Victor scripts had been written to target an adult audience with a potential "R" rating from the MPAA in the United States, which would restrict attendance from anyone under 17 without a parent or guardian. Mancuso Jr. decided that the film should instead target a more general "PG-13" MPAA rating. The screenwriting work of Larry Gross (as it pertains to the final script used in the film) went uncredited. In interviews after the release of the film Bakshi stated he was backstabbed by Mancuso with a new screenplay on the day production officially began. He went on to say he got in a physical altercation with the producer (claiming to have actually punched him in the face). 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 said he 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. In an interview with SlashFilm on May 20th, 2020, Michael Grais alleged that Bakshi had lied and had continued to tell untruths about his contribution to the screenplay, specially as he and Victor won repeated arbitrations regarding their credits.
Bakshi had originally intended to cast Drew Barrymore and Brad Pitt in the film's leading roles. 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 herself 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 in the 1930s and 1940s) 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 reception
Promotion and merchandising
As part of the film's promotion, the Hollywood Sign was altered to include a 75-foot (23 m) 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: "...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. Paramount's marketing president Barry London noted: "Cool World unfortunately did not seem to satisfy the younger audience it was aimed at." Designer Milton Knight recalled: "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.
On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 4% based on 48 reviews, with an average rating of 3.4/10. 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." On Metacritic the film has a score of 28 based on reviews from 16 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews". Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade of "C" on scale of A+ to F.
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".
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