Cool World is Ralph Bakshi’s attempt to reverse-engineer Who Framed Roger Rabbit into something that fits the seedy urban environments that were on display in Heavy Traffic and Fritz the Cat. At the same time he takes the opportunity to indulge in his own pet obsessions. It won’t surprise anyone familiar with Bakshi’s work just what those obsessions are; and in fact the possibilities — and potential pitfalls — of sex between “noids” (humans) and “doodles” (cartoons) becomes a central concern of the movie.
Bump-and-grind doodle sexpot Holli Would (Kim Basinger) is determined to break free of Cool World, a cartoon universe created by a jailbird artist named Jack Deebs (though perhaps Deebs didn’t create it, but simply tapped into an alternate universe that already existed; this point isn’t entirely clear). Holli pulls Deebs into Cool World with the aim of seducing him and thereby getting him to aid her escape into the human realm. Meanwhile, detective Frank Harris, a noid who had been pulled accidentally into Cool World and who has been living there as a human expatriate for many years, suspects that Holli is up to no good and plans to stop her from becoming a doodle in the noid world, or perhaps a noid outside the doodle world.
Bakshi attempts to raise the stakes by introducing a magical spike atop a Las Vegas casino that Holli is trying to acquire; if she succeeds it will hurl the noid and doodle worlds together, with presumably disastrous consequences. But really, the focus here is on Cool World and its flipped-out, funhouse-mirror versions of familiar cartoon tropes. Well, the focus is also on the idea of gettin’ it on with hot and improbably-proportioned cartoon characters, but you already guessed that, right?
Like many of Bakshi’s films Cool World seems a bit ragged around the edges, as though he just didn’t have enough time and money to see his vision through; and the script itself demonstrates that plotting was never the man’s strong suit. In spite of the film’s obvious attempt to create a more salacious Roger Rabbit pitched to adults, Paramount apparently couldn’t bring itself to release it with an “R” rating and toned it down to “PG-13”, which might explain some of the plot holes and apparent gaps between scenes. Nevertheless, Bakshi is one of the most interesting animators of the 20th century, and this intriguing misfire — his last film — was perhaps his most mainstream project.
Gabriel Byrne plays Deebs, a part originally intended for a young Brad Pitt, whose star was quickly rising thanks to his turn in Thelma and Louise the previous year; but Pitt was handed the Frank Harris role instead. Kim Basinger tries to make the human version of Holli move with the same cat-like slinkiness as her cartoon counterpart, but her human skeleton and musculature don’t quite allow her to pull it off. — Michael Popham
COOL WORLD screens Monday and Tuesday, August 17 and 18, at 7:00 and 9:00 at the Trylon. Advance tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.