Important Disclaimer for Concerned Parents: "Cool World" is a PG-13 rated film about a comic book artist whose character wants to have sex with him. This review will contain adult language and content and thus may not be appropriate for young children or people who act like young children.
Come with me, dear readers! We are going on a magical adventure through the imagination of Ralph Bakshi! On our journey, we will see all the wondrous things Mr. Bakshi sees when he closes his eyes! Won't that be so much fun?
You... you don't want to go on an adventure through Ralph Bakshi's mind? Well, frankly I don't want to either. But unfortunately, you can't have any kind of effective discussion of bizarre animation from the 1990's without addressing "Cool World". And so, we are on our way. Please keep your hands and arms inside your boat at all times, and for the love of God do not touch the water or even look at it. (I sincerely hope that's water...)
Love him, hate him, or dismiss him as a creepy old man with seriously reductive depictions of women in his films, you cannot argue with the fact that Ralph Bakshi has had one of the most fascinating careers imaginable as an artist. I once read a recent history of animation book (the title escapes me) that dedicated twice as much ink to Bakshi as it did to Don Bluth and noted that "only Walt Disney has made more animated feature films". Huh. "Cool World" is thus far the last of these films, and if Bakshi never gets around to making another feature, this will be a hell of a note to end on. And this is because this movie is essentially seeing what happens inside Ralph Bakshi's subconscious.
This is a strange thing to observe, since "Cool World" was famously born out of a perfect storm of executive meddling and flat-out desperation to get the damn thing finished. The film started life as a hard-R straight-up horror film about an artist literally haunted by his vengeful character who wants to seduce and murder him for creating her. That script was so heavily altered during production (oftentimes without Bakshi's knowledge, since changing everything about a movie without the director knowing about it always ends well) that halfway through filming the thing, lead actress Kim Basinger was operating under the assumption she was in a children's film. This is all so fascinating and helps to explain so much about why the film is such an incoherent mess that I am almost sad that the DVD is bare-bones. Bad movies deserve elaborate making-of documentaries too - maybe even more than the good movies do, just so we can see what went wrong.
The plot of "Cool World" is, and I quote:
That's hardly an exaggeration. Gabriel Byrne(?!?) plays Jack, an underground cartoonist who has been in jail for a while for... reasons... Come to mention it, the most important thing to know about "Cool World" is that it gives no f***s about silly things like why a main character is in jail or how the rules of its imaginary world work or why anything is even happening. (Edit: apparently, we are told that Jack murdered his wife's lover, but we are informed of this in a very easily-missed line of dialogue. Okay, then.)
While in jail, Jack invents both the comic "Cool World" and the character Holli Would, who is horrifying sexism incarnate. Imagine the weird, sleazy, scary, trashy relative of Red Hot Riding Hood that Red hates to talk about and you're almost there. Come to think of it, though, ALL of the characters in this movie are weird, sleazy, scary, trashy, gross, and basically impossible to like. Those are literally their only interesting and memorable personality traits. Hell, come to mention it, the whole damn movie is weird, sleazy, scary, trashy, smutty, gross, and impossible to like, but I think you've all gathered this by now.
Anyway, Jack creates the comic "Cool World" and is thereafter haunted by visions of Holli Would seducing him. Because surely it's every artist's dream to have one of their own brainchildren all up in their personal business, am I right? There wouldn't be anything awkward or questionable about that. And there is certainly nothing uncomfortable about watching it in a movie directed by Ralph Bakshi, is there?
Wait, hold up. Thankfully you do not have to wrap your brains around that just yet. Because I forgot the opening sequence of the movie, which is utterly mystifying and makes me wonder if this isn't our second movie in a row that could be interpreted as a wacky trip on powerful hallucinogenics. Or perhaps that the film itself was made by people on powerful hallucinogenics? Listen, as much as "LOL, this moovee wuz maed on teh drugs" is cliched, just LOOK at this thing!
We open with Harris, a soldier played by a very young and clearly only here to pay off some overdue bills and bad karma from a past life Brad Pitt. His character is about as close to a protagonist as we're going to get here, and he's the only kinda-likeable person in it. Anyway, Harris comes home from World War Two, takes his... mom...? on a motorcycle ride, and they both die in a horrible crash. Once this sequence of events has sunk in (except it really doesn't), Harris wakes up in Cool World (the place), which apparently exists independently already before "Cool World" (the comic). Maybe. Kinda. Remember, f***s given by this movie with regards to how things even work in it = zero.
Much later on Jack crosses over into Cool World and has totally hot, graphic, boundary-obliterating forbidden sex with Holli and the audience gets to enjoy every minute of it, especially if they're into cartoons banging humans, and in particular if they are into cartoons banging the very humans who created them.
AH-hahahahaha!!! I'm lying! Jack and Holli *do* have forbidden sex. That does happen. And it happens mostly offscreen and in the most coy and childish way imaginable (see above screenshot). I promise you I am not kidding. Remember, this went from a hard-R Ralph Bakshi movie to a PG-13 Ralph Bakshi movie, but with all the sleazy sex and violence intact. It's kind of impressive how the scene that was the very selling point of this movie is almost utterly ignored once we get to it. (You may argue amongst yourselves whether or not the PG-13 rated Ralph Bakshi movie about sex is a stranger creature than the Ralph Bakshi Christmas special for children.)
Anyway, somehow this forbidden act turns Holli into live-action Kim Basinger and also gives her and Jack weird cartoon powers or... something. So, fellow artists, do not ever have sex with your own characters in the unlikely event they come to life and seduce you, I guess. Holli is now able to escape into our world. And believe it or not, that's where the movie gets weird.
I really don't know what else there is to say about "Cool World". I should mention that the animation is very inconsistent in quality and there are characters and objects who honestly look like they're from something else entirely. On top of this, the mixture of live-action and animation is really bad. Like, headache-inducing bad. There are scenes where human actors wander through cardboard sets and scenes where animated characters interact with photographs of the real actors.
Is "Cool World" worth watching at all? Well the weird thing is, for all that Bakshi told the animators to do whatever they want and so there are always strange, creepy, distracting things happening in the margins of the movie, and for all that the whole plot is about kinky forbidden sex, the movie is just NOT interesting at all. Ultimately, I found it pretty rancid and hard to sit through. If you've never seen it, and you like Ralph Bakshi's other movies, it may still be bizarre enough to be almost worth watching out of curiosity. But you will need to have a strong drink handy if you do.
Art Evolved members should have a particularly strong drink ready for our next movie...
Sketch of the Day!
We need something cute after all that.