My Take On… #234: Why Is Cool World Such A Unique Movie?

Not too long, The Nostalgia Critic did a review of the infamously bad 1992 Ralph Bakshi live-action/animated movie, Cool World:

It did make me want to go back and look at the movie once again and so not too long after the review came out, I checked it out again and it is one of the most bizarre motion pictures to come out in recent memory and since we’re coming up on the 25th anniversary of the movie’s release, let’s talk about why Cool World is such a….unique movie on its’ own merits. So, let’s take a look back:

I mean, from the trailers, this movie looks badass, like a darker more edgier Who Framed Roger Rabbit….but then, you see the movie itself and…well, let’s look at the plot:

It tells the story of a cartoonist (Gabriel Byrne) 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 (Kim Basinger) while he’s trying to be stopped by a cop (Brad Pitt) who got sentenced into the world decades ago.

Well, okay, there’s potential there but then you go back and look at some of the production problems in the creation of this:

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”.

I mean, that’s a great concept for a darker animated horror film and that would’ve made for something unique and different, in a good way. Hell, it would be cool to see this actually get made, maybe through Kickstarter or Indiegogo so that Bakshi can do what he wants with the project, that’d be interesting to see.

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.

So, in a way, Bakshi got screwed by Paramount, they gave him a completely different script that was nothing like what he wrote and when he threatened to quit, Paramount said they would sue him. With that right there, we start to get into how this movie came out to be what it eventually became.

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.”

First off, she was just in Batman, that was more than suitable for kids than this movie was. Hell, My Stepmother Is An Alien would be more suitable to show to kids than this. Yeah, Basinger was letting the fame she had gotten from the late 80s get the best of her back then apparently. Also, Drew Barrymore would’ve certainly been more interesting casting than Basinger in this.

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!”

I will say this going for the movie, the animation in this, while incredibly chaotic and all over the place, can sometimes be really amazing to look at, the visuals and backgrounds are impressive to look at with homages to Disney, Looney Tunes, comics, Fleischer Studios, Terrytoons, it’s all here and most of the time, when it’s not just used in random scenes of dialgouse, it’s great to look at, this is Bakshi doing some of his best animation he’s done for a movie and yet, it’s in one of his more polarizing films he’s ever made.

But as we’ve talked about in the past, visuals do not make the movie and this script is really where the movie collapses on its’ own mostly because Bakshi was forced to work what he was given to him on day 1 of the shoot.

And it’s like the scriptwriters who were brought in had no idea on what to do either. The characters are so poorly written, you can not connect to them in any way. Kim Basinger is basically just a one sided character who wants to feel the touch of a noid, as the real humans are called in this, sexually and when she finally does and becomes a human herself has nothing else to work with. Brad Pitt is written as essentially a hypocrite who’s basically going after this noid for something he wants to do with his own animated girlfriend too. I mean, it’s like if Donald Trump accused Hilary Clinton of doing things that Trump did himse…oh, wait…..too soon.

And then you have Gabriel Byrne in this and holy mother of god, talk about the most underused character ever. First of all, he creates this world although Byrne was what, 42 when he did this, and yet, Brad Pitt gets zapped into this world in 1945? Second, his character is written so poorly that they have to have other people literally speaking his own backstories for him. I counted at least four times during this movie where another character is going through his own backstory for him. Third, he has no dialogue in this, he only speaks in one word sentences or cliché riddled lines and it’s like the movie itself doesn’t give a crap about him. So much so that by the final action scene, he’s not even in the movie anymore. Not even kidding, the final act of the movie has Jack just leave after he’s been given this opportunity to be a hero that comes out of nowhere and then, he’s just written out of the movie and replaced with essentially Bananaman, right down to having Maurice LaMarche coming in to do his voice. It’s like the film was like “okay, we’re tired of your non-acting ass, we’re getting somebody in here to liven up this movie and sure enough, Gabriel Byrne never comes back after that scene, that’s how much this movie does not give a fuck.

Even the ending is off, the movie starts off as this incredibly dark and edgy movie but then by the end, they go for the most wacky, insane, and happiest endings they could possibly come up. There’s a scene where Brad Pitt’s character gets killed off by Holly as she’s flickering back from human to doodle and then later on, Frank’s partner takes him back to the Cool World to his girlfriend and she asks him “was she a doodle when she killed him?” Basically, what happens is that when you get killed by a doodle, you become a doodle yourself and sure enough, Brad Pitt is now a doodle himself. So, there was a purpose to that scene where she’s flickering back from human to doodle….a bad purpose but a purpose nonetheless.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, Cool World is a bad movie but it’s a uniquely bad movie, it’s a uniquely bad movie because we are literally seeing a director being forced into doing a project that he doesn’t want to do.

One of the most uniquely bad movies ever made, you can look at this movie and see director Ralph Bakshi having no idea how the hell to make this movie with the reworked script he was handed. On that front, I would say that this is one of those bad movies that you should watch for just how unusually unique that it truly is.

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