Paramount Pictures (July 10 1992), Paramount Home Entertainment (November 11 2003), single disc, 101 mins, 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, Dolby 5.1 Surround, Rated PG-13, Retail: $14.98
In this surrealistic blend of animation and live-action, cartoonist Jack Deebs (Gabriel Byrne) is stuck in jail doing time for a crime of passion. While incarcerated, he’s broken free of his prison by creating the Cool World strip (a tacky, sleazy take on ToonTown’s downtown, if that’s possible), populated by all means of “wacky” characters, as well as Holli Would, Jack’s ideal woman (voiced and performed in live-action by Kim Basinger). She’s found out that she can cross to the real world by having intimate relations with a “noid” (as in humanoid) and sets her mind on seducing Jack.
Meanwhile, and for some reason many years before the Cool World strip was ever even conceived, a discharged World War II soldier, Frank Harris (Brad Pitt), is sucked into Cool World randomly by a “doodle” (the Cool slang for a toon), Doc Whiskers, a scientist who is trying to prove the Cool World/real world crossover theory. Soon, Jack is being enticed by Holli, while Frank becomes a detective on the Cool World police force intent on stopping any cross-world activity. Things come to a head when Holli gets her wish, causing the polluting of our world with the doodles to clash with the basic laws of nature, threatening to unravel both worlds completely!
The Sweatbox Review:
Hollywood, 1989. Who Framed Roger Rabbit had been a massive success the year before and was spreading its magic around the world. The follow-up short, Tummy Trouble, helped the live-action Honey, I Shrunk The Kids become a family smash. If animation was in, then animation combined with live-action was the extra special magic ticket. For years, animation had foundered, with only Disney’s traditional features keeping the medium afloat, aided by the occasional efforts from Don Bluth. Various studios tried their luck, mainly through partnerships with established animation houses and directors. Fox and Warner came and went, with losses such as Once Upon A Forest, Ferngully, Thumbelina and A Troll In Central Park not helping the stigma attached to theatrical cartoons of the time.
Although Roger Rabbit sparked the toon boom, it was the critical and commercial success of Beauty And The Beast and The Lion King that really put animation on back the map and led to the competition Disney faces today. Paramount had a go, back in 1992, and came off so bad that it waited over a decade until they tried again, with the CGI feature Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. Looking back then, it must have seemed that Cool World, to be directed by Ralph Bakshi and starring the then-hot Kim Basinger, Gabriel Byrne and the rising Brad Pitt, was about to become the next blockbuster franchise for the Studio. But as budgets spiralled and production lost control, causing bigger headaches than those which feature in the film itself, it all went terribly wrong…
The story, such as it is, doesn’t help the film going in, with its illogical set-up and payoffs. Ultimately, the trouble with Cool World is…everything. A mess of a film, there are so many attempts to pack it with business that it almost bursts at the seams, while the little details and extra touches that mark any great movie are totally missing. Like Holli’s one-track mind’s desire, this film is all surface and no depth. It wouldn’t be so bad if all the varied styles worked as a whole, but everything keeps fighting each other for screen time.
The actors don’t even come out of it particularly well. As the lead strumpet, Basinger looks great, of course, but has so little do to as the live-action Holli that she is reduced to just wandering about mindlessly. Byrne, trying his best, falls flat with a character that has less dimensions than the toons, while Pitt started his losing streak in animation (at least Sinbad had a more polished look) with this film, not doing himself any favors in his stab at interacting with the animated characters.
Scenes and characters come and go, and by the end, all the rules laid out in the opening acts are thrown out of the window for a mixed-up, crazy climax that tries to be all things to all people. It doesn’t help that the film itself is rather schizophrenic, and as a PG-13 can’t go far enough in one direction (in a Bakshi-Fritz The Cat adult way), but is too overtly sexual to be enjoyed on even a Jessica Rabbit level, where at least she was a wink to the family audience as one big joke (or two, depending on how you look at it).
Perhaps the biggest giveaway in how disjointed everything feels is in the production’s overall mentality: throw enough color, music, gags, sound, skewed imagery and overblown weirdness at the screen and surely something will stick to hide the poor interaction, matte lines and plot holes. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work, but only provides a strange attraction that keeps you looking, even though you know it can only get worse.
This is one for those curious enough to search it out, though make of it what you will. You want it to be better than it is – you really do – but in the end, Cool World is just not that cool at all.
Is This Thing Loaded?
Although it’s no surprise, given the history of the film and its poisonous box office reaction, that Paramount has neglected to add ANY extras here, surely any film deserves its original trailer thrown in? No such luck here, as Cool World follows Popeye to DVD as another “vanilla” bare bones disc devoid of anything special other than subtitles, the 5.1 mix and being shown in its original aspect ratio.
I’ve seen a truncated 82-minute version of Cool World on UK TV, which tightens the film, but also makes it even harder to follow. At the “full” 101-minute version, it obviously runs a little better, but still feels loose. However, there are a rumored 40 or so minutes worth of deleted footage out there somewhere, which would have been great to finally see, as well as any storyboard/live-action reference footage that could have been assembled.
Recently, we have seen a great deal of under-performing features being given the five-star “classic” treatment on DVD, and many times these packed discs give the viewer the opportunity to understand what went wrong directly from the filmmakers, often allowing us to see the film in a new light and actually enjoy them more. These discs also sell in numbers that demonstrate that such films are not relegated to simply cult audiences and that given enough attention, can break out into the mainstream.
I’m not saying that Cool World should be handed the lavish 2-disc set treatment, but we are living in another time now, when such a film could find a whole new audience. Bakshi’s films are not always meant for the mainstream, and arguably with Cool World, this was his biggest attempt and it’s a shame that we are not even given the chance to hear his thoughts. If this is Paramount’s way of trying to redeem this film, then I found it very much to be a missed opportunity.
Unlike some recent Paramount releases, we do get a Cool World chapter insert this time, with what looks to be an alternate, unused poster image on the reverse. Package art remains along the same lines as previous VHS and LaserDisc releases.
Ink And Paint:
As a film that should really rely on its visuals to produce a memorable movie, Paramount have done the dirty on Cool World, probably hoping that the grainy, film-like image will hide the film’s special effects shortcomings. Either that, or they couldn’t be bothered to source a new print (each is a possibility). It’s not all bad – compression artefacts are absent, and the bold color choices remain rock solid throughout. Cool World, even in the live-action scenes, is a very dark film in both look and tone, and this transfer could have been prone to dropping the darker areas of the image with too much gamma. However, despite not being the cleanest of transfers, it reproduces the film in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen well enough, and has a pleasing amount of depth that should satisfy most.
Making up for the lacklustre transfer (but not quite for the film in general!) is a pounding 5.1 Dolby Digital mix. Created at a time when this sound format was just being introduced, and coupled with the fact that the sound design on Cool World was to be as outlandish as can be, the mix here flies all over the place. Bass is deep and strong, music punchy and dynamic, and dialogue clear and crisp – there could even be a demo sequence in here somewhere if you can find the right visuals to go with it. The Dolby 2.0 Surround track is also more than adequate, as is the French included dub. English subtitles are also available.
A terrible film (but also terribly addictive), Cool World is like some kind of car crash that demands you keep your eyes watching, even though you really know you shouldn’t stare. That it has been given the lowest of the low-rent treatment on disc really does show Paramount’s disappointment with the final product. I find it an interesting film, which walks that very fine line between genius and insanity, and it deserves a look if you’ve never seen it, if only to wince at the sheer ineptitude on display in trying to meld the two worlds. If you can find it ultra-cheap, it’s sure to reward some, but otherwise this is an obscure rent that may confirm why Ralph Bakshi isn’t exactly a household name. Cool it ain’t – “splashy” (as the cover art announces) it certainly is.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?