1992’s Cool World wondrously mixes hand-drawn cartoon with live action and intricate sets, features animation and direction from the legendary Ralph Bakshi, and was released right in that sweet spot between 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit and 1996’s Space Jam. It even managed to secure an extremely fun (and supremely difficult) Super Nintendo game tie-in to coincide with the film’s theatrical release, and a brand-new song “Real Cool World” written and performed by none other than David Bowie! Why then, upon its theatrical release, was it given the cold shoulder by audiences and critics alike? Perhaps the special features will hold the answer… Shout Factory’s Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray presents a brand-new 4K scan from the original camera negative—for its first time on Blu, Cool World doesn’t simply look gorgeous, but the best it ever has, or frankly ever will.
In one of the wackiest premises I can recall, we first follow Frank Harris (Brad Pitt) in 1945 Las Vegas, just as he’s come home from war. In a fresh new zoot suit and slicked-back hair, Frank takes his mom for a ride on his brand-new motorcycle. Tragedy strikes when a super drunk couple cause a major accident. Frank’s mom is killed, and Frank calls for a medic as he experiences a war flashback. As his mom is being carted away in a body bag, Frank continues freaking out. Perhaps this is all an obvious commentary on dangers of one motorcycle ride? In a random burst of craziness, Doc Whiskers tears a hole into our world, and zaps Frank straight into the land of the doodles. Frank now appears to be the only human in a world full of cartoons! Obsessed with “inter-world travel,” Doc Whiskers welcomes Frank to Cool World in style…
Just in case one’s head wasn’t already reeling from the opener, next, Bakshi flashes forward to 1992, once again in Las Vegas. Troubled ex-con cartoonist Jack (Gabriel Byrne), who thinks he created Cool World while behind bars, becomes embroiled in a very real problem. Dancing vixen doodle Holli Would (Kim Basinger) draws Jack into her orbit, desperate to “make it” with a real human and get to the real world, since her advances on Frank seem fruitless. Now a copper for the Cool World Police, Frank is committed to upholding strict guidelines. One rule reigns supreme—noids (humans) cannot have sex with doodles! Frank warns Jack that if he crosses that line, “I’ll slap you around and make you piss like a puppy.” Being the sole human characters in Cool World, Jack gets zapped back and forth, whereas Frank appears content to stay in doodle land.
Holli manipulates Jack to get her way, ultimately becoming the villain of the movie. To a younger me, this was quite the shocker, since I had assumed that, like Jessica Rabbit before her, Holli would be one of the good guys. Her sexual tryst with Jack has a dazzling effect—Holli seems to have turned human! Frank follows Holli to the real world, desperate to stop her before she haphazardly destroys the balance of the known universe. Once she gets ahold of Jack’s writer’s pen, all bets are off… Eventually, the movie turns to an epic, gorgeously animated finale that stylishly blends both worlds. Filmed atop an actual building in Las Vegas, the location adds a tangible sense of danger and spectacle that is super fun to watch.
The rules of both Cool World and the real world don’t appear to fully make sense, and that’s totally okay. Cartoons exist on an entirely different plane of nonsense. One of my favorite elements is in the final act, when both Jack and Holli seem to be turning to silly clowned-up doodles as their realities prepare to implode. Sets that were comprised of painted backgrounds blown up and pasted onto plywood are impressively detailed, evoking the twisty madness of Bakshi’s earlier Lord of the Rings. The film’s tone and approach is signature and original; though it may seem like Roger Rabbit on a surface level, Cool World is nothing like that movie on a script or story basis. Cool World was on replay for me as a kid, and as an adult, the mature content and sexual innuendo shoots off the charts. A lovable cast of zany side characters only adds to the charm—Nails and Doc Whiskers were my personal favorites. The muchness of the movie spills out from every frame in unparalleled bursts of crazed cartoon energy.
A lone new special feature, titled The Wild Minds of Cool World, is a fascinating retrospective that aims to examine behind-the-scenes drama and the plethora of technical difficulties even bringing it to life presented. Star Kim Basinger, director Ralph Bakshi, and producer Frank Mancuso dissect their time with Cool World, and the cult classic status it has maintained in the thirty years since its release. Everyone speaks fondly of Ralph in particular. I loved seeing the early drawings and concept art of Cool World! The script rewrites and studio meddling are unfortunate to learn about but not entirely surprising. Apparently, a regime change in the sale of the film’s studio resulted in their new studio essentially trying to just brush the movie under the rug. For those who have seen Cool World even once, there is simply no way to contain this level of outrageousness!
Cool World doodles its way to Collector’s Edition Blu-ray from Shout Factory on Tuesday, September 13th.