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Cool World (1992)

by on 2011/03/20

“You keep your pencil in your pocket. Know what I mean?”

* * *

I got hooked on the animation of Ralph Bakshi when I first laid eyes on the Mighty Mouse TV series (1987-88). After being pimp-slapped by the waggling bottoms and lolling tongues of Bakshi’s world, I spent many breathless hours evangelizing this edgy incarnation Mighty Mouse to anyone polite enough to listen.

Then it was cancelled. Disappeared.

Enter Cool World in 1992, a fusion of Bakshi’s animation with live actors. Ok, maybe “live” actors is a bit of an overstatement here – we are talking about the plastic-pretty slickness of Brad Pitt (Legends of the Fall) and Kim Basinger (Batman). 

A seething, seamy world of noids, doodles and wacka-doos, Cool World is the creation of graphic artist and jail-bird Jack Deebs (Gabriel Byrne). Obsessed with his own creation – Holli Would (Basinger), a smoldering sexpot in white, Deebs wobbles drunkenly across the line between grim reality and the Cool World.

Released from prison, Deebs finds himself even more divorced from life and plunges headlong into his cartoon universe. Deebs, however,  isn’t the only human or noid sucked into the Cool World depths. Detective Frank Harris (Pitt) is also its willing prisoner, after a motor cycle accident kills his mother, he is launched into a shell-shocked catatonia and sent reeling into this roiling animated hell.

Trapped in this limbo since WWII, straight-laced lawman Frank enforces the laws of Cool World. One of the most important laws of this chaotic, violent world is that interdimensional, ahem, intercourse is strictly forbidden.

In the Cool World when a doodle makes it with a noid, the doodle becomes human. Of course, it wouldn’t be noir if it weren’t complicated.

For Frank, it is very complicated indeed. He loves the doodle Lonette (voiced by Candi Milo), a brunette cocktail waitress with a body that won’t quit and a heart of pure gold (ink).

For others, it isn’t such a struggle. Panting sex kitten Holli would (break the law) if she could. She wants sex with a noid. Bad. More specifically, she wants Jack Deebs.  And then even more specifically, she wants to go to Las Vegas.

Fortunately for Holli, Deebs has it bad for her too. So much so, he turns down the overtures of real-live females for time alone with his sketches of Holli.

Now phasing back into Cool World, clueless Deebs falls hard for Holli’s thigh-high stockings and glass-breaking squeals. Under her writhing, line-drawn frame, his resolve doesn’t just break, it shatters. And wham-bam, Holli is a flesh-and-blood woman. The doodle-noid coupling taboo has been rent asunder – so to has Cool World and reality itself.

Cartoons start belching forth from the rift between the two dimensions. Drunks on the streets and old women staring slackly at Vegas slot machines turn into Looney Tunes monsters. The worlds bleed into one another in a technicolour nightmare.

A word about the noid-doodle interactions in Cool World. Watching this movie today, jaded viewers like myself will find the interplay between the real actors and the animated ones a little clunky. The actors’ eye lines are often way off from their toon counterparts. Pioneering for its time, it doesn’t age as well as one would hope.

Cool World wouldn’t be a Bakshi creation if it wasn’t rife with effective, though juvenile, sensuality. Wobbling bosoms and drooling mouths, this isn’t your mother’s Saturday morning mouse and cat cartoon. Now, after nearly two decades of en-jadening life experiences and seeing 1,000s of movies, I now no longer feel like the raving Bakshi evangelist I once was.

This makes me a little sad.

With an unimpeachably great soundtrack, a solid performance from Byrne and the signature Bakshi naughtiness, Cool World is my proof that while I can’t really go home again, it can be fun to make a brief visit.

* * *

102 minutes

Rated PG-13 for cartoon swear words, animated grinding and Kim Basinger in lots of sheer, white clothing

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