Ralph Bakshi is best known for making “Fritz the Cat,” a 1972 film that holds the distinction of being the first animated feature to receive an X rating. What’s surprising is that it took until 1972 for someone to make a dirty feature-length cartoon. Usually when a new technology is invented, it’s only a matter of days before someone capitalizes on its potential for filth. Just after Johannes Gutenberg used his newly invented movable-type machine to print a Bible, he used it to print Penthouse Forum. The oldest story in the English language is “Beowulf,” but the second-oldest is “Tales of Naughty She-Vixens.” When the Lumiere brothers demonstrated their motion-picture projector in 1895, the first comment from the audience was, “It’s amazing to see pictures move!” The second comment was, “What if those pictures were naked?”
But for whatever reason, animation had been around for several decades before the first full-length sexy-times cartoon came out, and it made Bakshi famous. He went on to make some animated fantasy films, including the 1978 version of “The Lord of the Rings,” before coming back to his true love: drawing dirty pictures.
And thus we arrive at “Cool World,” an insufferable 1992 animation/live-action hybrid in the style of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” You remember “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” right? Well, remove all of that film’s wit, cleverness, humor, ingenuity, technical wizardry, and entertainment value, then soak what’s left for 100 minutes in a mixture of sleaze and desperation, and what you’ll come up with will still be better than “Cool World.”
In fairness, the film’s awfulness is not entirely Ralph Bakshi’s fault. He pitched it to Paramount as a horror film about a man who has sex with a cartoon woman and produces a hybrid child who then tries to kill him, a story straight from the Old Testament. Paramount said, “We love it! It’s perfect! We’ll buy it!,” then hired someone to completely change the story and rewrite the script, which is what movie studios generally do when they love something. (“United 93” was originally a romantic comedy.) Bakshi was obligated to direct the new thing they came up with, even though he hated it, and he has since said that the whole experience was unpleasant. If making the film was even half as awful as watching it, I feel bad for him.
We begin in 1945, with a young Brad Pitt coming home to Las Vegas from Europe, where he’s been busy with World War II, which occupied a lot of people’s time in those days. Brad Pitt, whose name is Frank Harris, takes his mother for a ride on his motorcycle. This leads to her death. (It’s not his fault.) Frank Harris is very sad, and just at the moment that he’s cradling his mother’s dead body, a cartoon character breaks through the barrier between his world and ours and takes Frank over to the ‘toon side. Frank is not as freaked out by this as you would expect, but cut him some slack. He is Brad Pitt, after all, and these were the days when Brad Pitt had not yet learned to show human emotion.
The cartoon character explains that he lives in the Cool World, where the inhabitants are known as Doodles. They are not Toons, obviously, because that was in “Roger Rabbit,” and this movie is totally different from “Roger Rabbit.” For one thing, “Roger Rabbit” included some familiar characters — Bugs, Daffy, Mickey, Betty Boop, etc. — mingling with the new ones. The makers of “Cool World” were not interested in getting the rights to any such characters, so the Cool World is just a random, cacophonous nightmare of miscellaneous creatures engaging in ceaseless mayhem 24 hours a day. It’s a frightful place, full of generic cartoons loudly hurting one another. It’s like “The View.” How is this fun for anyone to watch?
For some reason, Frank can’t or won’t return to the human world, and so he’s hired as, sure, why not, a police detective in Cool World. Then suddenly it’s 1992. Frank is still the only human in Cool World, and he hasn’t aged since crossing over. Back in Las Vegas, a comic-book artist named Jack Deebs (Gabriel Byrne) is serving time for killing his wife’s lover, making him the only comic-book artist in history to do anything cool. His comic book features the characters of Cool World, which he started drawing after he saw the place in a vision. (He thought he made it up; the inhabitants of Cool World beg to differ. Did God create man, or did man create God? That is an important question that an interesting film might deal with sometime.) Jack’s favorite Doodle is a sexy, buxom, scantily clad nightclub singer named Jessica Rabbit — I beg your pardon, Holli Would (voice of Kim Basinger) — about whom he has frequent daydreams. Is it weird to be in love with a cartoon character? Tell that to my wife, Mulan Snider!
In Cool World, Holli dreams, like Pinocchio, of someday becoming a real live human so that the flesh-and-blood prison inmate who draws her can paw at her. She even knows how to go about becoming human: She just has to have sex with a human man. She’s been trying to get Frank to assist her in this since 1945, but Frank refuses. It’s against the law. A human cannot diddle a Doodle. Now, why they bother having a law like that when Frank is literally the only human in Cool World, I don’t know. Seems like a waste of legislation. Frank has a Doodle girlfriend, Lonette (Candi Milo), but he’s strictly platonic with her, despite her protests. Somehow, 60 years of celibacy in a world where he’s an unpopular freak is preferable to just going back to live in Las Vegas, which — oh, OK, now I understand.
Anyway, through means that are not explained, Jack the cartoonist is dragged into Cool World, whereupon Frank warns him not to have sex with any hot cartoon characters, whereupon he does anyway. With Holli, of course. He’s in love with her, and thrilled beyond belief to meet her in person — oh, and she basically forces him to do it. I don’t like to throw the “R” word around, but she definitely seduces him. She seduces the hell out of him. Remember, in the minds of horny cartoonists, it’s the women who are always chasing the men for sex.
Sure enough, doin’ it with Jack turns Holli into a human, just like she always wanted. For Jack’s part, his fantasy has literally come to life! There’s no getting away from her now! I mean, you can’t just break up with someone after bringing her from two dimensions into three. Can’t erase her anymore, either. Holli and Jack somehow get back to the human world, where Holli wants to have sex with every man she meets. But her plans are thwarted when she starts turning back into a Doodle — not the Doodle she originally was, but some other random cartoon. Jack starts doing this too, even though he was never a Doodle to begin with. I don’t understand the rules in this stupid movie. Apparently, crossing over from one world to the other messes things up, and the only way to make it stop is for Holli to find the Spike of Power, which is on top of a hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. Turns out the Spike of Power was plugging the hole between the two worlds; when Holli grabs it, it unleashes a torrent of Doodles into our world, turning Las Vegas into an obscene cartoon. (No one notices the difference.) It also turns Holli back into a cartoon permanently, which is the opposite of what she wanted, yet she seems OK with this result. I repeat my previous assertion regarding this stupid movie and the rules I don’t understand.
Oh, and Frank comes back to the human world, gets killed, and is resurrected as a Doodle, which probably comes as a great surprise to most of the world’s theologians. He is then able to live in Cool World with his beloved Lonette and make cartoon babies with her. The end.
One of the difficult things about a movie like this is incorporating the animation into the live action in a way that looks convincing. You can tell it’s difficult because “Cool World” completely fails at it. If it were easy, they’d have at least gotten some of it right. But never for a moment do you buy that the actors and the drawings are occupying the same space. You barely buy that they’re in the same movie. I must admit, it’s a bold move to make a film where cartoons interact with humans when you’re no good at making cartoons interact with humans. Most people would never think of even trying to get away with that. And if they did, they’d probably at least come up with a coherent story and entertaining dialogue to distract from their technical incompetence, maybe find some lively actors to keep the characters from being boring. Not “Cool World,” though! “Cool World” lets its badness all hang out. To paraphrase Jessica Rabbit, it is bad. It’s just drawn that way.