| Cool World


Ralph Bakshi

USA, 1992


Review by Rumsey Taylor

Posted on 28 April 2011

Source Netflix Watch Instantly

Categories Ralph Bakshi’s Cool Worlds

The key image of Cool World is unquestionably that of Holli Would, a blonde, voluptuous nymphette intent expressly on embodying the most generalized of male sexual preferences. She inhabits the eponymous Cool World, a red light district-cum-amusement park in which it is always night and all libidos are alert. She is always dancing and always panning her lustful gaze down the bodies of the men - that is, human men - who happen to have found themselves in her perverse realm. Holli enlivens the setting with inevitable celebrity, for she is one of only two realistically human-like characters—the other is essentially her duplicate, only she’s a brunette.

The plot concerns the accidental infiltration of Cool World by two men from the “real world”: one is Brad Pitt as Frank Harris, who is regulated as a sort of police commissioner, and the other is Gabriel Byrne, who is Jack Deebs, a well-respected cartoonist and inventor of the comic from which Cool World is drawn. For Jack, Cool World surpasses his wicked imagination, and at first he walks cautiously with his eyes open wide to take in all of it. Shortly after he comes upon Holly - a fresh pencil sketch of whom, in a prior scene, he had just been fantasizing about - Frank is there to remind him of what is apparently Cool World’s sole taboo: that humans - called “noids” - are not permitted to have sex with the cartoons—“doodles.”

This prospective interaction is, of course, the most compelling novelty of this film, and it enjoys a casual suspense in depicting how both Jack and Frank are invariably seduced by Holli and her brunette counterpart. This idea remains staid in Cool World’s more renowned predecessor, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which is better than this film in every qualifiable sense except it doesn’t have a sex scene. Cool World does, and although this sequence is inexplicit it epitomizes a certain fantasy that greets any animated film that features a sexually idealized cartoon.

Once Holli has ably seduced her creator she morphs into her flesh equivalent and enters the real world, where she entertains the same proclivity for skimpy fashion and finds her curiosity exacerbated by everything around her. The purpose of this, I imagine, is to sustain this character through a radical evolution, warranting interaction between the real and cartoon worlds and permitting a narrative that will satisfy the film’s technical ambitions. Kim Basinger meets this purpose by sustaining Holli’s histrionics in a pair of pouty lips—that, and more dancing. But in the transition she becomes unexotic and her potency as a fantasy is diminished.

Holli occupies much of the last half of the film, which takes place in Las Vegas, in her corporeal substitute. The transition to this location and state is meant to be at least somewhat fluid - why else would a city renowned for its cartoonishness house a portal to a cartoon realm? - but Las Vegas is bland in comparison to its corollary universe of sin and seduction. The climax, which sees the entry of a portion of Cool World’s populace into the Vegas strip via a Fantasia-like fountain of color superimposed atop a resort hotel, is the film’s technical hallmark. But Las Vegas, for all its bombast, is sharply overwhelmed by Bakshi’s perverse imagination, and it’s a minor relief once this conflict between the real and cartoon worlds reaches resolution and everything is back in the new and unfamiliar Cool World.

Bakshi’s frustrations with Cool World engender one’s dismissal of it, and this is not to mention that it is both less imaginative and profane than his other films. His summary of his intentions, from this interview, describe a film that is both psychologically and technically more sophisticated:

I went to Paramount Pictures with a script I wrote - a horror film - named Cool World. It was about a cartoonist - like Michael, from Heavy Traffic - who screws a cartoon girl. And they have a baby in 30 seconds, which is both animated and real - a freak - and the freak chases its father back to the real world to kill him.

The result recalls this premise only faintly. Nonetheless, Cool World’s principle feature is sustained in Holli Would, her movement animated precisely and her face inviting a measurable portion of the film’s closeups. She is preceded by a legion of other female muses in Bakshi’s films, and although she’s obnoxious and often annoying, she’s as close to an icon as Bakshi has invented, and it is by this measure that Cool World qualifiedly lives up to its title.

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