You want a reason to dislike Disney? This is one.
Actually, that is unfair. The studio had nothing to do with this film. But then, the film (a crossover between live action and animation) was such a desperate attempt to cash in on the success of Who Framed Roger Rabbit that it sacrifices any semblance of logic or thought it may have had for the sake of its gimmick. The original script, from what I have heard, was quite different (it was a horror film, for one). Also, considering the director of the film was the animation great Ralph Bakshi, someone should have had faith in the material. What could have been a masterpiece of style is left as a limp noodle.
The film starts in 1945, with returning soldier Frank Harris (Brad Pitt) returning from WWII. He decides to take a motorcycle ride with his mother. He gets into a fatal accident, and is transported into a place called “Cool World” (I have no idea why it is called this) that is inhabited entirely by cartoons. Flash forward 47 years. Convicted man Jack Deebs (Gabriel Byrne) has been serving a prison sentence for murder. While in jail, he has visions that inspire him to create a comic series called “Cool World.” He is released, but one of the femme fatales from his creation named Holli Would (Kim Basinger) call out to him and convince him to enter the actual Cool World so he may…indulge in his fantasies with her. Frank tries to stop this (while trying to avoid his own temptations with the doodle Lonette) but is unsuccessful. This has the effect of turning her into a human, but the transformation is quite unstable and she continuously reverts from “noid” (the film’s terminology for a flesh and blood human) to a “doodle” (their word for a cartoon). She seeks a way to make the transformation permanent, but this may affect the stability of both universes.t
Now, this whole thing is meant to be a live action/animation crossover. Let’s make this interactive – can you guess what the biggest flaw would be? That’s right – the animation is completely unconvincing when paired with live action. There are several scenes that really stretch credibility. Cartoons frequently touch humans – and their clothes do not react whatsoever. One character, when he puts his arm around a “doodle” puts his arm about four inches too high, but nothing is made of this. Roger Rabbit got this right: as far as I am concerned, the toons were actually there. That is not the case with Cool World. Careful viewers will be able to see the gimmick. Once that happens,the entire premise goes up in smoke.
It is a shame, because by itself, the animation LOOKS great. It is derived from every possibly influence imaginable, from Walt Disney to Chuck Jones, from Max Fleischer to Ralph Bakshi’s first films. Indeed, the Cool World is just as much a commentary of the sort of animation that MTV and Nickelodeon were using at the time. Bakshi had pushed his talent as far as it could go. But the material he was using on was not matching Bakshi’s ideas.
One reason nothing works is that the film tries to be philosophical but fails. Which of these ideas could have been addressed by the film: the question of identity, the existence of multiple universes, the concept of time and relativity, or the relationship an artist has with his work? The short answer is all of these. But it doesn’t bother to address any of them after asking the questions, which just seems like a pretentious hook. Why else have a scientist be the first cartoon character introduced, if not for the film to seem like is should be smart. But it never goes further.
And this is not even getting into the other problems the film has with performances and story structure. Pretty much the only good actor in the film is Brad Pitt. Kim Basinger is particularly awful, to the point where I almost forget how good she was in L.A. Confidential. Her character is actually far more convincing as a cartoon than as a person. And the third act maguffin is completely useless and is very poorly explained. Holli Would seeks something called the “spike” which apparently has the power to make her “real” and…well, apparently, this is what people need to stop her from getting. I have no idea what it all means or where that idea came from. I also don’t understand how the “spike” works, except as a sort of barrier between the two worlds. Who knew that the universe was held together by the equivalent of a bathroom plug?
How would I fix the film? For one, I would have eliminated the Jack Deebs character entirely, and made it the sort of noir that the film so desperately wants to be. Heck, make Frank Harris and his sexual frustration with Lonette the central focus of the film. There are two scenes I really like, both involving Harris wandering around town trying to figure out rumors involving another noid that has entered Cool World. That approach may have made this at least a good film. There is some great material here, but it is all lost in the quest for dollars and the mentality that Roger Rabbit needed to be cashed in as quickly as possible.