Review: ‘Cool World’

Set on the breathtaking coast of Maine, "Bed & Breakfast" is an old-fashioned family melodrama about the effects of a charming stranger on a household of squabbling women. The three-generational plot and towering performance of the late Colleen Dewhurst could have had some appeal among female viewers, but the film is so predictable and sentimental that it will be quickly forgotten at the box office, making for a fast route to video.

Cool World

(Animated fantasy-adventure--Color)


A Paramount Pictures release of a Frank Mancuso Jr. production. Produced by Mancuso. Directed by Ralph Bakshi. Screenplay, Michael Grais, Mark Victor.


Camera (Technicolor), John A. Alonzo; editors, Steve Mirkovich, Annamaria Szanto; music, Mark Isham; production design, Michael Corenblith; art direction, David James Bomba; set decoration, Merideth Boswell; set design, Lori Rowbotham, Mitchell Lee Simmons; costume design, Malissa Daniel; sound (Dolby), James Thornton; associate producer, Vikki Williams; assistant director, Marty Eli Schwartz; conceptual designer, Barry Jackson; animation supervisor, Bruce Woodside; character layout and design, Louise Zingarelli; design, layout and animation, Thomas McGrath, Evan Gwynne; layout and animation, Greg Hill, David Wasson; animation production coordinator, Gina Shay; Cool World background characters, Milton Knight, Mark S. O'Hare; casting, Carrie Frazier, Shani Ginsberg. Reviewed at the Plaza Theater, L.A., July 9, 1992. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 102 min.


Holli Would ... Kim Basinger Jack Deebs ... Gabriel Byrne Frank Harris ... Brad Pitt Jennifer Malley ...Michele Abrams Isabelle Malley ... Deidre O'Connell Bookstore Cashier ... Carrie Hamilton Frank Sinatra, Jr. ... Himself Voices: Nails ... Charles Adler Doc Whiskers ... Maurice LaMarche Lonette/Bob ... Candi Milo Sparks ... Michael David Lally Slash/Holli's Door ... Joey Camen Bash ... Gregory Snegoff Style has seldom pummeled substance as severely as in "Cool World," a combination funhouse ride/acid trip that will prove an ordeal for most visitors in the form of trial by animation. Visually dazzling but utterly soulless, this film-as-extended-musicvideo/trailer is perfectly geared to a savvy marketing campaign. Paramount has no doubt generated ample curiosity, but solid early box office returns will be short-lived as word of mouth makes this a small "World," after all. Director Ralph Bakshi has let his imagination run wild with almost brutal vigor, resulting in a guerrillalike sensual assault virtually unchecked by any traditional rules of storytelling. The result is heady to the point of making the viewer want to pop a couple of aspirin, as the director takes a fertile concept that might have made for an intriguing animated short and stretches it into a feature-length series of cels from which there's no escape. Although comparisons have been made to "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" because of the live-action/animation mix, this really bears greater resemblance to Joe Dante's "Gremlins" in its reliance on exploding the conventions of Warner Bros. cartoons, blended with the most primal adolescent sexual fantasies about seduction by cooing cartoon characters with hourglass figures. The comic-book premise hinges on parallel worlds--the real world and a sphere of animated characters, known as Cool World, which exists independently but has also been captured in the "noid" (as in human, not Domino's Pizza sloganeer) plane by cartoonist Jack Deebs (Gabriel Byrne). Pulling Deebs into the Cool World is curvaceous fantasy girl Holli Would, a "doodle" (i.e. cartoon) who dreams of becoming human. That wish can be fulfilled only by coupling with a flesh-and-blood male--a forbidden union with the potential, however vague, of bringing about the destruction of both universes. The odd-character-out in the story is Frank Harris (Brad Pitt), a human who was yanked into Cool World in the '40s. Harris has settled into life there as Cool World's top cop, despite the limitations that the no-sex rule places on him and his doodle girlfriend, Lonette. Kim Basinger, who doesn't appear in the flesh until nearly an hour into the film, is one of the few actresses who could convincingly breathe life into Holli , a 36-18-36 bombshell in animated form seemingly pulled straight from the paintings of Frank Frazetta, whose art inspired Bakshi's little-seen fantasy feature "Fire and Ice." As a living cartoon, she's also the only character not encumbered by Michael Grais and Mark Victor's two-dimensional script, which drops plot points as often as safes and other objects plummet from the sky onto unsuspecting doodles. Because the characters are so undeveloped--from Deebs' unexplored imprisonment for murdering his wife's lover to his not-so-nosy neighbors--"Cool World" is a realm with precious little humor and zero pathos, to be admired only for its considerable technical achievements. Still, many will lose sight of the brilliant synthesis of live action and animation--as well as the staggering creation of credible comic-book sets around human actors--because it ultimately doesn't lead to anything, adding up to less than the sum of its parts. The beating Bakshi gives the eyes is exacerbated by a corresponding aural attack, with a relentless parade of cartoon sound effects over a droning and repetitive score. The only respite comes too late, over the closing credits, with a terrific title song by David Bowie. Even the good lines of dialogue--such as a bunny gravely paraphrasing the "Bambi" line by saying, "Man is in the bedroom"--are so few and far between that it takes a beat to respond to them. Bakshi has been an innovator in the field of adult animation (or, rather, in demonstrating that animation can be used for more than just lyrical Disney fairy tales), and he proves here that given the tools, he can produce a work of tremendous quality. Character and set designs in Cool World, led by conceptual designer Barry Jackson, are eclectic and fascinating, and the animation is both marvelously fluid and nicely choreographed. Basinger's slinky costumes add to the feeling of a doodle come to life, and John A. Alonzo's cinematography seamlessly leaps back and forth between worlds. That wizardry can't overcome the other pitfalls, however, and might be better appreciated on homevideo, where viewers can take a break from the film's concussive force. Despite the long lag since "Roger Rabbit," this exercise (and it amounts to little more than that) should reinforce the genre's potential creatively, if not commercially. "Cool World" could have scored in that respect as well had it delivered the goods. To paraphrase the marquee line, it could if it did ... but it doesn't.

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