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  Cool World Animation Nation
Year: 1992
Director: Ralph Bakshi
Stars: Kim Basinger, Gabriel Byrne, Brad Pitt, Michele Abrams, Deirdre O'Connell, Janni Brenn, William Frankfather, Greg Collins, Maurice LaMarche, Joey Carmen, Michael David Lally, Carrie Hamilton, Stephen Worth
Genre: Animated, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: The time is the 1940s and Frank Harris (Brad Pitt) has just been discharged from the Army; he is greeted at the airport by his doting mother, and they go home where she cooks him dinner. But before she can finish doing so, Frank has something to show her, and leads her outside to see his new motorcycle. She is worried that he'll have an accident riding it, so to allay her fears he takes her out for a spin - then, disaster strikes and they crash into a drunken couple recklessly driving their car all over the road. Frank's mother dies, and as he is placed on a stretcher to be taken away by an ambulance, something strange happens: Frank disappears in a flash of light.

Where has he gone? Why, he's gone to the Cool World of the title, an animated wonderland of sleaze and corruption. As scripted by Michael Grais and Mark Victor, this was to be the last of director Ralph Bakshi's features, perhaps because of its lack of success with audiences. Bakshi had pioneered animation for adults from Fritz the Cat onwards, and this would appear to be his attempt at an adult Who Framed Roger Rabbit, in spite of the fact that there was a multitude of adults who enjoyed Roger Rabbit anyway. This film is presumably aimed at those viewers who tried to look up Jessica Rabbit's skirt in freeze frame.

So we have a mixture of live action and cartoons, here somewhat less convincing than, say, Disney's Song of the South, with actors looking over characters' shoulders while talking to them, and any touching looking awkward. Although he is awarded a lengthy prologue, Frank is not supposed to be the main character, that role is given to cartoonist Jack Deebs (Gabriel Byrne) in the present day, having been just released from prison for murder after finding his wife in bed with another man (curiously, this supposedly life changing plot point is only referred to once, making you wonder why the scriptwriters had to give him such a past at all).

One toon, a little professor, has created the "Spike" which enables him to take humans (or "Noids") out of the real world and into the Deebs-created Cool World, and so it is that one of his characters, a voluptuous dancer named Holli Would (voiced by Kim Basinger) sends him hurtling into her realm. Her devious plan is to be transformed into a real woman by the method of having sex with Deebs, but Frank, now a cop, is here to make sure she doesn't have her wicked way. Around this main storyline is a chaos of 1930s-influenced animation, with much violence of the sort you'd see in a Tom and Jerry outing, which has a distancing effect.

Will Holli get her dreams realised? Well, there wouldn't be much point in employing Basinger if she didn't, but oddly for a film so preoccupied with whether its protagonists have sex or not, there's no nudity (not even drawn) and even the act itself is obliquely conveyed. You get the impression this is a compromised Bakshi at work here, but he's not as compromised as Byrne. Although crucial to the story, Deebs frequently finds himself pushed to the margins with Frank as the true hero. Even when Deebs has to save the day, he is changed into a superhero that Byrne doesn't provide the voice for and disappears from the film. Aside from a few nice decorative touches, Cool World feels as if it hasn't been thought through properly and is difficult to warm to, never mind be dazzled by. Music by Mark Isham.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Ralph Bakshi  (1938 - )

American animator of edgy, often adult-oriented cartoons. He spent a few years directing shorts for TV before branching out on his own with the R. Crumb adaptation Fritz the Cat. He continued in this frank approach for Heavy Traffic and the controversial Coonskin, and then switched to fantasy with The Lord of the Rings, Wizards and Fire and Ice. American Pop and Hey Good Lookin' also had fans, and he returned to TV to revive Mighty Mouse in the 1980s.

When the 1990s comeback Cool World was a flop, Bakshi's directing work wound down, and he now concentrates on his paintings, with occasional returns to animation.

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