Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Director Report Card: Ralph Bakshi (1992)

9. Cool World

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: “Cool World” isn’t exactly what you’d call good. It gives the impression of a vision compromised. By the 1990s, the animation industry had completely changed. There was no such thing as "independent animation." In other words, there was no room for Bakshi's brand of lunacy. After spending the second half of the eighties in the television industry, where he manage to cause controversy on something as innocuous as Mighty Mouse, he naively assumed he could still do his thing in the studio environment.

"Cool World" was originally pitched as a horror film. The premise revolved around the grotesque off-spring of a human and a cartoon character going on a bloody path of revenge, hunting down it's parents. In the finished film, you can see the bare bones of the concept. However, in the worse kind of studio meddling, the producers rewrote the script behind the director’s back. In response, out of petty revenge, Bakshi told the animators to drawl whatever the fuck they wanted. All of this discordance is clear on screen.  The mangled final result was then sold to the public as the next "Roger Rabbit," which it most definitely was not.

The plot is all over the place. No one can decide who’s the lead character. Gabriel Byrne seems to be the lead. He, in many ways, is the logical character for the audience to relate too. However, the character is mostly pushed around by the rest of the characters. Brad Pitt’s detective takes up the most screen time, drives much of the action, and is the only vaguely heroic person in the film. Holli Would, in many ways a typical Bakshi babe and a spoof of the femme fatale, is paid the most attention by the filmmakers. Despite this, she is obviously the villain of the film.

Byrne has nothing to do as an actor and seems as confused as the audience. Kim Basinger was a big star at the time and reportedly threw her weight around, having the film rewritten. Basinger seemed unaware that she was playing the villain of the film which might be why Holli Would, despite being totally morally corrupt, is still treated as a hero. Perhaps if Basinger gave a better performance, this would be more forgivable, but she mostly plays bland sex kitten cute throughout. Pitt at least tries to do something but can't seem able to make heads or tails of the script either. The best performances in the film actually belong to veteran voice actors Maurice LeMarche and Charles Adler, who effortlessly, thanklessly, do their thing, voicing multiple characters.

The story stops making sense, if it ever made sense, somewhere around the hour mark. Any rules established are tossed out. In the last act, the film collapses totally into madness, animation bouncing around without rhyme or reason. The story does not resolve itself in any logical sense. The Cool World sequences themselves are frequently incoherent. For no reason, weird, loose, usually loud and obnoxious bits of animation float through the screen at random intervals. It feels like a bad acid trip and the middle finger to the studio that it was intended to be.

The visual style of the movie is a mixed bag. The animation is excellent actually, when it's coherent anyway. Bakshi's attitude with studio money behind it at least produces some nice images. The live-action sequence are shot like a film noir. Sadly, when the live actors are forced to interact with the cartoons, things don't quite work. When an actor is in "toon world," he stands in front of a flat painting of the city, which just looks... Weird. You never believe the actors are occupying the same space as the animated figures.

I’ll say this much about it: For better or worse, the movie is fucking crazy at times. The best sequences are when the movie just looses its mind and becomes a bizarre montage of weird animation. A wild car chase, recalling "Fritz the Cat," is one of the few high-lights. It’s honestly some of the oddest stuff to ever come out of Bakshi, which is certainly saying something.

The movie fits uncomfortably into its PG-13 rating. It's fairly obvious this was intended to be an R-rated film that was forcefully cut down. Holli is calculated to be as sexy as possible, as blatantly as any other Bakshi heroine. However, the movie wimps out when it comes to actual exploitation. The sex scene is even important to the plot, but it's a fully clothed, mostly off-screen bit of dry-humping. Further example of studio meddling, no doubt.

The best thing here is actually the sound track, which just about everyone agrees on. My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult contributes several songs, which are used well in the film, adding a lot of energy to a few scenes. When the film becomes more like a music video is actually when it works the best. David motherfuckin’ Bowie provides the theme song, which plays over the end credits. Even the score from Mark Isham, despite lapsing into soft jazz Generic Land a few times, isn't halfway bad, with some appropriately noir-y tones.

It's not exactly surprising that "Cool World" destroyed Bakshi's career. The film is a complete mess, which should be obvious to anyone who has read up on its production history. Unsurprisingly, despite much contested marketing blitz, the film was a box office bomb. Even if it was a good film, it almost certainly would have been horribly mismarketed. As the film is, it was doomed from the beginning. Go in with the lowest expectations possible and you might be able to see the few shining moments in "Cool World." To be as kind as possible, it's a seriously frustrated film. [Grade: D]

1 comment:

Sean Catlett said...

I've never seen this, but you've reminded me of MC Griffin's intense-but-entertaining hatred of the film. I should ask him to rant about the particulars to me, for a larf.