This Brad Pitt-starring explicit animation counts Gia Coppola as a fan, but only scored 4 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes
Gia Coppola posted a video to her Instagram story a few weeks back. The Palo Alto director was watching a film that I had never seen starring a young Brad Pitt. It was half live-action, half animation. Curious, I googled “Brad Pitt animated movie”. The first entry was the 1992 film Cool World.
Directed by Ralph Bakshi, a director and animator whom some have crowned the “X-rated Disney”, Cool World is the spawn of Who Framed Roger Rabbit’s runaway success integrating animation and live-action in 1988. Its blend of live-action and animation was – despite it piggybacking on Roger Rabbit’s release – innovative and enough to keep your eyes flitting consistently to all four corners of the screen. “It’s like Roger Rabbit on acid,” Pitt described in a 1992 interview with Details. “It’s much more twisted. It’s got an underground-comic-book feel.”
The film is undeniably bizarre: Pitt plays a 40s-style detective whose only purpose is to warn the only other human in the film, Jack Deebs, to abstain from fucking a cartoon hussy named Holli Would. To have sex with her would transform her into a “noid” – i.e. a living, breathing human. Holli wants to join the real world, and so her advances become increasingly urgent. It’s never explained why it would be so bad for a cartoon to become human, but the lines between the real world and the Cool World blur once Holli Would loses her V-card and becomes real.
Cool World was universally panned upon its release. Film critic Roger Ebert awarded the film one star, calling it a “surprisingly incompetent film” in his review and slating the animation as antithetical to the progression of the plot. It received 4 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes. One blogger who wrote about the film had this to say:
“If you want to have a good time watching a bad movie, you should not watch Cool World. If you want to have a generally good and happy life, free of any undue anguish or suffering, you should not watch Cool World. No one should watch Cool World. Animals should not watch Cool World. I would not show Cool World to my worst enemy. Cool World is an enhanced interrogation technique. Cool World is the video in The Ring. Cool World contains substances known to the state of California to cause birth defects. Cool World is vast, angry darkness without end.”
Before its release in July 1992, a giant cutout of the main “doodle”, Holli Would, was erected on the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles. To obtain permission, Paramount donated $27,000 to the city and another $27,000 to an organisation coordinating clean-up following the Rodney King riots. One article from that period published in The Globe and Mail states that “angry homeowners went to court […] to try to dislodge from the top of the Hollywood sign the languorous 23-metre-high likeness of actress Kim Basinger.” The homeowners lost the battle, and Holli Would remained planted on the “D” of “Hollywood”. Unfortunately, her presence did little to boost ratings at the box office. Cool World only made $14 million from a budget of $30 million.
Why did Cool World ultimately fail? The director, Ralph Bakshi, was extremely vocal following the film’s release. He said in an interview that the film’s producer, “Frank Mancuso, Jr., had the script rewritten in secret. I had a huge fight with the guy and punched Mancuso, Jr. in the mouth.” Paramount and Bakshi also didn’t see eye to eye on the desired rating of the flick; Bakshi envisioned the film as a “hard-R” animated horror and Paramount wanted PG-13. Kim Basinger, who plays the vamp Holli Would, arranged a meeting with producers and Bakshi to have an intervention about the rating. Basinger wanted to be able to show the film to children in hospitals, according to Bakshi. “I said, ‘Kim, I think that's wonderful, but you've got the wrong guy to do that with.’”
Perhaps his biggest undoing was Bakshi telling his animators, who were apparently working without a screenplay to follow, to “Do a scene that's funny, whatever you want to do!” On a positive, the result is visually stimulating: anthropomorphised dogs and other creatures perform Tom & Jerry-ish gags, backgrounded by a dark, painterly skyline.
The acting was wooden. And the big-name actors – Brad Pitt, Kim Basinger, Gabriel Byrne – may not have been worthy of all the blame. “I got into some bad habits because I did most of the film by myself. Behind a blue screen, you know?” Pitt told Details. “Acting's magical when it’s fresh. Someone throws something your way, and you catch it and you throw it back. It's hard to be impulsive when you're working with a blue screen.”
The soundtrack, at least, received praise. Still, not even the original David Bowie song (yes, Bowie made a song for this movie) “Real Cool World” could redeem this Titanic. Looking back on Cool World now, there is a lot of redeemable traits the film possesses. Nothing looks like Cool World looks. Rightly so, as Bakshi took years cultivating his craft with films like career kickstarter Fritz the Cat (1972), the powerful Holocaust metaphor Wizards (1977) and a send-up of Disney’s infamous Song of the South, Coonskin (1975). He’s inspired the likes of Peter Jackson, the creator of Ren & Stimpy John K. and Kanye West, whose music video for “Heartless” pays tribute to Bakshi’s American Pop (1981). And just maybe the next Gia Coppola project?
Sadly, Cool World was Ralph Bakshi’s last big feature before he receded from Hollywood to focus on painting. However, his influence isn’t lost to the dim swirl of history. Bakshi didn’t go quietly. “Sweetheart, I’m the biggest ripped-off cartoonist in the history of the world,” Bakshi once said in an interview, “and that's all I'm going to say.”