A family member requested that I review this, or I never would watch this again.
In 1945, WWII Vet Frank Harris (Brad Pitt) arrives back from the war and takes his mother (Janni Brenn-Lowen) for a ride on a motorcycle. He crashes, killing his mother, but before he dies he is transported to an animated world called the “Cool World,” by Dr. Vincent Whiskers (Maurice LaMarche). The movie then jumps to 1992 where cartoonist Jack Deebs (Gabriel Byrne) is in prison for murdering a man who was sleeping with his wife. Jack is a creator and illustrator of a comic strip which is also called “Cool World,” starring a femme fatale named Holli Would (Kim Basinger). He frequently has visions of himself going to Cool World, culminating in Holli pulling him into the world through the pages of his comic. Jack is confronted by Frank, who is now apparently Cool World law enforcement. There is only one rule in Cool World, and that’s that “noids” (humans) don’t have sex with “doodles” (animated characters). This puts a strain on Frank’s relationship with his girlfriend Lonette (Candi Milo).
Despite Jack believing he created Cool World, Frank tells Jack that Cool World is older than Jack is. Holli Would is one of the most powerful figures in Cool World, but she wants out. The only way to get out is to break the law and have sex with a human, so she seduces Jack and is turned into a real person. She and Jack head to the real world, where it’s revealed that they’re both now part doodle and part noid. Holli tells Jack about the “spike of power,” an object that controls the barrier between the two worlds which is now atop a Vegas casino. When Jack doubts the story of the spike, Holli abandons him.
Frank follows the pair into the real world and tries to stop Holli, who kills him. Holli seizes the spike and the barrier between Cool World and the real world start breaking down, unleashing doodles into the real world. Jack turns himself into a cartoon superhero and returns the spike, restoring the worlds and sending Jack and Holli back to Cool World as doodles. Frank is apparently turned into a doodle because he was killed by a doodle, so he can finally date Lonette.
As much as I would love to tell you all how much I despise this ridiculous, nonsensical, bordering on pointless film, I can’t. It’s so difficult to figure out what the film was going for and what part of the process tanked it that I can’t bring myself to be angry, only confused and annoyed at having to watch it.
This movie has a notoriously bad production history with a huge number of rumors arising about the various people involved. A big part of that is that director Ralph Bakshi is, at best, very eccentric and, at worst, bordering on delusional. He has produced some of the most distinct animated work of the past century, including Wizards, Fritz the Cat, American Pop, and Heavy Traffic (possibly his best film that doesn’t get enough recognition). If you’ve seen any of those movies, though, you know they’re not the product of a well mind. While he is the guy who was right about the possibility of making a film based around elves discovering Nazi propaganda, he’s also the kind of guy who would think of that premise in the first place. Putting him in charge of any project is playing with fire, but in this case, everyone at the studio apparently decided to pour gasoline for good measure.
The original pitch for the movie by writers Michael Grais and Mark Victor (who wrote Poltergeist) was about an imprisoned artist who creates a comic series that makes him an underground comics star. He then has sex with one of his creations and spawns a half-animated, half-human child, who grows up to seek revenge on his parents. It was supposed to be a hard-R horror film that was in the vein of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which had only just come out. Rather than just animation and live-action blending, Bakshi decided that he wanted the film to look like a living painting, ordering elaborate sets and backgrounds to be built for the movie while he worked on the screenplay, which the studio now wanted to be PG-13. However, and the following is based solely on Bakshi’s statements and unconfirmed, apparently on the first day of filming he was handed a script that was completely different than what he had worked on. Subsequently, in the middle of filming, Kim Basinger tried to have the movie re-written to be a PG film so that she could show it to kids, but Bakshi refused to tone it down further. While almost everything Bakshi has claimed is heavily disputed, it would explain a lot about this movie if it was being crafted by a number of sources fighting against each other.
Everything about this movie is a giant mess, almost all of which seems to be because nobody could agree on what the plot was supposed to be, what the rules of the world are, or whether or not the audience should be able to follow it. Half the time it feels like the movie just starts pulling stuff out of its ass because time is running out, the other half it feels like the entire point was that someone wanted Jessica Rabbit to ride Gabriel Byrne like a 10 dollar stud. We don’t know exactly how people get in or out of Cool World, except for Frank being pulled in by the spike, we don’t know any character’s motivations except for Holli wanting to orgasm her way into reality, and we have no idea what the hell the spike is or why it apparently needs to be stuck in the top of a building in Vegas. Every time we’re given a hint about any of these things, like that people have been pulled in by Holli before Jack, they just raise even more questions.
Then there’s the Cool World itself, which either looks like a really well done painting, a great animated setting, or a shitty last-second sketch by a Senior who got drunk and forgot his final project is due. There’s a statement from some of the background animators on the film that they weren’t actually given a screenplay, they were just told to draw stuff that seemed funny, which explains why there are constantly random things happening in the background. Now, the idea of a cartoon world that obeys the rules of crazy old-school animation like Betty Boop, where everything is moving or alive or just defying all reason would be kind of neat, but the film never does anything with it. It’s even more annoying because the Cool World is described as a place where there are no rules, aside from the one rule, so it should be dirty, crazy, and filled with murder and perversion. That sounds closer to what Bakshi originally said he wanted, and that might at least have been entertaining in its audacity. Instead, it feels like what an 11 year old boy thought was the ultimate in adult stuff before the internet existed: There’s a hot lady with boobs and a bunch of swears and sex involves her bouncing on you while you’re both fully clothed.
Then there’s the third act, where everything somehow becomes even more incoherent. Brad Pitt’s character is killed off in a tragically bad stunt for no reason, Gabrielle Byrne suddenly literally gets kicked out of the movie to become an animated character voiced by someone else, and Holli decides to help destroy the barrier between the worlds, something that is completely different than anything she wanted before. Even for a movie with tragically stupid character motives, everything just seems to randomly shift to a completely different movie so that they can just end it, which, honestly, was probably what everyone making the movie felt about the situation by that point.
Despite all of the crap, the movie does have some good points. Some of the animation in the film is actually really great. Some of the concepts in the movie are interesting enough that they should actually get a movie. The soundtrack is actually really great, including having an original song by David Freaking Bowie. The voices for the animated characters include some great voice actors like Maurice LaMarche and Charlie Adler, all of whom do good work. However, this is looking for a nugget of gold in a shallow river of trash.
Overall, I can’t say that I hate this movie, because I think I would have to feel more about it to even get to that point. The weird thing is that I think everyone should actually watch it just to get an idea of what it looks like when a movie has so much potential and then squanders it spectacularly. Unfortunately, it is not free on any f*cking streaming service, so you’ll have to rent it.
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
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