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MOVIE REVIEW : ‘Cool World’ Flirts With the Erotic

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In Ralph Bakshi’s new animated feature, “Cool World,” cartoonist Jack Deebs (Gabriel Byrne) enters into a cartoon world of his own devising.

It’s a resonant theme: Jack encounters a universe of animated “doodles"--cartoon characters--and gets high on the wildness and strangeness of what popped out of his imagination. This is how all artists must feel at times about their own creations; their imaginary characters are a part of them and yet they’re alien, uncontrollable.

A lot of the ideas in “Cool World” (citywide) set off reverberations but nothing sinks in. Bakshi’s grab-bag approach turns everything into a big blur. He borrows promiscuously from an array of animated and dramatic styles; he mixes live action with animation and ‘40s melodrama with ‘90s pop. This free-for-all quality has its appeal, and the film’s forays into quasi-lewd terrain (despite the PG-13 rating) are welcome after the squeaky cleanness of most feature-length animation.

Still, Bakshi (“Fritz the Cat,” “Heavy Traffic,” “Coonskin”) has toned down his trademark outrageousness considerably. He and his screenwriters, Michael Grais and Mark Victor, set up a cartoon underworld where the “doodles” and the “noids” (humans) are forbidden to have sexual relations, and so, of course, this is exactly what we expect to see. Part of the lure of animation is its ability to whip up our wildest fantasies in a way live action never could. But the erotic potential of animation has never been realized and “Cool World” doesn’t even try.

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Las Vegas is used as a live-action location, and this would appear to be an apt choice for this film’s double-universe conceit. Las Vegas is already a cartoon cityscape.

But, because Bakshi’s animation is much more vibrant than his non-animated work, the live-action scenes pale in comparison. He hasn’t succeeded in creating a live-action equivalent to Jack’s comic-book world; he doesn’t really experiment with real-life colors and sounds.

And even though it seems like perfect casting to have Kim Basinger play the human counterpart to a sexy Marilyn Monroe-ish “doodle” named Holli Would, it turns out that the animated Holli is sexier than Basinger in the flesh. This isn’t Basinger’s fault really; it’s just that the film’s real actors--who also include Brad Pitt as a police detective residing in the animated underworld--all seem clunky and somewhat gross when set beside Bakshi’s gaggle of cartoon creatures.

There are some original moments, like the scary-funny ones, lasting no more than milliseconds, when Jack and Holli bounce in and out of the real world.

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Bakshi fills up the screen with cartoon characters representing the visual styles of a half-century of animation, and, even though he doesn’t really do those styles justice, he does give you something to look at. This is important in a movie where the plot makes almost no sense. The creators of “Cool World” would probably argue that cartoon dream worlds aren’t supposed to make sense. But not even a little?

What Bakshi and his screenwriters don’t recognize is that even dream worlds have their own fierce logic.

‘Cool World’

Kim Basinger: Holli Would

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Gabriel Byrne: Jack Deebs

Michele Abrams: Jennifer Malley

Deidre O’Connell: Isabelle Malley

A Paramount Pictures presentation of a Frank Mancuso Jr. production. Director Ralph Bakshi. Producer Frank Mancuso Jr. Screenplay by Michael Grais & Mark Victor. Cinematographer John Alonzo. Editor Steve Mirkovich and Annamaria Szanto. Costumes Malissa Daniel. Music Mark Isham. Production design Michael Corenblith. Conceptual designer Barry Jackson. Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes.

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MPAA-rated PG-13.


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