Welcome to the Cool World where the doodles live. Ralph Bakshi’s Cool World is a very weird place, but it gets weirder when a noid comes to visit.
Starting off, the movie introduction to this film is a departure from other Bakshi has directed. It’s simply blue text flying onto the screen from different directions. That’s it. No animation, no pictures, no art, just text. Until it sets the scene in Las Vegas 1945 and the movie begins in earnest.
The first scene an airfield in Las Vegas, where World War II veterans are exiting the plane, fresh of off their victory overseas. It’s worth noting that, purposely or otherwise, the crowd gathered to welcome them is a varying mix of races, after all we are all American and applause is heard as the first vets exit the plane. It is here at this airport where we meet Frank Harris, played by Brad Pitt, who is met by his mother.
Next, we’re in their home, where a cleaned up Harris is styling a very nice suit. The fashion in all of Bakshi’s films is impeccable, right down to his shoes. Harris, tells his mom to close her eyes and leads her outside to see the motorcycle he won in a poker game in Italy. His mother’s response is the classic mother’s response, “well, drive it carefully honey… Enjoy it, but be careful.”
Harris then takes his mother out on the first ride he’s had with the bike. Scene swap to a gambling hall where a drunk and his girlfriend leave and you can see what’s coming. *Crash* A head-on collision that sends them flying. The crash propels Harris into a flashback from the war, he hears mortars coming in and goes to cover his mom from the incoming, but it’s too late.
She’s gone and we see him laying on the ground, half conscious. It is then that we see Dr. Whiskers testing out his spike to bridge the Cool World and the real world. Harris attempts to get up and in a screaming rage is teleported (I’m not sure what other word would work) into the Cool World, where he meets the Doc.
Whiskers explains, that he isn’t a cartoon, he’s a doodle and that the spike was meant to send him to the real world and not bring Harris into the Cool World. Harris, as you would imagine, has a hard time believing this. This short introduction is ripe with all the fun things you can think of for the first real human in a doodle world. I particularly enjoy Harris flicking the stars floating around Whiskers head to pieces after he kicked the Doc because of a reflex test.
Flash forward to Las Vegas 1992, where Jack Deebs, the cartoonist and comic book writer, is about to get out of prison. The night before he leaves, he is drawing Holli Would, who voice seems to transport him into the Cool World. He lands on a dance floor where animators did an amazing job animating two dimensional doodles dancing in a three dimensional perspective. It’s not that there isn’t a distinct difference in depth, between Deebs and the doodles dancing around him, because there is, but the angle by which their animated, lessens the degrees of separation between two and three dimensional beings. Deebs, gets his bearings as Holli dances over to him and as he reaches out to touch her he’s back in his prison cell, thinking that he’s just had one crazy dream.
Back in the Cool World, we see the character Sparks being beleaguered by some young doodles, whom he disposes of with possessed wooden nickels, that return to him. (On a personal note, I’d like to have some possessed wooden nickels that explode and return to my pocket, as well.) As he’s strolling the streets to Holli’s place, the background animations are of doodles, just beating the crap out of each other. But he’s intercepted by Harris Harris, now a cop in the Cool World. The interesting thing about Harris is that his car is always animated while in motion, yet real, either as an actual car or a two dimensional cardboard cut out, once it’s stopped. This is a very nice little touch, considering everything except him in Cool World could be animated.
Harris walks into Holli’s place where she’s singing and dancing with records and bottles in a very Disneyesque way, only these bottles were probably full of booze. She stops as he approaches and talks about how Marilyn Monroe’s character in “Let’s Make Love” got everything she ever wanted. Harris isn’t there to talk about movies, he’s there to about the noid (humanoid) visit at the club last night. Holli brushes it off as a mind slip and asks Harris “you’re just a regular true believer in law and order, huh?” “Just doing my job,” is all he replies. She then starts talking about Vegas Vinnie and the spike, how he crossed over and owns a hotel and casino in the real world. But Harris says it’s just a fairy tale, “doodle moms tell it to doodle kids to help them go to sleep.” She doesn’t buy it, saying that if Harris can make the jump then anyone could, even her.
Holli wants to cross over because “those noid dames” as she puts it are real and they have power and senses, like taste and touch. The background doodles and floating animations really add to the crazy atmosphere in Cool World.
Cut to Jack Deebs’ return home after getting out of prison, where he hits the strip to buy comic books. He’s recognized and signs autographs, where we learn that he is Jack Deebs creator of Cool World the comic book. Deebs returns home after signing the books, being accosted for killing a guy who was sleeping with his wife and explaining to an old guy in the store who he was. The interesting thing about this, is that it’s basically the only back story we have on Deebs and why we was in jail. I’m also going to take a stab in the dark, that the comics came after he was in jail and he created Holli as a replacement for his estranged wife, although who knows, it’s not really explained, maybe he killed her too.
Back at Deebs’ place he is transported back to the Cool World after hearing Holli’s voice again. The scene while he’s in transit is priceless. A cute little bunny is gambling in the street, “all I need is a four and I win,” says the little guy as he rolls the dice and gets a four, but he’s playing with cheaters. The little bunny confronts the other players, but Deebs shows up before anything can really go down allowing the little bunny to get away. Deebs’ back in Cool World for the second time thinks he’s lost it, he’s thinking he really is the tortured artist like you read about. But before the doodles can really get to him and completely drive him over the edge, Holli shows up.
As Holli tries to seduce Deebs on the street, one of the doodles starts talking about how real he is and opens his head to say that he can tickle his brain. It’s a little thing, but this film is full of little things like that. Next, we see the little bunny at the doodle police station saying “boo hoo, boo hoo, those big bad guys didn’t play fair.” This falls on deaf ears, until the cute little bunny gets in the cops face, about ripping the bad guys’ faces off so their mothers won’t recognize them, “pretty please,” at which point they mobilize into action.
Back to Holli and Deebs where she puts out her cigarette on his hand to prove that even though she’s made of ink, she’s no dream. The aforementioned cops are heard in the background at which point Holli takes Deebs and her goons in her car on a very animated car chase. The chase is soundtracked by the song “Sex on Wheels” and it ends pretty bad for the cops, but Deebs is blown away looking at the scenery in a world he created as Holli drives on.
The soundtrack to this film is a departure for Bakshi films, although the time period of Cool World that we see is 1992, so the music is current with the times, but it’s not the classical jazz and blues classics that you’re accustomed to hearing in some of his other films.
Next, we meet Harris’s doodle girlfriend Lonette with whom he was planning on going out with for the evening. But he interrupted by his partner Nails informing him that Deebs is back and he’s with Holli. As he leaves Nails, says that Lonette’s partial to him, but he replies sullenly, “facts is facts, she’s a doodle and I’m not.” Off they go to the club where they meet up with Holli and Deebs. Harris and Deebs start out so well:
Deebs: I’m a cartoonist. I drew all this. I have visions. I translate this.
Harris: You do nothing, man. This place exists with or without you. You believe me, right? I’m not one of your creations.
Deebs: Right. You’re not pretty enough.
Harris: Good one. Have a seat.
First, Harris explains that a pen is deadly to a noid in Cool World, then after calling Deebs a “whackadoo” he continues.
“NOID’S DO NOT HAVE SEX WITH DOODLES! Noids do not have sex with doodles. It’s the oldest law in Cool World. I’ve never had to enforce it. You cross that line I’ll slap you around and make you piss like a puppy. Jack, you think she got a thing for you, don’t you? That’s sweet. But don’t flatter yourself. She’s a waste of ink. Truth is she’s been after me and every other noid who’s come through here. It’s just that no one’s been insane enough to get involved with her. You keep your pencil in your pocket. Know what I mean?”
After the conversation is over, Holli tells Deebs that he did well, before he’s sent back to the real world, where he has a rough landing right on a table. It’s not for comic effect that he falls on the table, it for consistency. With the exception of Harris’s first crossover, which was caused by the spike, every other crossover we see is done by some other way and the method of travel is always falling and the landing spot is never controlled.
In the meantime, Harris meets up with his Lonette where they have, what appears to be, a conversation they’ve had many times. Harris can’t do anything with her sexually and for her it’s as frustrating as it is for him, his quote is that “I’m like a plug without a socket.” Nails interrupts and off they go in the car. Meanwhile, Deebs is tormented by Holli’s voice, in his home, until he’s pulled back into the Cool World, this time he lands on stage at a theatre. This scene is a particularly great example of the play in this movie between foreground, background and what I will call middleground. The play between these three grounds adds a lot of depth to the animation, not just in this scene, but throughout the movie.
Nails and Harris go to Holli’s place where they can’t get in, the door won’t let them. So Harris ties himself to Nails and they climb, which would be much easier if Nails allergic to clouds, so it takes them more than one try to get up.
Once inside the party, Harris takes an animated cigarette from Sparks and smokes it, which isn’t of much note except it shows that the relationship between noid and doodle goes both ways. He then makes a comment to Sparks, who replies, “I find that if you look for trouble you find it, what’s your problem?” Harris quips, “Bad childhood, what’s yours.” This movie is full of quick little back-and-forths like that throughout the movie. Harris then confronts Holli, asking her where Deebs is and stating categorically that you should “Be content with the cards you’ve been dealt.”
Before I go any further, I should tell you that Sparks is an interesting, albeit mysterious, character. We know he’s interested in Holli. We know he’s sort of a bad guy, I mean good guys don’t have possessed wooden nickels, but that’s all we know. There has to be more to Sparks than we see, but it’s just never really explained, read into it what you will.
Harris leaves through the window he came in as Deebs arrives at the door Holli’s place.
“Man is in the bedroom.”
Deebs isn’t so sure about what they’re about to do so Holli asks, “Are you gonna follow the rules….or are you gonna follow…your instincts?”
Meanwhile, Holli’s goons are upset, because she said they could watch, so they stack anything they can find in cartoon fashion which crumbles on them. Does that stop them? No, they just do it again. By the time they get up to Holli’s room she has orgasm and they fall. The camera falls with her goons where we go through one of the goons mouths and out his anus… What a trip‽
After the sex, Holli turns into a noid (played by Kim Basinger, who also voices her), while Harris goes over to Lonette to apologize for leaving earlier. Harris tells Nails not to make a move without him. When Nails finally gets the call from Sparks that Holli and Deebs made it, he calls but doesn’t tell Harris the truth. The animated phone doodle is just priceless, it’s something you have to see to believe. After nervous Nails withholds the information he goes after them by himself and gets a pen job from Holli the noid.
Holli and Deebs make it back to the real world. When Harris finds out he comes to grips with “the biggest shit storm to hit cool world.” Holli in the real world wants to do everything, they hit the strip where she upstages Frank Sinatra, Jr (who plays himself). Holli has a chance to get it all as a noid and she’s going for it, but there’s one problem. Holli’s not truly a noid and Deebs is no longer just a noid. The worlds are getting mixed up, they’re both randomly turning into doodles. Holli figures out that she needs to find the spike and Deebs isn’t down with it. The chaos of their randomly changing beings is unsettling to him and he protests so she throws him out of the car as he tries to drive them home.
Harris decides that he must crossover.
Harris: When your partner gets inked, you do something about it. He was your partner, so you do something.
Lonette: Well, I’m not buying it.
Harris: How about a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.
Lonette: Can’t you use think about me for a minute, Frank? I mean, where does this leave me?
Harris: What are you mad about?
Lonette: I’m mad because you talk about crossing and you don’t even care how it makes me feel!
Harris: I don’t even care? How do you feel?
Lonette: Left out!
Harris: You think I want to go back there? You think I want to go back?
Lonette: Now why wouldn’t you want to go back? That’s real to you, isn’t it?
Harris: Let me tell you something about over there. It hurts over there. It’s lonely over there. It’s a war over there. They got 8 million ways for you to die on and they’re all permanent. This is real for me, this with you. If I want to stay with you, I gotta go back.
When Harris crosses over, it’s not just flashes of light as it is with Deebs, there are details of his past and how he first crossed over in the background as he crosses. When Harris arrives he finds Deebs in his house where Deebs explains that Holli’s looking for Vegas Vinnie. Holli finds him although it’s not as she expected. Vegas Vinnie is Doc Whiskers, but he’s still a doodle. Whiskers meets the same fate as Nails as Holli gives him a pen job. Holli knows the spike exists and she intends to make herself a noid permanently.
Harris and Deebs catch up to Holli. The chase is amazing as Holli uses the chaos of changing from doodle to noid to her advantage by jumping through walls when she’s a doodle. At one point during the chaos, other noids in the real world start turning doodle. One scene in particular turns poker players into doodles resembling the famous “Dogs Playing Poker” painting by C.M. Coolidge. This is the second famous painting Bakshi’s used in his movies, he used Edward Hopper’s famous 1942 diner painting “Nighthawks” in Heavy Traffic.
The end is, well, I’ve set it up, I won’t spoil it now, but it is an amazing combination of noid and doodle. It’s a fairly epic conclusion.
I did mention some of the big name actors Basinger and Pitt, but they aren’t the only big names that were on this project. The end credits were overdubbed by a song David Bowie wrote for the film called, “Real Cool World” and Moby did some of the other tracks on the film. The voice of voices, Maurice LaMarche voiced five characters. Maybe not at that time, but looking back that’s some pretty huge star power.
As with all Bakshi productions, you must take the time to appreciate the artistic skill put into the backgrounds and as I mentioned earlier, the combination of mixing fore and backgrounds with the animation and real actors is something that gives this movie a lot of depth. The parts of this movie that are rotoscoped fit right in with the animated parts that are not, it’s fairly seamless. All in all, this is a great movie, and even though I’ve read it didn’t turn out like Mr. Bakshi wanted it to, it is a cult favorite. This may have been the film that put Bakshi over the edge and burned him out, from Hollywood so to speak, as it was his last feature film, but he’s back in 2013 working on The Last Days of Coney Island and, as a fan, I couldn’t be happier.
Should you watch Cool World? If you’ve read this post from beginning to end, I don’t know what’s stopping you.