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Director: Ralph Bakshi
Release Date:  July 10, 1992
Rating: ★★
Review:

Cool World © Paramount‘Cool World’ looks like a poor man’s version of ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit‘.

Sure, the film boasts Brad Pitt and Kim Basinger as leading actors, and it even features a title song by David Bowie, but Ralph Bakshi’s product feels half-baked and derivative compared to Touchstone’s milestone film from 1988.

The film’s main problem is its story: it features a weird and obligate prologue to explain (unconvincingly) why Frank Harris (Brad Pitt) even wanders in the ‘doodle world’. Only half way we can extract this world’s core problem: ‘doodles’ and ‘noids’ (real people) cannot have sex together, because this will distort the universe. But sexy doodle ‘Holli Would’ (yes, that’s her name) would. And she does, with her own creator Jack Deebs (Gabriel Byrne).

This idea is preposterous to start with, but the execution is worse. Frank Harris, who apparently has become a cop, wanders through cardboard sets most of the time, aimless and clueless. All dialogues feel wooden and disjointed, and in several key dialogue scenes the actors clearly aren’t even together in the same room (!) with Bakshi falling back to a very unconvincing technique of suggestion of continuity of space that goes all the way back to the Keystone Comedy films of the early 1910s.

Kim Basinger acts more like a caricature of a sexy woman than being one, and the role of Jack Deebs remains vague and unclear to the very end: if he’s the creator, why did Cool World already exist in 1945, if he’s not, why is he the only one depicting it? Frank Harris somewhere suggests that more visitors are coming to this world, why then is Harris the only one allowed to stay? It just makes no sense.

The film’s main attraction, of course, is the animation. Supervised by Bruce Woodside, most of the animation is in fact is quite good (the crew even boosts a veteran animator like Bill Melendez), if completely arbitrary most of the time. Many scenes are filled with random animated scenes, mostly rather violent, sometimes grotesque, sometimes harking back to Max Fleischer, Warner Bros. or Tex Avery, at other times spoofing Disney (a cute rabbit, a hippo from Fantasia emerging from cigarette smoke, Gepetto and Pinocchio depicted in the inside of one of Holli’s ‘goons’). Being a Bakshi film, ‘Cool World’ also features a fair deal of rotoscope, most clearly so on Holli Would and Brad Pitt’s flat doodle girl friend Lorette.

Despite the high quality of the full animation, the animated scenes are mostly insane, not funny. The best attempt at humor is the finale, in which Deebs inexplicably changes into a rather pompous superhero, completely losing his former character.

Unfortunately, the scenes in which animated characters interact with humans have nothing of the sophistication of ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’. Instead, Bakshi only deploys static scenes, a technique in existence since ‘The Three Caballeros‘, and in no scene in which ‘doodles’ and humans touch each other, one has the feeling that this is really happening.

Sadly, we must conclude that a lot of animation talent has been wasted on a meandering, clueless, badly written and badly directed film, with an immature focus on sex. The film did bad at the box office, and I’m afraid I must judge rightly so.

Watch the trailer for ‘Cool World’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Cool World’ is available on DVD

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Director: Dave Fleischer
Premiere Date: December 4, 1941
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Mr. Bug Goes to Town © Max Fleischer‘Mr. Bug Goes to Town’ was the second and last feature by the Max Fleischer studio.

In almost every aspect, the film is a great improvement on the studio’s first, ‘Gulliver’s Travels‘. Its story is more engaging, its characters are more likable, the animation is of a higher quality, the stylized New York backgrounds are more impressive, the score (by Disney veteran Leigh Harline, of Pinocchio fame) is much more inspired, and the cinematography more interesting.

In a way ‘Mr. Bug Goes to Town’ is the inverse of ‘Gulliver’s Travels’. Where Gulliver was a human giant in a land of tiny people, Hoppity and his friends are tiny (four-legged) insects in a land of human giants. These humans, all heavily rotoscoped, are faceless giants who seem to have walked straight from a Superman cartoon. Nevertheless, two of the ‘human ones’ (as the insects call us), a songwriter and his wife, become important to plot, as owners of the land the little insects live in. The plot resolves on the insects’ struggle to survive after the fence has been broken, and their houses are being trampled by crossing pedestrians, or set on fire by discarded cigarettes and cigars.

Hoppity, the James Stewart-like hero of the picture, tries to help, but his actions are thwarted by the evil Mr. Beetle (voiced by storyman Ted Pierce) and his helpers Smack the Mosquito and Swat the Fly. The creepy Mr. Beetle has an eye on Honey, the lovely daughter of Mr. Bumble and Hoppity’s love interest. It’s this setting which propels the film forward, and the film only ends when Hoppity and his friends are safe, and he and Honey united in marriage.

The trio of villains is a great improvement on the trio of spies Sneak, Snoop, and Snitch in ‘Gulliver’s Travels’: their interaction is delightful to watch and provides the necessary comic relief. The love story between Hoppity and Honey, of course, is more interesting, too, than that of the bland prince and princess of the earlier film. Unfortunately, Honey remains a terribly bland stock figurine, and has no personality whatsoever of her own. Hoppity is better as the typical optimistic underdog who will fight to the very end, no matter how dire the straits.

The character designs are a little old-fashioned and remain rooted in the cute designs of the second half of the 1930s. Some of the dialogue even is in rhyme, harking back to these more childish days. There’s none of the experimentalism that can be found in the Disney features of the time, including ‘Dumbo‘. The most advanced scene is when Hoppity gets electrified in the nightclub. This accounts for some pretty surreal images.

The cinematography, however, is great overall, and at several times the tiny insects are juxtaposed to the huge world of human hands and feet (a film like ‘Mouse in Manhattan‘ (1945) is by all means tributary to this feature). Because rotoscope is restricted to the faceless humans, who remain in the background, the technique is less irritating than in Gulliver. On the contrary, this feature makes the humans blend within the background of the story that is about insects, after all.

In any way the film is certainly worthy to watch, even though it’s no masterpiece. The songs, for example, by star writers Hoagy Carmichael and Frank Loesser, are unmemorable. Worse, the film retains an awfully relaxed pace without ever reaching real excitement. There are also some plot twists that are hard to swallow: the film’s greatest drama, when Hoppity’s dream garden appears to be less perfect than expected, is very weak and unconvincing. Then we are asked to believe that a sprinkler floods all the insects back to their original lot. Later, when Mr. Beetle and his helpers imprison Hoppity, they do that in the very letter Hoppity desperately had been waiting for. Moreover, when he has thus disappeared, nobody seems to go looking for him. And the finale, in which the insects climb a new skyscraper, while its being built to reach a rooftop garden in full bloom, stretches the concept of time beyond believe. Nevertheless, this finale is pretty exciting, and makes a fantastic watch. I’ve no doubt that it’s this spectacular trip that will stick into the viewer’s mind.

‘Mr. Bug Goes to Town’ absolutely shows that the Fleischers were very able to make feature films. Unfortunately, they weren’t allowed to make another one. ‘Mr. Bug Goes to Town’ premiere date preceded the attack on Pearl Harbor by just two days, and after the attack its general release was postponed. By the time the film got a wide screening (as ‘Hoppity Goes to Town’) in mid-1942, the Fleischers were already out of business. Paramount hardly promoted the picture, and the feature unfortunately flopped. Since Fleischer’s successor, Famous Studios, never made a feature film either, Walt Disney remained the virtual monopolist of feature length animated entertainment in America for more than forty years…

Watch ‘Mr. Bug Goes to Town’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Ralph Bakshi
Release Date: November 15, 1978
Rating: ★
Review:

The Lord of the Rings © Ralph BakshiI’m going to spend only a few words on this film: it is not an animation film. It may be drawn, animated it is not. Practically every movement is rotoscoped, with some scenes containing little more than colored live action footage.

The result is a surplus of movement, a severe inconsistency of style, a general feel of cheapness, and, animationwise, absolutely nothing to enjoy. On the contrary: the result is appalling.

Furthermore, the acting is tiresome, the pace painstakingly slow, the characters more often than not rather unsympathetic, the story incomplete, and the settings often in lack of dramatic effect, though I must admit that the film shares some strikingly similar scenes with the Peter Jackson’s later live action version (which incidentally contains much, much more animation than Bakshi’s film).

In short, Bakshi’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is by all means a failure, and one of the most hideously ugly films I’ve ever seen in any genre.

Watch the Balrog scene from ‘The Lord of the Rings’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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