"Dances with 'toons"
From the X-rated "Fritz the Cat" to the she-devil Holli Would,
Ralph Bakshi's animation is "just wild"
By Ryan Murphy
Los Angeles - Driving through South Central a day after the riots, you
couldn't help but gape.
There, in a block ravaged by fire, was a curious sight. Rising from the
rubble and the smoldering ash was an intact billboard of a cartoon vamp
twirling a white skirt. Blond, pouty-mouthed and soot-free, the poster child
of director Ralph Bakshi's "Cool World" was the only thing in the neighborhood
left unscathed. Every other billboard around was burned to the ground.
Relate this to Bakshi as he drags on a cigarette in a messy North Hollywood
office, where he's been working on the live action/animation hybrid for two
years, and a small smile crosses his face. "Well," he says, enveloped in a
cumulus cloud of smoke, "that makes sense to me, because people know I've
never been part of the system, the establishment." He laughs. "But also,
who'd want to burn Holli?"
Bold, beautiful and very, very bad, Holli Would is the biggest babe in her
cartoon world, a sinful dance-hall she-devil who smokes, drinks, curses and
does a mean hoochie-koo.
That's all part of her mission, Bakshi explains, summing up with customary
bluntness the plot of the new movie, which opens Friday. If she can just
make, well, a direct connection with "a real person in this mythical world,
she will be transformed into a real person herself, and that's her goal. She
does this by seducing the man who drew her, see - a cartoonist she sucks into
her world. Brad Pitt plays a detective trying to stop them from making it,
because if they do, something cataclysmic will happen, because real people
should never make it with cartoon figures."
Bakshi laughs at the delicious campiness of his plot. "But of course, they
do make it, and then Holli becomes a real person." One who looks a lot like
"Ralph? Oh, he's just crazy," Basinger squeals, asked to describe Bakshi.
"He's wild. Just wild."
And has been for a long time. His first feature film, 1972's X-rated "Fritz
the Cat", expanded the boundaries of animation by showcasing talking animals
who fornicated, mused on est and smoked a lot of pot. Subsequent movies -
such as "Heavy Traffic" (1973), "Coonskin" (1975) and "American Pop" (1981) -
broke down more walls. "Heavy Traffic", for instance, featured cartoon Jews
and Italians who were steeped in realism, not caricature. ("When have you
ever seen a Jew in an animated film?" asks Bakshi.)
"See," he continues, "I think cartoon characters can do anything. Anything."
Anything Bakshi will let them do, that is. "Cool World" is the only film
you'll see this summer featuring a character who eludes police by urinating
in their faces, for instance. But big production numbers are taboo.
"The studios, of course, will try and make you have them sing and dance, and
I will just not stand for that, because my characters, even though they are
animated, aren't cartoony cartoons," he says, lighting up another cigarette.
"I had to be forceful with the Suits and say 'Look, guys, I just will not
have Holli break out into a chorus of "hi-ho, hi-ho" while she's having sex,
He pauses. "You think I'm kidding? I'm not kidding. I've really had these
conversations with these people. They desperately wanted a hit tie-in record
to go with this movie to play over Holli's seduction scene - Madonna singing,
with Prince doing the backup. And I said, 'Aw, leave me alone.'"
For the most part, he adds, they have done just that, though earlier in the
day Bakshi and the Suits were squabbling over the final cut (he wanted more
money for a special effect; they wouldn't budge, so he paid for it out of his
"Cool World", financed and distributed by Paramount Pictures and budgeted
somewhere around $20 million, is Bakshi's first foray into commercial film-
making. "It's a test," he says, smiling wickedly, "just an experiment." A
caffeinated personality who looks a lot like Oliver Stone - "No, Oliver Stone
looks a lot like me" - Bakshi agreed to the collaboration because he was
promised creative control.
"I stayed away from the mainstream on purpose," he says. "See, I'm a very
strange guy. Once I got a reputation, after 'Fritz', I just couldn't walk
away from it. I liked not being edited, I liked having all the control. All
my movies have been independently financed productions which cost peanuts -
$3 million, $4 million tops - so I had a great deal of freedom. I felt I
didn't need the studios, because I didn't make movies to become a star or
earn a lot of money."
And yet, despite his lack of Hollywood ambition, he did become a star, a
wealthy one. Profits from "Fritz the Cat" put his four children through
college and financed a lot of other luxuries. Along the way, he became
recognized as a visionary, a prickly madcap original.
Born in Brooklyn and graduated from Manhattan High School of Industrial Art,
Bakshi says his love of animation is "something I've always had in me." His
office is a shrine: The walls are adorned with yellowed Sunday funnies from
the '30s, artifacts found in old bookstores that cuddle up to drawing after
drawing of Holli (Basinger got the part, Bakshi confides, bacause she looked
the most like his cartoon creation).
Early in his career, Bakshi paid the rent by doing animation for Terrytoons.
At 23, he was named the studio's creative director. At 26, he headed
Paramount's Famous Cartoon Studio, but he found the work unfulfilling because
it lacked a political point. "See," he says, "I grew up in the '60s. And we
had things to say in the '60s."
And so he quit drawing and supervising cartoon characters who blew each other
up with TNT, drummed up independent financing and set about creating "Fritz
"When I first started to make films, in the '70s, I do think I was doing
groundbreaking work, because at that point, animation was totally dominated
by Disney," he says. "People felt animation could only do one thing. And
here I was, telling stories through animation that dealt with race relations,
politics, sex and drugs. In 'Fritz', for example, we turned the tables
completely simply be having the characters walking around in the East Village
- a real place. That seemingly simple thing was amazing in those days.
People were shocked that the characters were not hanging out in Snow White's
Most hand-drawn movies today leave him cold. Take, for instance, Disney's
much-celebrated "Beauty and the Beast".
"Didn't see it," he says blithely. "Why should I? That's not what I think
animation should do. I mean, I loved the early Disney movies, like 'Snow
White' and 'Pinocchio', the ones Walt was involved in. His early films were
brilliant. But then he died, and they kept making the same movie over and
over only with different titles. What happened to the progression? If Walt
were alive today, swear to God, I think he'd be making movies like 'Cool
World', animated films that take chances."
Animation vs. the real thing
Despite many offers over the years, Bakshi has eschewed stepping out of the
realm of animation. "I don't think live action is all that great," he
sniffs. "I could do a live action picture if I wanted to, I think, but to
me, animation is much more exciting."
He pauses, then corrects himself. At one point, he admits, almost blushing,
he was interested in making a big-budget action picture, but his refusal to
play the Hollywood game doomed him. "See," he says, "I really wanted to do
'Conan the Barbarian'. Oliver Stone, who is a friend, wrote it and wanted me
to direct. But we had to get Arnold Schwarzenegger's approval."
The trio met for drinks to discuss the movie. "And wouldn't you know it,"
says Bakshi, "I had one too many scotches and offended Arnold by saying,
'Arnold, if I direct this picture, you have to lose weight. You're just too
Arnold was not amused, and John Milius got the job. "John called me up and
thanked me for my stupidity. And of course, it was a bad picture because
Arnold was just too big."
Hopefully, some of you found this interesting. Guess I know what I'll be
doing one night next weekend - animation and Kim Basinger at the same time -
If I were an intellectual, I'd be able to understand abstract art?
>After reading the expose' on Ralph Bakshi, I still can't figure out
>why he seems to have done it right this time. His incarnation of
>_Mighty Mouse_, you may recall, was an artistic turkey compared to the
>Terry and Filmation ones. Was there a major change of staff prior to
>"Cool World?", or was _Mighty Mess_ an act of revenge?
Hmm, I rather thought that Bakshi's version of "Mighty Mouse"
had some good things going for it. True, the production values can
not match those of Paul Terry's 1940s and 1950s cartoons (how ironic
that we now consider those cartoons to even *HAVE* production values;
they were the bargain-basement cartoons of their day), but Bakshi's
"Mighty Mouse" is a send up of the whole (you gotta admit) corny
Terry's artists treated Mighty Mouse as dead-serious, and as
his raison d'etre was to save the day at the last minute, he ends up
(as Leonard Maltin observed) spending less time on screen than any
other cartoon "star". Bakshi's Mouse has more personality, even if
it is wooden and neurotic, and the animation (while crude) is of the
overstated Bob Clampett school. Except for color, the Terrytoons of
the pre-Gene Deitch 1950s look the same as those from the 1930s.
Bakshi also went back to Phillip Scheib's original music, at
least in style/orchestration if not the actual scores--a '40s big
band swing, with all the "noodle" parts in the saxes (sounding a lot
like Glen Gray's Casa Loma Orchestra). The opening theme music,
complete with the male chorus ("Zoom zoom zoom zoom Oom-pa oom-pa
oom-pa oom-pa") is one of my favorites (my daughter likes to sing it).
And "The Mighty Mouse Boogie", half the sound track for a "cheater"
cartoon compiled from all those Terrytoons, is a wonderfully witty
piece which sounds like Doris Day singing with the Tommy Dorsey
Orchestra (there is even a unison obligato sung by the band behind
the female lead ala "Marie"). I wish that somehow I could acquire
an audio tape of it; I heard it about 3 times before the show was
cancelled. (Anybody got a tape they could copy for me??)
And also the cameo appearance of "The Mighty Heros" (Bakshi's
kidvid superhero sendup from the 1960s) and Gandy Goose (who is
thawed out of an iceberg after 40 years) and Deputy Dawg (who arrives
as from a 20-year-old iceberg as the final gag of that cartoon)--I
thought these were also very clever (though certainly over the heads
of the current generation of tiny tots).
Whether Bakshi's Mighty Mouse was actually snorting cocaine
or not, I don't know. I honestly did not think anything about that
scene when I first saw it (and I am no junkie). Problem is, if you
want to see it that way, you certainly can;; and that scene will
probably keep Bakshi from ever doing Saturday morning TV again. He
joins Pee Wee Herman in the Blackball Playhouse ;)
Rich Drushel ** r...@po.CWRU.edu *** Biology Ph.D. Student ** Cleveland FreeNet
Co-Sysop, Coleco ADAM Forum --- Assistant Sysop, Science Fiction & Fantasy SIG
"Solda pung apfashat ro des-marno, / Marn ladir o armag noth yeni arno. / Hell
miryat it, / Jambo iat it, / Os lasse wei ticip kati baldo." / Old Ennish poem
------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Those Innocent Fun Games Of The Hallucination Generation!
Clearly of all the cartoons of the Eighties Mighty Mouse had to be one of the best.
Actually the first times I watched I was turned off, but eventually I realized it's
brilliance so I only managed to tape a few. Plus John K. is man really responsible for a
lot of Mighty's Mayhem. Bakshi was just producer.
While Bakshi's work has it's up's and downs, so far he has been the only Animator allowed
to do "adult" animation. Inm y opinion Cool World will be a test to see if this whole
"mature" animation craze sinks or swims, if it fails (it had a 30 mill budget), we will be
forced to watch only Walt Disney stuff, If it's a hit we might actually see other people
strat doing adult themed projects.
Has the author forgotten "Lord of the Rings"? I wish I could...
Egads! Bakshi's "New Adventures of Mighty Mouse" was easily one of the
best cartoon series of its time (I'd still rank it more highly than "Tiny
Toon Adventures"), and you claim it "revenge"?
There were interviews (one was published in _Animation_ magazine) with
Bakshi about the MM project. He set out to prove, in that series, that
despite a severely limited animation budget, it was still possible to
produce a cartoon that was _funny_ despite a severely limited animation
budget. The success of that series was in the writing, not the animation
--- Russ McFatter [ru...@alliant.COM]
std. disclaimers apply.
Well, I'll guarantee you that the same is decidedly *not* true of
Cool World. It is sorely lacking in plot. The story and writing are very
amaturish. However, while CW is not without its animation faux pas's, it's
Collin McCulley University at Buffalo Mech & Aero Eng.
***All the .sig that's print to fit***
Just like The Bullwinkle Show. I like Bullwinkle a lot (especially Bullwinkle's
Corner) but the animation is so bad that it often distracts from the writing
(the strong part of the show and IMHO the reason it is/was so popular).
,-/___________/-----, Marc Hart
,--| |-----; (and you're not)
|__| A C M E |____/ iaex...@blurt.oswego.edu
,---|__|/----, "America has gone to hell because of Ren
/____________/| and Stimpy and somebody ought to do
|___________|/ something about it!" - John K.
> Well, I'll guarantee you that the same is decidedly *not* true of
>Cool World. It is sorely lacking in plot. The story and writing are very
>amaturish. However, while CW is not without its animation faux pas's, it's
A friend of mine brought up a good point while we were discussing Cool World-
the reason the plot is so filled with holes is because so often, comic
books are too. In fact, he said if you looked at this movie as if it were
a comic book, you might be able to appreciate it more in that context.
I still think it could have been so much better... it's not worth
more than a matinee / dollar cinema price....
I haven't seen the movie (nor do I intend to anytime soon), but...
The above reasoning is pretty specious. I don't enjoy reading comic
books with massive plot holes any more than I enjoy any other medium
which has such holes. I doubt you and your friend enjoy plot holes
All you're basically saying is, "Instead of looking at it as a
lousy movie, look at it as a lousy comic book on the screen."
Not exactly a compelling reason to see this movie...
"There are times, Jeeves, when one wonders, 'Do pants really matter?'"
Not really. You see DC came out with a Cool World Limited Series Prequel
that was Infinitely better thatn the movie. Why? The Characters had, well,
character. I actually cared what happened to them. In the movie, no one,
least of all the Doodles, had any personality. They were all effectively
talking heads. This is all IMHO of course.