Sort of a poor cousin to WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT, this muddled, confused animation-live action crossover stars Brad Pitt as Frank Harris, a returning soldier in 1945 Las Vegas who, following a motorcycle crash, is transported to the "Cool World", an animated universe populated by bizarre cartoon characters, some of whom look like rejects from Joe Dante's "cartoon hell" segment in TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE. Flash forward to 1992: Las Vegas-based animator Jack Deebs (Gabriel Byrne) has just been released from prison, where his only company was in the form of a sexy cartoon character named Holli Would that he drew in his comic books. Jack is so fixated on this character that he even passes up sex with real women, and one night, he gets transported to Cool World himself where, as luck would have it, he meets Holli in the form of an animated character. Unfortunately for Jack, sex between humans and cartoons is strictly forbidden, and Frank Harris is now working as a detective whose sole task seems to be enforcing this law. But Jack gives in to temptation, which results in Holli becoming human herself and traveling to the real world where she proceeds to unleash cartoon havoc. It's up to Jack to save the world from his own creation.
Even that plot description probably makes it sound more coherent than it actually is. The script is a mess, and filled with really strange twists that exist for no apparent reason (Harris' mother is killed in a motorcycle accident at the beginning of the film, and then this event is never referred to again; similarly, the fact that Jack has spent time in prison for murder is completely arbitrary and has no apparent bearing on the plot at all). The interaction of the live action and animated characters is not terribly convincing. It would have certainly passed muster ten years earlier, but coming as it did after ROGER RABBIT (and clearly owing a good deal to the concept of that film), it had a much higher standard to live up to. Kim Basinger's work as Holli is effective enough, but the character lacks both the personality and the exaggerated physical qualities that the character concept seems to call for. Brad Pitt isn't given much to do with his role besides act tough, and he misses out on the chance to really milk the part of the hardboiled detective for its potential due to the weaknesses in the writing. Gabriel Byrne delivers a good performance under the circumstances, but his character too is weakened by the lack of development (and is completely and inexplicably altered in the ridiculous final sequence).
Indeed, the major problem with the film overall is that it feels seriously underdeveloped, like a rough draft of a concept rather than an idea that has been fully fleshed out. It is almost certainly Ralph Bakshi's weakest film, lacking that immensely talented animator-filmmaker's normally evocative and distinctive sense of design, not to mention the sharp social commentary that is such a crucial component of his best work. As it is, COOL WORLD demonstrates some interesting seeds of ideas that could have been explored and executed to more interesting effect, but ultimately falls far short of its potential.