In trying to catch up with all of the movies that one was aware of when they were released, but never had a chance to see, one inevitably runs into a few Stink Bombs along the way; and it saddens us to include Ralph Bakshi's COOL WORLD, from 1992, in that category.
In Bakshi's defense, it's not the movie that he wanted to make: while he was shooting, the script was completely re-written without his participation or consent by the studio. With no script to work from, Bakshi reportedly told his animators to "do whatever they wanted" -- no good can come out of that kind of chaos, and none does.
You can't fault Bakshi for having a lack of ambition, that's for god-damn sure, and this is at least as ambitious as his version of THE LORD OF THE RINGS or his attempt to dramatize all of pop music history in AMERICAN POP. The latter picture was at least a success in its ability to start interesting conversations. COOL WORLD has another thing its favor, in that it's drop-dead gorgeous. In purely visual terms, it may be his best movie.
And yet, it's a complete train wreck. You can't under-state this, and you almost can't believe what you're seeing -- it's that bad, a disjointed bomb with a capital B: not for nothing does it have a 4% rating at Rotten Tomatoes. There are good ideas behind it, but the writing is so dreadful that it's doubtful anyone could have made anything out of it.
The live-action characters are flatter than the paper that the animated ones are drawn on, and while the animated characters are full of bombastic toonish shenanigans, none of them are charming or engaging. The cutting between the two worlds is ridiculously bad, and no one involved with this thing took the time to craft a believable, let alone involving, storyline. Kim Basinger never stops moving and acts as if this was her last, best chance at superstardom, as perhaps it was. The whole thing is one big, frenetic, pleasingly colorful disaster.
It's likely that Bakshi was inspired by WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT, and that he wanted to make something in the same vein that asked larger questions and told a more serious story about life and death and art and love. But the end result is nowhere near as accomplished or entertaining as ROGER RABBIT was, and not even close. Bakshi didn't have the money to make it technically as good, and studio interference insured that anything good in the original concept would get whitewashed right out of the thing.
Bakshi has been one of my heroes and he has a unique but problematic place in the modern cinema. COOL WORLD was his last significant movie. Its visual accomplishment only makes it that much more disappointing.
Meanwhile, 1975's THE HINDENBURG crawls across the movie screen at a stately pace that's appropriate to its namesake. Directed by Robert Wise in a strictly workmanlike fashion, it features George C. Scott and Anne Bancroft heading a mostly wasted cast. What's Burgess Meredith doing in this thing? Sitting around, like the rest of us, waiting for the ship to blow up. Several contemporary reviews, excerpted at Wikipedia, are more entertaining than the picture. It's not that bad, really... it's just that it's a very ordinary early entry in the disaster genre. The special effects are wonderful, and prove that models and optical effects, when done well, are better than CGI any day of the week. Some magnificent shots of the ship in flight and taking off at night are worth sitting through the rest. And even when she's given trivial material to work with, Anne Bancroft is a revelation.