The Bizarre Brad Pitt Flop That Somehow Led To Boss Baby

There's a hybrid animation-live action movie you might remember that came out on the verge of the Disney Renaissance. It's a kind of edgy comedy — one that features a human detective, an animated femme fatale, and a surprisingly disturbing climax. No, I'm not talking about "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" I'm talking about its evil twin of sorts, "Cool World," the 1992 box office bomb that's now mostly remembered as one of Brad Pitt's first roles.

"Cool World" is a relic of a specific time in animation history. By virtue of its release four years after "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" the film garnered negative comparisons to Zemeckis' 1988 blockbuster. But for filmmaker Ralph Bakshi, best known for his adult animated features like the X-rated "Fritz the Cat," that was never the goal. For 20 years, Bakshi made unique and sometimes controversial films, ranging from the rotoscope adaptation of "The Lord of the Rings" to the sprawling immigrant-led musical "American Pop." He didn't work with a major studio until "Cool World," which would turn out to be his final feature.

Folks, It's A Weird One

Problems plagued "Cool World" from early on. Ralph Bakshi told Cartoon Brew that, when working with Paramount, he "wasn't used to people telling [him] what to do, which is what everyone else gets used to!" The studio collaboration was plagued by rewrites, differences in vision, and casting changes. Bakshi told The Guardian that he eventually wanted to leave the project but was told he'd be sued if he did. So the filmmaker stuck with it, and the result is one of the strangest movies in animation history.

The version of "Cool World" that made it to theaters is an odd, dark, noir-tinged fantasy. Brad Pitt plays Frank Harris, a World War II veteran who is transported to Cool World after a traffic accident. Frank fashions himself into a detective and can be spotted in the film's trailer explaining the rules of Cool World. For some reason, it seems really important that no visiting humans have sex with the cartoons. Enter Gabriel Byrne as ex-con comic artist Jack Deebs. Jack is also transported into Cool World where he's quickly seduced by a shapely animated woman named Holli Would (Kim Basinger). "Cool World" has a lot of bizarre mythology, using the term "noid" for humans and creating a lore around the power of pens and pencils. It is, in a word, weird.

The Cool World To Boss Baby Pipeline

"Cool World" does have one unexpected legacy which Ralph Bakshi talked about in his interview with Cartoon Brew. While he calls the live action portion of making the film a bad experience, he says that the animation team was a dream to work with:

It was very slick stuff, a brilliant job by young animators, many of which went on to do great work at Pixar, Dreamworks, and others — including Tom McGrath, who directed The Boss Baby, which co-stars my grandson, Miles Bakshi. I'm very proud of that.

"Cool World" was McGrath's first project. Aside from "The Boss Baby," the animator went on to co-direct three "Madagascar" movies. While "Cool World" was a certifiable flop and a critical failure, its legacy in the animation world lives on despite its short theatrical run. CGI-animated "The Boss Baby" doesn't actually look any better than "Cool World," but it certainly made a major box office splash, grossing $528 million worldwide and spawning a sequel. For his part, Bakshi reportedly moved to New Mexico where he continues working in art.