Fremont Street and the Plaza have starred in a number of movies, from Diamonds Are Forever to The Hangover Part III, but it probably played its largest role in Cool World, where the live-action lunacy of Downtown fit right in with the film’s cartoon shenanigans.
Released in 1992, it was clearly inspired by the success of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, but Ralph Bakshi’s effort at live-action/animation combo with a detective and a femme fatale was a flop. Visually stunning and with a fabulous soundtrack featuring David Bowie, Ministry and Moby, Cool World also seemed to have an unfinished plot and characters who were sketchy in more ways than one.
There’s a curiously downer opening—returning World War II soldier Brad Pitt’s mom dies, somehow sending him into the animated Cool World and cartoonist Gabriel Byrne sitting in prison, scribbling pictures of vixen Holli Would. Out of the clink, Byrne becomes a famous cartoonist and tumbles into the land of “doodles” where he becomes entangled with Holli, who aspires to become “real,” while Cool World cop Pitt tries to stop her.
Eventually they both make it back out to Las Vegas, where Holli—now played by Kim Basinger—decides that the key to staying “real” is the spike at the top of the Plaza. She scales the building in minidress and high heels, grabs the spike and unleashes cartoon mayhem all over Las Vegas. Slot machine junkies turn into chickens in Quacker Factory sweaters. Lounge lizards become actual lizards. Tumbling dice spring to big-eyed life, while wolves in zoot suits chase cocktail waitresses.
Other Sin City flourishes include Byrne’s midcentury ranch home with decorative concrete blocks and a view of the now-defunct Vegas World marquee as well as a swinging’ guest appearance by Frank Sinatra Jr. and orchestra. As a film, Cool World has its flaws, but as a wild portrait of Downtown Las Vegas at its most surreal, it’s a hit.