Monday, January 7, 2013

An American Tail: Fievel Goes West (1991) - Jimmy Stewart, Thanks for the Memories

Jimmy Stewart Concludes his Own American Tail Out West with Fievel and Friends

Fievel An American Tail: Fievel Goes West 1991
"An American Tail: Fievel Goes West" (1991).
Jimmy Stewart starred in an awful lot of Westerns, but almost all were serious studies of the human condition such as "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" or "The Shootist" (all right, "The Cheyenne Social Club" and "Destry Rides Again" did have their lighter moments). An Amblin Entertainment's "An American Tail: Fievel Goes West" (1991)," Jimmy Stewart finally, in his last film, gets to act in a straight Western comedy. It may only have been a voice role in this animated feature directed by Simon Wells and Phil Nibbelink, but it was a great project for a great man to go out on.

Fievel An American Tail: Fievel Goes West 1991
Fievel owns this town now!
As viewers of "An American Tail" will recall, the Mouskewitz family left Russia to escape the fearsome Cossack cats. Unfortunately, life in The Bronx is not that much better as, unlike what the Mousekewitz family had heard in the Old Country, there are indeed predatory cats in the New World. The family members start imagining what it would be like to live different lives elsewhere in the States, with Fievel thinking about famous Western Sheriff Wylie Burp, while sister Tanya thinks about becoming a singer in a dance hall. Fievel's friend Tiger - the "good" cat that saved him in the first film - loses his girlfriend, Miss Kitty, because she thinks life will be better out West.

Green River An American Tail: Fievel Goes West 1991
Fievel knows how to clear the streets.
A nearby cat, Cat R. Waul, is on the prowl to round up all the local mice. He organizes a large-scale cat attack that drives the mice into the sewers. Having discouraged the mice, Waul then convinces them to board a train heading out West in hopes of a better life, but the train is a sham designed to trap the mice. Fievel, though, overhears the cats talking and figures out the plot. He is discovered and thrown off the train in the middle of the desert by Waul's minion T.R. Chula.

Fievel Dancing An American Tail: Fievel Goes West 1991
Fievel dancing.
The remainder of the  Mousekewitz family settles in Green River, hoping that Fievel will find them again as he did when he got lost during "An American Tail." Chula, as part of the plot to kill all the mice, cuts off the town's water supply. When everyone panics, Waul approaches the mice and offers them a new life in a town where mice and cats will live in harmony.

Cat R. Waul and Chula An American Tail: Fievel Goes West 1991
Some of the Cat R. Waul scenes are very weird.
Fievel, meanwhile, is lost in the desert along with Tiger, who has come out West as well. Tiger is captured by Native Americans, while Fievel is picked up by a hawk and dropped on the same village where Tiger is being held. Reunited, the two friends catch up, but Tiger stays with the natives, as they view him as a god because he resembles a rock formation. Fievel, though, heads out and finally makes it to Green River, determined to expose Waul for the evil fraudster that he is. The mice, though, won't listen to Fievel, who learns more of Waul's plan and confronts Waul. Fievel only escapes with his life because Tanya distracts Waul with her beautiful singing.

Fievel pointing a gun An American Tail: Fievel Goes West 1991
Fievel playing with his guns again.
Waul sends Tanya to sing with Miss Kitty, and Tanya becomes a popular local singer. Fievel is chased by Chula but escapes, and then meets an old hound who turns out to be the famous Wylie Burp. Burp agrees to help the mice and trains Tiger to help him out. Tiger, Wylie and Fievel then return to Green River to settle things with Waul and the other cats, who have set a giant trap for all the mice. Fievel and friends successfully warn off the mice, but Chula takes Miss Kitty hostage. Tiger, upset at seeing his love threatened, and unleashes his "inner dog" and turns on the cats with a vengeance.

Fievel An American Tail: Fievel Goes West 1991
Fievel is a bit too exuberant.
It is easy to read metaphors into practically every plot twist in "An American Tail: Fievel Goes West" and its predecessor, "An American Tail." You have the poor, put-upon immigrants like the Mousekewitz family who stupidly grin (as in the picture directly above) and laugh and play music and do all the funny stereotypes of the poor but noble immigrant. Then, there are the evil inhabitants just looking to take advantage of the naive and trusting newcomers and get rid of them if possible.

Fievel An American Tail: Fievel Goes West 1991

Of course, there also are a few "good" members of the enemy camp just to prove that there is nothing inherent about this malady of evil, it is purely a choice of the evil to be evil. It is comedy as a parable, and don't think they didn't diagram this out to the nth degree in the script conferences. Clearly, this sort of divisive "us against them" strikes a chord with many moviegoers whose own ancestors were poor immigrants just looking for a fresh start in the New World.

Poster for An American Tail: Fievel Goes West 1991
Am I crazy, or does he look a lot like Mickey Mouse?
The fresh-faced mice are the steerage passages herded across the Atlantic like cattle, the cats are "the oppressors" however you choose to define that. The beauty of the animation is that each viewer can provide their own answers as to whom each side represents: perhaps the mice are Jews and cats are Protestants, or the mice are women and the cats are men; or the mice are just poor schnooks at the mercy of the rich who just happened to immigrate here before them. It is all nicely divisive and a pure moneymaker for people who don't even realize which of their buttons are being pushed.

Fievel An American Tail: Fievel Goes West 1991

The references are so blatant that they either will make "An American Tale: Fievel Goes West" seem epic to each viewer, in accord with how they "know it really happened, or increasingly tiresome for the skeptical who see shades of grey instead of stark black and whites. The holier-than-thou posturing of the poor, terrorized mice and the "good German cat" who sides with the downtrodden against his own choosing-to-be-wicked kind will either make you cheer (for what?) or vomit with disgust at the dehumanization of people only doing what they were being told by what millennia of human struggle had boiled down to what is known as "society."

Cat R. Waul and Tanya An American Tail: Fievel Goes West 1991
There is a lot that is creepy about the Cat R. Waul character.
Don Bluth, who directed "An American Tail," is not around for this installment, as he was busy working on his own projects in his studio in Ireland. The reason given was "creative differences." Thus, this film has a much different style than the first film, and in terms of animation, not as good. James Horner returns to do the score for "An American Tale: Fievel Goes West," and there are some interesting song choices, such as The Blues Brothers singing "Rawhide."

Fievel An American Tail: Fievel Goes West 1991

Linda Ronstadt even sings a song. The soundtrack borrows from all sorts of classic westerns, giving "An American Tail: Fievel Goes West" a comfortable feeling for those who like films like "The Magnificent Seven." The song "Dream to Dream" has the feel of a patriotic standard, as if you should stand and put your hand over your heart every time it comes on, which either will inspire you or make you want to retch.

Cat R. Waul An American Tail: Fievel Goes West 1991
Cat R. Waul is a Messianic figure.
"An American Tale: Fievel Goes West" has the disease of most sequels, and that a lack of originality. Once again, Fievel gets separated from his family who continues on without him, and once again he reunites with them without all that much trouble. The "An American Tail: Fievel Goes West" plot is reminiscent of practically every Western ever made, with the ranchers fighting off the cowpokes aided by the almost-but-not-quite-yet-over-the-hill-sheriff making things right. The one indisputable bright spot in "An American Tail: Fievel Goes West" is the addition of Jimmy Stewart because once you hear that distinctive voice, you suddenly know that something interesting lies ahead. Stewart does not disappoint, but overall "An American Tail: Fievel Goes West" is a bit too by-the-book to be a classic of its own like "An American Tail" became.
Cat R. Waul An American Tail: Fievel Goes West 1991
Cat R. Waul is very ingratiating.
"An American Tail: Fievel Goes West" is part of a cottage industry by Steven Spielberg's outfit. The television series "Fievel's American Tails" followed, as well as the direct-to-video sequels "An American Tail: The Treasure of Manhattan Island" and "An American Tail: The Mystery of the Night Monster." Various video games were created out of the "An American Tail" series that have long since disappeared. This particular tale is oddly complicated in its sinuous tale of entrapment of the defenseless mice. That it makes no sense is beside the point, the mice are cute, and the cats are perfidious, go with that and you will love all the episodes of "An American Tail."

Miley, Tiger Fievel An American Tail: Fievel Goes West 1991
This is reminiscent of the end of other Westerns.
Clearly, many people like these "An American Tail" characters and the situations in which they find themselves. Fievel and his "An American Tail" family represent the underdog, and everyone wants to think themselves an underdog, or worthy of that mantle because they are descended from underdogs even if now they are billionaires. The characters are voiced by the same amiable voice actors as in the first film, with some additions of low-key but popular actors who are very familiar to audiences: Phillip Glasser is Fievel, Dom DeLuise is Tiger, Cathy Cavadini is Tanya, Amy Irving is Miss Kitty, Nehemiah Persoff is Papa Mousekewitz, Erica Yohn is Mama Mousekewitz, and John Cleese and Jon Lovitz join as Cat R. Waul and Chula, respectively.

Miley gets the sheriffs badge An American Tail: Fievel Goes West 1991
Jimmy Stewart gives it up.
Fans of Jimmy Stewart will delight in his final bow in "An American Tail: Fievel Goes West." It is a fun animated Western with wit and style. The first film, though, did it all better, so that one is required viewing and "An American Tail: Fievel Goes West" is best left for a night when nothing else is handy and you just want to spend a little time with some old friends doing nothing special.
Just remember, Fievel one man’s sunset is another man’s dawn. I don’t know what’s out there beyond those hills. But if you ride yonder… head up, eyes steady, heart open… I think one day you’ll find that you’re the hero you’ve been looking for. -Wiley Burp
Below is the trailer for "An American Tail: Fievel Goes West," and below that "Rawhide" as featured in the film.

Fievel An American Tail: Fievel Goes West 1991


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