Thursday, May 17, 2018

Blast from the Past Movie Review: An American Tail: Fievel Goes West (1991)

One of the most iconic animated films of many millennials' childhoods is An American Tail, which the podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood was sure to cover and I was sure to review for my blog. Well, like many successful movies, it spawned a sequel a few years later--An American Tail: Fievel Goes West. And Myopia was sure to discuss it.

Here's the podcast. And now for the review...

The Plot

Although the Mousekewitz family is happily reunited after the events of the previous film and remain unlikely friends with the "vegetarian" cat Tiger (Dom DeLuise), they're still living in an impoverished immigrant ghetto in New York City. A charismatic and ostensibly harmless cat named Cat-R-Waul (the John Cleese) persuades the family--and many other New York City mice--to travel west to a brand new life on the frontier.

Unfortunately, Cat-R-Waul is not as harmless as he seems, and its up to Fievel (Phillip Glasser) to save the day once more. Unfortunately, his sister Tanya's (Cathy Cavadini) musical dreams leave her vulnerable to Cat-R-Waul's blandishments. Can legendary gunfighter Wylie Burp (the legendary Jimmy Stewart in his final role) help save the day?

The Good

*There're some amusing jokes, like how the Mousekewitzs use Tanya's early singing--and the resulting thrown fruits and vegetables--to get food. It was a way to work "Somewhere Out There" back into the film at least. And there are some fun visual gags, including a tin can used as a hamster wheel. And when we finally meet the legendary Wylie Burp, he gets a couple good lines.

*They managed to bring back many of the voice actors from the original, like Dom DeLuise (Tiger), Phillip Glasser (Fievel), Nehemiah Persoff (Papa Mousekewitz), and Erica Yohn (Mama Mousekewitz) to voice the characters. Tanya has a new voice actress, but given how she's supposed to be Fievel's older sister and looks to be in her teens at this point, it makes sense her voice would sound different. Like "Somewhere Out There," the single version of her song "Dreams to Dream" was performed by Linda Rondstadt. Having continuity when you make a sequel is a good thing. And Glasser has improved as Fievel's voice--he doesn't sound nearly as annoying as he does sometimes in the original.

*Cat-R-Waul is entertaining as a villain. Very smart, very advanced vocabulary, and supercilious as hell. He was a lot of fun to watch, and a great improvement over the rather bland Warren T. Rat of the original. John Lovitz as Cat-R-Waul's tarantula minion Chula was pretty fun too.

*I like how they elaborated on Tanya's character, making her an aspiring singer and a pretty good one too. I liked Cavadini's singing voice, and Tanya's song "The Girl You Left Behind" in the cat bar is actually pretty entertaining. And for those of feminist inclinations, her scenes with Miss Kitty do pass the Bechdel Test. :)

*The later part of the movie gets a lot faster-moving and more entertaining. It even includes a training montage. And a character we never thought capable became a bad-ass.

The Bad

*The animation quality has declined from the original--static backgrounds that are obvious paintings without any movement. The fact that Don Bluth, who left Disney over their corner-cutting with animation, isn't involved in this one is rather obvious.

*There's a lot of rehashing of the first movie--the mice have to flee cat pogroms again, Fievel gets separated from his family again, there's an "ally" who it turns out is a villainous cat, etc. The songs feel like rehashes too--compare "Way Out West" to "No Cats in America." Very similar, but less ethnic. Assimilation? Laziness on the part of the writers? Complaints about the original number being stereotypical? Either way, less original and less fun.

*The mice seem to fall for Cat-R-Waul's scheme far too readily with far too few skeptics. These are prey animals and cats (with the exception of the eccentric pescatarian Tiger and to a degree Miss Kitty) are their mortal enemies. If they were that dumb, they wouldn't have lived that long. Papa Mousekewitz had already found out the hard way in the last film that there ARE cats in America and the streets aren't full of cheese, so I would expect him at least to be less naive. "Out west, cats are good?" Really? Papa Mousekewitz, how stupid are you? That seems like something Fievel, who idealizes the Wild West and has a cat friend, might think of, with pogrom survivor Papa Mousekewitz a bit more suspicious. After all, when they're leaving on the train, Papa tells Fievel that when he's older he'll realize his friendship with Tiger wasn't meant to be or something like that.

*When Fievel is pursued by a predatory bird, the music sounds very much like something I remember from The Land Before Time. Were they so cheap that they were reduced to reusing soundtrack elements from an unrelated film that happened to have the same producer?

*Fievel's family seems remarkably blase about them losing him again. Papa Mousekewitz seems to trust that he'd find their way back to them like he did in the first film, but that's really a reckless attitude to have.

*There's a bit of bad CGI (or at least something that looked like bad early 1990s CGI) at the end that's really not necessary.

The Verdict

An improvement on the original in many respects, but derivative and the plot relies on several characters being idiots. Fortunately it's not too long. 6.5 out of 10.

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