Review: An American Tail: Fievel Goes West
After being forced out of their New York home by cats, the Mousekewitz family head west to Green River at the suggestion of one Cat R. Waul (voiced by John Cleese), who makes bold promises of a better way of life for all mice. Mr. Waul, however, is a nasty scheming cat who has nefarious plans for the mice. Also following the mouse family out west is scaredy cat Tiger (voiced by Dom DeLuise), the one cat who seems to be a friend to all mice, especially his good buddy Fievel (voiced by Phillip Glasser). Amy Irving voices the object of Tiger’s affections, Miss Kitty, whilst Nehemiah Persoff is the voice of the Mousekewitz family patriarch, Jimmy Stewart (in his last feature film) voices the tired old dog sheriff of Green River, named Wylie Burp, and Jon Lovitz voices a spider.
For some reason, the original “An American Tail” has always eluded me, but I decided to press on anyway with the 1991 sequel directed by Phil Nibbelink (“We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story”) and Simon Wells (The grandson of HG Wells, as well as co-director of “We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story” and the live-action remake of “The Time Machine”). Produced by the one and only Steven Spielberg, its Jewish mice characters are obviously important to him, but I have to say I tired of them, and the film rather quickly. Although it’s always nice to hear the voice of veteran character actor Nehemiah Persoff, they are pretty rank clichés and the real stars of the show are the voices of John Cleese and Dom DeLuise. Cleese (as the wonderfully named Cat. R. Waul) probably should’ve taken the offer to do Disney’s “Beauty & the Beast” rather than play the villain in this, because the big scheme he is cooking is woefully underwhelming. When you find out what he’s up to, you immediately want to know what he’s really up to. Nope, that really is the plan. However, there is no doubt that he was born to play a pompous, heartless villain in an animated film and he really gives the flimsy material more than it deserves.
Dom DeLuise, meanwhile, is terrific in pretty much imitating Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion in the form of a scaredy cat who is friends with a mouse, in a film where cats are otherwise rather hostile towards them. He’s a lot of fun, the film isn’t, and why waste the inimitable Jon Lovitz voicing a nondescript spider? Faring much better is old pro Jimmy Stewart as the ancient lawman Wylie Burp. Yeah, I hate the name too, but Stewart is terrific. The character is an old dog, and Stewart sure was old at the time, and being Jimmy Stewart he also talks slooooowly. Perfect, really. There’s a cute bit where Fievel and Tiger come across one another in the desert but each thinks the other is a mirage, and it was great to hear The Blues Brothers version of ‘Rawhide’ at one point. I also liked the bit where Wylie Burp tries to teach Tiger the ‘lazy eye’. It goes comically wrong. However, on the whole this is boring. It’s devoid of energy and the mice aren’t interesting in the slightest. Fievel’s sister in particular lacks any depth whatsoever. I assume she was more interesting in the first film, but here she just breaks into song from time to time. Also, it’s telling that the only memorable song is a replay from the first film (The lovely ‘Somewhere Out There’ by Linda Rondstadt in the original, Cathy Cavadini this time out).
Animation-wise, it’s a little more interesting than the films Disney churned out in the 80s, but I wouldn’t call Spielberg’s alternative a huge improvement. It’s colourful, but very dark to the point that it looks like it has been drawn/painted with the heaviest of hands. It does enough to differentiate itself from Disney, but I wouldn’t call it a ‘pretty’ film, either, and the wild west is animated unimpressively I must say.
An instantly forgettable sequel made at a time when Disney had made “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin” was on the horizon (It was also released the same day in the US as “Beauty and the Beast”, which was unfortunate for this film). You’d think Spielberg and animation would be a match made in heaven, but this and the later turkey “The Adventures of Tintin” suggest otherwise. Some of the voice-work is good, but the script is woefully underdeveloped (did they run out of money before the end?) and the pacing is shockingly slow. Not much fun, really, but it’s Jimmy Stewart’s last film appearance, which counts for a little something in my book. The screenplay is by Flint Dille (who has done a lot of work in TV and video games), from a story by Charles Swenson (“Twice Upon a Time”).