From the mid 1980's to the early 1990's Steven Spielberg's name was prolific on film posters, as it seemed as though he was the executive producer on just about every other film that was released. In 1986 Spielberg's company Amblin entered the animated market with An American Tail. This was the story of the Russian-Jewish Mousekewitze family, a family of mice as you might have guessed from their name, which fled persecution in Russia, hoping to find a better life in 19th Century America, where they instead find hardship and squalor. The movie was a financial success and so five years later, An American Tail: Fievel Goes West rode into movie theatres and multiplexes.
After a devastating cat raid on their slum leaves the Mousekewitze's homeless, the family once again becomes immigrants. They are lured to the west and the promise of wealth and wide-open spaces, where cats and mice live together in peace and mutual co-operation. Little do they realise that their latest woes are the orchestration of the nefarious and sophisti-CAT-ed Cat R. Waul, who plans on turning the mice pioneers into tasty mouseburgers after he has “exploited their labours."
Naturally our pint-sized hero Fievel discovers the plot and enlists the help of a reluctant Wylie Burp, a once great canine sheriff that wants Fievel to "let this sleeping dog lie".
John Cleese's cultured accent adds a sinister air to Cat R. Waul, and although he could have easily, albeit vocally, chewed the animated scenery, his performance is refreshingly restrained. James Stewart, in his final role, lends his distinctively laconic mid-western tones to Wylie Burp. In fact his participation can't help but remind you of the similarities between the plot of this film and John Ford's masterpiece The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, in which Stewart also starred. Without a doubt it is Cleese and Stewart who effortlessly steal the show.
The animation is comparable with all that Disney released during this era but it is less dark than that of the original film, both literally and figuratively.
Like a lot of sequels Fievel Goes West succumbs to the law of diminishing returns. The story uses all the familiar tropes that one is used to in a western, without breaking new ground. The final act also feels rushed. Wylie Burp agrees to help Feivel by training Feivel's feline friend Tiger for the final showdown, there's a short montage scene of the training and then it's straight into the showdown. There's surprisingly little action too, although there are plenty of comedic moments that will keep a younger audience entertained. It certainly captivated this writer’s 3-year-old, whose assessment of the film was, "I like cowboys and I like the funny talking dog."
AN AMERICAN TAIL: FIEVEL GOES WEST (1991) / CERT: U / DIRECTORS: PHIL NIBBELINK, SIMON WELLS / SCREENPLAY: FLINT DILLE / STARRING: PHILLIP GLASSER, JAMES STEWART, CATHY CAVADINI, ERICA YOHN / RELEASE DATE: 15TH FEBRUARY