While I do not have the most liberal tastes in film known to humanity, I am certainly willing to extend my boundaries in the name of discovering hidden gems within the lesser known corners of a genre and while I have certainly included farther stretches in terms of a "western genre" film so far this month, adding the sequel to the much adored An American Tail animated film is probably the biggest surprise. Of course, it is not, by any means, a stretch to include it within the viewing list, because it is very much a pioneering narrative as envisioned through the world of a few animated mice. In fact, if one can overlook the fact that it is intended as a children's movie this is probably one of the more straightforward offerings in the western since revisionist westerns became the cool thing to create. Between the voice cameo of an aged James Stewart and the always hilarious John Cleese this manages to be both a highly engaging children's movie, as well as something that could be easily enjoyed by adults or fans of classic films, both westerns and non, because it makes quite a slew of hilarious cinematic references. Furthermore, much as was the case with the recent Studio Ghibli delight The Secret World of Arriety, the directing duo of Phillip Nibbelink and Simon Welles manage to take the world of very tiny creatures and then place that within a larger world of the exploits of a group of cats who themselves exist within a larger world of humans, it is a meta-meta-world (trust me I know it sounds pretentious, but it is deservedly called such) and the animation often suggest these layers within their composition. Furthermore, Fievel Goes Wests exits at the tail-end, no pun intended, of the great revival in animation, which was occurring mostly at Disney, but certainly applies to this movie as well. While works like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and to some degree Fievel Goes West, certainly possess problematic societal commentaries and a tone of stereotypes that must not be overlooked, even the most staunch of theorists find it tough to dismiss the absolutely mesmerizing quality of each picture. It is a shame that Fievel Goes West had a release year simultaneous with Beauty and the Beast because in any other year it would have proven to be the standout work.
This sequel to An American Tale, once again focuses on The Mousekewitz family a family of Russian mice who have move to New York to pursue the American dream, headed by the go-get'em attitude of their young son Fievel. This sequel again focuses on the family, although it is clear that their living situation in Bronx is far from ideal, thus spurring a desire to move out west when given an opportunity by an awkwardly animated mouse who possesses multiple tickets to the western town of Green River. It is realized, by Fievel, during their trip that the mouse was actually the work of the dastardly and somewhat dandy cat Cat R. Waul who plans to use the labor of the mice to build a small metropolis in the streets of Green River only to devour the mice in "mouseburgers" upon completion of their task. Fievel is unable to convince others of the issues, particularly since they all seem inclined to overlook the threat in the face of the new found vigor and success offered in the wild west town. Eventually, Fievel must recruit the help of his friend the vegetarian cat Tiger, whose arrival to the west results in his being held up as a god to a tribe of Mousecassin indians. While Fievel and Tiger certainly have ambition they lack the skills to properly face the gang of cats, who have managed to become so liked by the mouse folk that they long the date of their party and implementation into the village, particularly Fievel's sister Tanya who is being given a chance to sing during the festivities. Acting fast, Fievel recruits the help of local dog sheriff Wylie, although his efforts are initially in vain, because the aged dog seems indifferent to suffering. Eventually coming around to aiding the small mouse, Wylie, Tiger and Fievel take on Cat R. Waul and feline posse, making quick work of the some what bewildered cats who seem incapable of comprehending exactly how a group different animals could work so well together. In the end they succeed and Green River becomes a place for friendly animals to co-habitate and as a point of respect Wylie appoints Fievel as a sheriff in the town.
The pioneer is a major trope within a handful of westerns, and while it has yet to be a major narrative in any of the previously reviewed films it, nonetheless, manages to have elements in the various stories, particularly the idea that something new is offered in the world of the west, whether it be opportunity or a chance to escape a miserable past. Fievel Goes West take the trope of the pioneer and studies it, literally, to the most minuscule of proportions. Often for pioneers in the western narrative, travel and movement are a result an unforeseen opportunity, or in the pursuit of something deemed lost. For The Mousekewitz's the movement is influenced by their hope for a life void of constant hunger and fear of attacks from cat bullies, whereas Tiger hopes to reconnect both with his friend Fievel as well as regain the love and admiration of his former girlfriend Miss Kitty. The pioneering trek is far from easy, as it is often depicted in the western, and for a majority of the trip Fievel is lost to the family when he falls of the train and must wander through the desert. Furthermore, minor tropes like dangerous wildlife and the threat of native attacks emerge as well, although they are minor in comparison to other elements. Some degree of the escape often has an intangibility about it as well, for example, both Miss Kitty and Tanya seem to desire to leave to find their voice, which while literally referring to their singing possesses a layer of assumption that the new frontier will also provide them the opportunity to challenge entrenched and restrictive gender norms. The musical element only aides this consideration with its purposefully idyllic tempo and escapist nature, the singing of Rawhide specifically manages to exoticize the west and ignore the very real despair faced by the stark desert landscape. Finally, pioneer narratives often involve an exploitative individual who serves as an antagonist, usually providing more hindrance than help (refer to my recent review of Meek's Cutoff), or in the worst cases have ulterior motives that will harm the pioneers, in Fievel Goes West it is a literal desire to consume the mice for sustenance. These various elements paired together make Fievel Goes West a wonderful animated feature, as well as a great consideration of the pioneering tale within the western framework.
Key Scene: The entire cat saloon scene beginning with Tanya singing through her dance number with Cat R. Waul's paw speaks to the layers of worlds going on in this film and is nothing short of spectacular.
Should you even remotely enjoy animated films there is no reason not to grab a copy of this and An American Tail for a steal on DVD.