20 September 2010

Fievel Goes West

While I'm talking about kid's movies and nostalgia, I might as well talk about An American Tail: Fievel Goes West (1991), as I recently watched it on VHS while resting up. By the way, though not entirely an excuse, that's why I missed too days of posting. I was pretty miserable and didn't really know what to write about or what to say.

But I did watch Fievel Goes West while curled up under a blanket, and it certainly brought back its share of memories. I really liked this film as a kid, I think primarily for the cornball antics of the cowardly cat Tiger. Plus, what little boy doesn't love a film about a little kid who goes on to help save the day?

Considering that this film first came out when I was 3, and that I haven't watched it much since VHS went out of fashion, I wasn't really aware of things like animation techniques like I am now. As such, I never noticed how much rotoscoping occurs in this film.

For those who don't know, rotoscoping is an animation technique in which movement is recorded on film, and then the animators trace it. It was developed fairly early in the world of animation due to the fact that it greatly helped in the creation of realistic movement. For a great example of rotoscoping at work, see the video for Aha's "Take on Me."

Typically, rotoscoping is primarily used for character movement, but this is not the case in Fievel Goes West. Now, maybe a few scenes involved rotoscoped characters, but not to be significantly noticeable. No, it instead focused on rotoscoping the backgrounds. It seems like an odd choice, as backgrounds are generally fairly easy to "make-up," but it makes sense when you realize how mobile the "camera" is in this film.

While backgrounds may be fairly easy to draw when a camera is relatively stationary, the difficulty would likely increase when the camera is frequently spinning, soaring through the air, and generally moving all about the scene. Plus, it also allows for very realistic and ornate backgrounds, which is important when you realize that this film is, essentially, a Western for kids. What kind of Western would it be if it didn't have a beautiful, sprawling landscape?

The animation is honestly pretty good. Not necessarily my favourite, but the quality is pretty high and the mobility of the camera definitely adds a special cinematic flare to the whole film.

Voice acting
This is probably what I noticed most when watching this film after so many years. I didn't recognize these voices back then, but there were some awesome talents working on this film. For one, the "lawdog" sheriff Wylie Burp is voiced by Jimmy Stewart. And it's pretty obvious that it's Jimmy Stewart if you know what he sounds like. The characteristic stutter and everything is there. And it works exceedingly well.

But the other big surprise for me was John Cleese as the villainous Cat R. Waul. The voice is pretty much straight out of Monty Python, and while it worked, I could never quite get over the whole, "It's John Cleese!" thing. It was just so obviously him. Plus, I can't think of him anymore without thinking of these commercials. His voice isn't quite evil, but it fits in this the sort of high-class style of the character, as well of the comedic moments where the film reminds the viewer that, in the grand scheme of things, he's just a cat.

The one other weird "I know that voice!" character was the spider cohort of Cat, who was voiced by none other than Jon Lovitz. However, this one was less obvious, as it wasn't his normal acting voice. It was a lot stranger than usual, but if you've watched as much of The Critic as I have, parts of it will strike you as familiar. Still, I had to look this one up to make sure.

All and all, the voices are pretty good, though Fievel's seemed to fluctuate a bit in pitch or something. Sometimes, it just sounded higher pitched than others. But maybe my ill and feverish brain was just mishearing things. I didn't like Tiger this time through as much as I used to. His character was very, very silly, which I can see being appealing to me as a little kid, but I was now more amused by some of the more subdued humour from Wylie and Cat.

And again... Jimmy Stewart. Seriously. Apparently, this was his last film appearance. That's crazy to me.

Although I never had any specific feelings of nostalgia watching this film, it all felt strangely familiar, but in that déjà vu sort of way. You know, where you can't really say what's going to happen next but when it does happen, you're like, "Oh man! I remember this now!"

I definitely found myself appreciating it on a different level now. Before, I think I liked Tiger's silly antics and the full story, while I was now more interested in the voice acting and animation. Oh, and the music. I mean, really, this scene was just amazing:

That's right. The Blues Brothers. Do you really need anything else to convince you of how awesome this film is?

Anyway, watching it also made me realize... I should try and watch the original An American Tail (1986) sometime.

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