Archive for category Music




An American Tail: Fievel Goes West – (1991)

Director: Phil Nibbelink, Simon Wells
Starring: Phillip Glasser, James Stewart, Dom DeLuise, John Cleese
Screenplay by: David Kirschner, Charles Swenson, Flint Dille

Goodbye, Don Bluth; hello… uh, someone not named Don Bluth! Due to creative differences between Bluth and Steven Spielberg, the latter was forced to rely on another former Disney animator, Phil Nibbelink, and the grandson of H.G. Wells, Simon Wells, to direct this sequel. Sounds like an odd combination to be sure; indeed, financially, this movie bombed at the box office.

Was it because it sucked? Probably, although it was also up against The Addams Family (future CHILDHOOD REVISITED feature) and Beauty and the Beast, so it didn’t exactly have an easy time during its theater run. Still, there does seem to be a small, cultural following, or more appropriate, a small, cultural appreciation of the movie. However, there seems to be another small following that dislikes the movie, due to the fact that it simply isn’t “Bluthian”. So, now it comes down to this: is this a good film or not? Does the first movie win this battle, or is this an example of the few times that the sequel wins the day? I shall decide, and my decision will be law.

NOSTALGIC LENS: I have to admit I enjoyed this movie more than the first one when I was young. The animation was quite lovely, and I adored the music in particular; unlike other animated films, where the songs seem forced in as a time-waster and Oscar bait, Fievel Goes West maintained an exciting energy with their songs that truly appealed to me—and this is from someone that tends to hate music in his movies. Overall, I had fun with it, which netted several rentals from my neighborhood video store.

DOES IT HOLD UP: Aside from the transitions, which neither movie does well in an capacity, I have to say this: everything that the first movie fails at the second one does well, and everything the second movie fails at the first movie does well.

From a nostalgic standpoint, I can see why I would watch this movie so often as a child; however, it’s hard not to notice its flaws. The most glaring one is the sound. Fievel, our main character, again, fluctuates wildly in tone and delivery, as if recorded from two wildly different sound studios. Mama Mousekewitz sounds completely different from the first movie (despite being voiced by the same person), and some of the minor character voices are just all over the place. The odd thing is that the voice work is genuinely good; even Jimmy Stewart, who Spielberg personally coached, did a decent job. It just seems more like when the dubbing was placed, the recordists never bothered to fine-tune all of it—just some, but not all.

The story, plot-wise, is actually quite similar to the first one. A mouse family, disappointed with the life they currently live in America, grabs an opportunity to take a trip out West to start anew. Tone-wise, however, Fievel Goes West utilizes a wackier, somewhat sillier execution of events, which works perfectly sometimes, and falls short during other moments. As I mentioned previously, Bluth’s animation is not that clean nor strong; but he at the very least somehow manages to create an atmosphere, an overarching “sense” that works. Such a feeling, however, doesn’t exist here; instead, this movie reminds me a bit of Who Framed Roger Rabbit and its penchant for goofy moments among serious ones, minus Zemeckis’ careful control.

Let’s look at the movie’s opening scenes:

It’s surprisingly strong for something so loose. The individual cuts here are somewhat smoother and more coherent than the first one, and the slow disintegration of Fievel’s fantasy is strangely potent. In fact, the opening scene and the final scenes of the movie are incredibly well done, invoking a more genuine movie-specific atmosphere over that broad Bluthian feel.

It’s not a feeling that lasts long though:

(Note about sound: at 4:22, that sure cannot be Glasser. Or maybe it is, after a good swift kick in the balls).

The chaos here is sloppy and random, and once again, Fievel’s youthful bravery seems unbalanced. He challenges the giant cat to a fight, only to realize he bit off more than he can chew. But, er, shouldn’t he have realized that beforehand? It’s not like that children’s desire to fight King Kong suddenly goes away after realizing how big the ape is. Hell, the size tends to get kids to want to fight him MORE. (Stupidly, or course, but all the same). Oh, and apparently the hat that Papa gave Fievel in the first movie can turn inside out in a cowboy hat. In Soviet Russia, cowboy hat wears your hat? I got nothing.

Chaos is not this movie’s strong suit. Tiger in particular has a number of incidents where he runs into dog after dog after dog; aside from the fact that the dogs aren’t anthropomorphized like the cats or mice (something that always grinds my gears in animated works), the over-wrought efforts to make it crazy just come off overbearing and goofy. It’s worth a chuckle but ultimately what could have been funny just falls flat.

However, there is one very, very bright spot: John Cleese as Cat R. Waul. He’s absolutely gold in this movie, if you can tell by the second clip. His causally delivered commands and his British-to-Southern drawl are hilarious; and it only gets better from there. He draws a line between idealized sophistication and animalistic instinct, but neither goes into the extreme, like say, Ratigan from The Great Mouse Detective, which works beautifully here.

Waul’s plan ultimately delves into talking the mice to move out West, where they will be manipulated not only to build the town, but also to be blindly ensnared in a mousetrap, to be made into mouseburgers. Yum. Fievel finds out (thanks to his indomitable desire to run into the nearest dangerous situation), but falls of the train thanks to Chula the spider (a IMMENSELY forgettable character if I ever saw one. Not even John Lovitz, who voiced the arachnid terribly, could make him stand out.). Fievel lost in the desert is actually a nice couple of scenes; you really feel bad for the little guy, despite the fact that it’s essentially his own fault.

There’s also a few enduring moments with Tanya, Fievel’s sister. She longs for the stage but her voice is not appreciated by New Yorkers; but out West, Cat R. Waul is absolutely enamored by it (“Dreams to Dream” I think is a better song than “Somewhere Out There,” but it may be because it’s sung better here.) He convinces Miss Kitty (the female cat from the first clip) to prep her for the stage; Tanya breaks out and performs an amazing choreographed version of “The Girl I Left Behind”, and wows the audience and herself. There’s a theme of solidarity here, of cats and mice working together; and while Waul exploits it in order to ultimately eat them, Kitty and Tiger seems to genuinely believe in the idea. Tanya also in times learns about the artificiality of fame. Or something—that lesson doesn’t come off that clearly.

There’s also a couple of very mediocre-to-stupid scenes involving mirages, Tiger confused as a god by Indian mice, and a montage of Tiger learning how to be a tough dog by a Wylie Burp, voiced by the late James Stewart (man, it’s unfortunate that so many older actors pass away after voicing a cartoon character). Still, it “works” somehow, especially in the context of a young Fievel trying to desperately convince everyone of the danger, but no one believing him. I can understand that feeling; and that concept — of children and their relationship to real, genuine threats (and the adults that will/won’t listen) — segues perfectly into my next two movies.

IN A NUTSHELL: Other then adoring Cat R. Waul for the most part, I can’t really say this movie was that good. Neither the first one nor the second one wowed me in any way. They’re the same, but different, and it’s really hard to judge them in relation to each other. Both films have really great moments and really terrible ones; both have great technical aspects and shitty ones. If forced to choose, I’d have to say I’d prefer Fievel Goes West, if only because of the charismatic villain and the somewhat catchier music (although to be honest, it isn’t as good as I remember it).

August 31st: Jumanji
September 7th: The Goonies


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[Ed. note: I decided to do Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker in lieu of his passing. The Adventures of the American Rabbit will be done next week, for Fourth of July weekend. I don’t plan this kind of thing. I apologize if this seems rushed.]

I kinda wish this is what he was like standing up against Death.

I kinda wish this is what he was like standing up against Death.


Directed by: Jerry Kramer, Jim Blashfeild, Colin Chilvers
Starring: Michael Jackson, Joe Pesci (!)
Screenplay by: Michael Jackson, David Newman

A poster on a website I frequent quite often poignantly suggested that, in the case of Michael Jackson, there be a middle ground. He waxed on elaborately, but a follow-up comment summed it up quite succinctly: “That was one fucked up dude, who made some great fucking music. I think each of those facts cannot eclipse the other. They just are.”

“They just are” is probably the hardest sentiment the human mind can comprehend. With our passion for searching for truth and explanations (an assessment I fully endorse by the way, especially for scientific purposes), we can’t simply grasp that someone can be both great in one aspect and odd in another, despite the fact people like that exist all around us (Ty Cobb, Eddie Murphy, hell, even Adolf Hitler). When it comes to people, I’ve learned that it’s really best to accept them and their behavior as “they just are” instead of trying to figure it out. (See: Citizen Kane).

Jackson was the king of pop and the prince of nightmares; he was a musical genius and a creepy celebrity figure; he choreographed breath-taking dance numbers and invoked questionable relationships with children. He did both, and far be it from us to try and reconcile the two, because honestly, no one can. The media can pop wise and speculate all they want; friends and family can gossip and book-write till the end of time; doctors and psychologists can “study” the stories and anecdotes of a child pop star growing up with a commanding father for years to come; but the whole truth is that he is who he is, and whatever he thought or felt is now forever gone.

NOSTALGIC LENS: Moonwalker is actually a series of vignettes, a compilation of music videos, original content, documentary reels, and concert footage. All I remember though, is the strange, overly long “Smooth Criminal” segment, complete with Jackson the Transformer, and strange clip of Michael out-dancing a rabbit. I can’t say I liked what I saw back then, but was strangely compelled by it nonetheless. It was almost as if a part of my childish mind said “this is stupid, but engaging.” Although when you’re young, you’ll watch anything.

DOES IT HOLD UP: I don’t even know anymore. I mean, to be honest, it’s a totally different movie now. Michael Jackson past away way too soon, and now we’re looking back at his work historically way too fast, instead of gradually. So I fear I may be seeing “meaning” in things that are meaningless. Still, you can’t help but get a sense that there is a message, something that Michael was trying to say beyond simply marketing his albums. Whether it was a broad, social message or a personal one… well, that’s debatable for sure.

The film begins with his song “Man in the Mirror,” a song that, in retrospect, may be a chilling introspective on his own personal demons. It’s a heartfelt song, truly sung with an undertone of remorse and passion that went beyond his usual persona. It was at this time that the seeds to Michael’s strange behavior were sewn; the nose job, the sudden marriage, the bleaching of the skin. When he sang about changing his ways, he wasn’t quite speaking metaphorically. He seemed to have a genuine passion for saving the world, or protecting it, clearly indicated by the random historical shorts of famous political, social, and civil figures. When he couldn’t, he focused on himself and elements he felt he could save, like children, or Beatles’ songs, or… the Elephant Man’s bones. He was a hippie version of Holden Caulfield, with money and fame to burn.

(NOTE: Most of the Moonwalker clips have been marked “not to embed” so you can follow along via the youtube host’s playlist.)

This is then followed by an amazing compilation of various songs he’s performed over the years, mixed with (at the time) high-end special effects and elaborate edits. Both parts are surprisingly good, if dated; but again, I’m watching this after the fact, and I can’t help but wonder if I would be as impressed with the clips if he was still around (I would say yes, if only because to hear the unique change in his sound and style is incredible in and of itself).

Ahh, then the humor comes in. A rendition of his “Bad” video performed by kids comes on. Now, although I don’t think he actually molested any kids, his affinity towards them was always weird. Overall people hate kids, or lack a passionate desire to be around them, so seeing Michael’s closeness to them, coupled with his VERY effeminate voice, is creepy. The kids performed well, though, and Michael isn’t in that section, so it isn’t too bad.

Harmony, peace, hope—they are the themes through out this entire movie, even when quick, self-deprecating moments are shown. Following the “Bad” video, where child-Jackson waxes surprise at Bubbles wearing a Prince shirt (*WINK*), we’re treated to a Beatles-esque fan-chase scene. It’s cute, with claymation characters hot on the heels of the pop star, a clear reference to claymation sensations “The Raisins”. It’s somewhat creepy in the Uncanny Valley sense, but not that bad. To escape his obsessed clique, he dresses up as a bunny—out of ALL the possible choices available to him. Wait, what?

Anyway, we’re treated to another music video, “Speed Demon”. Now, retrospectively, this all may not make sense to a kid, since children are so comfortable in following a straightforward plot, so the compilation aspect of it may seem odd, or downright frightening. But as an adult, it makes sense, and the intention is more obvious. I got a genuine kick out of it, despite its old school ways and the fact that “Speed Demon” isn’t really that good of a song. (And one more thing—Michael Jackson would be the world’s WORST role-player. He powergames through out the entire movie. He can transform into anything! And so can his vehicle!). He then out-dances his bunny persona (WHAT?) in the world’s first “Bring It On” dance-off, and gets a ticket for it. I chuckled a bit at that. I mean, dancing? Illegal in the desert? How random—but then again, this is Michael we’re talking about.

More self-deprecating comes in my second-favorite song “Leave Me Alone”, a “Yellow Submarine” type video of visual metaphors of Jackson trying to deal with the press’s obsession over him. Again, this totally flies over you as a child but is much clearly presented now. Also, I love this song.

Now comes the part we all remember—the overly long, elaborate “Smooth Criminal” music video, where Michael the Powergamer, Kate, the cutie white girl, and two other kids discover a hamming-it-up Joe Pesci out to supply drugs to every kid in the universe. RIDICULOUS plot aside, it’s shot fairly well, with a way-too long chase sequence, and some nifty effects with Jackson transforming into a car, killer robot, and a spaceship. I suppose that these “transformations” could mean something, some outward expression or desire to “be” something else, but every time, he’s forced to change back to himself, to be himself, to “save” those around him in song and dance and fervor. Still, “Smooth Criminal” is my favorite MJ song, and it’s an amazing video, with some of the best dancing and choreography around (so good, in fact, that Michael was PISSED it didn’t win best music video at the MTV Awards that year).

Usually, this ends when Jackson flies away (a moment that’s hugely depressing now), but for the movie, he returns, and takes the kids into a concert for a final performance by him back in concert mode, singing “Come Together” (I had no idea he did a cover of this song!). It’s cool, but by the time this part comes around, the overly long “Smooth Criminal” part already wore you out, so you’re just running through the motions now.

IN A NUTSHELL: As a movie-movie, it’s not good, but as some sort of real insight into the man, music, and mysticism of Michael, it’s amazing. I want to say that somewhere in all this is the answer, that within this amazing effort of dancers, actors, writers, directors, producers, and editors, lies the hidden secret to the mind of that Man in the Mirror, that king of pop that ruled the 80s and ran strong in the 90s. But even if I were to watch this a million times, and “The Making of” video two million, there’s really no answer to it all. He was a powerful pop star and a horrible one; both a glorious figure addicted to the limelight and a tragic figure trying desperately to stay away from it. He was his best friend and his own worst enemy, his own enabler, his own killer. Maybe there is nothing beyond the facts we see; sometimes, “they just are” indeed.

RIP Michael.

July 6th: The Adventures of the American Rabbit
July 13th: The Great Mouse Detective



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