Call it Mouse-ifest Destiny: Producer Steven Spielberg and company make big bucks with An American Tail — 1986’s animated feature about Russian-Jewish mice immigrating to the New World — and so, because it is their right and duty, they do it again.
This time, the Mousekewitzes are lured from the squalor of turn-of-the- century New York by the promise of wealth and wide-open spaces. Like any self-respecting rodent boy, the pip-squeaky Fievel has been seduced by the cowboy mythos. (The Spielberg factory did the same thing with Back to the Future III — put on a Stetson and chaps, and you’ve got a whole new movie.) While Mama and Papa still sport buoyant Baltic accents, Fievel is drawlin’ like a sagebrush gunslinger, dreaming about high-noon shoot-outs and the great dog sheriff, Wylie Burp (James Stewart, in an endearing voice-cameo). When a cat attack leaves the Mousekewitzes homeless, the clan heads west, hopping a train to Green River, where, word has it, mice and cats live in harmony. Pshaw! John Cleese, winningly arch and sinister, is on board as the nefarious Cat R. Waul, who plans to serve up scads of tasty mouseburgers after ”we have exploited their labors.”
While the quality of animation remains high in Fievel, its look is less dark, literally and figuratively, than its predecessor. (There are even Looney Tunes-ish sight gags, like dancing buffalo bones and twin signposts: ”Now Leaving the Badlands” and ”Now Entering the Worselands.”) The sequel has its problems — there’s not much suspense as the film heads toward its finale, and the songs, by James Horner and Will Jennings, aren’t as memorable as the original’s Oscar-nominated ”Somewhere Out There” — but, as my 9-year-old daughter concurred, it’s funnier and friendlier. B