American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"Tall Tale: The Unbelievable Adventures of Pecos Bill" is a warm-blooded, high-spirited family adventure film about a 12-year-old boy who saves his family's farm from an evil villain with the help of Pecos Bill, Paul Bunyan and John Henry (the steel-drivin' man), plus a walkon by Calamity Jane. The movie may strike today's kids as startling in its originality, since each of these characters is an actual human being, unlike such plastic-faced clones as the Ninja Turtles and the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
The movie takes place in Paradise Valley, an unspoiled Western area that a scheming bad guy named Stiles wants to destroy with strip-mining. (This side of the plot seems borrowed from the John Prine song, "Paradise Valley," which "Mr. Peabody's coal trains are haulin' away.") We meet the Hackett family, who turns down Stiles' offer of $50 an acre because this land is their land. There's almost a tragedy when one of Stiles' hired guns wounds the father, Jonas (Stephen Lang).
That galvanizes young Daniel Hackett (Nick Stahl), who in the early scenes doesn't much like working on the farm, which he tells his dad is "just a piece of dried-up old ground." After his dad is wounded, Daniel falls asleep in a boat on the farm lake and is magically transported to a Texas desert, where he meets Pecos Bill (Patrick Swayze), the first of several legendary heroes his father has told him about. They will teach him the value of standing up for your beliefs.
The movie, directed by Jeremiah Chechik, enters easily into the spirit of its tall tales, as Pecos saves Daniel from a couple of varmints and then decides to help him save the family farm, too. That involves recruiting other heroes to lend a hand, and they find Paul Bunyan (Oliver Platt) living in a luxury log cabin literally made from a log - a giant sequoia. During Daniel's visit to logging country, he actually finds himself trapped in a sawmill with the whirling blade inching closer by the second, a cliche so old, it may be new to some kids.