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Film / Tall Tale

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Tall Tale: The Unbelievable Adventures of Pecos Bill is a 1995 movie from Walt Disney Pictures that features Nick Stahl as a young boy in the late 1800s who meets folk heroes Pecos Bill, Paul Bunyan, and John Henry.

After his father is shot for refusing to sell the deed to his land in Paradise Valley to an evil coal-mining magnate, Daniel Hackett (Stahl) goes on the run trying to keep the deed from falling into the mining company's hands. He is saved from two outlaws by badass cowboy Pecos Bill (Patrick Swayze). After explaining the situation, Pecos offers to help Daniel, but not before seeking out the help of his old friend, legendary lumberjack Paul Bunyan (Oliver Platt). The trio heads to Liberty City, where they encounter John Henry (Roger Aaron Brown), the steel-driving man. The group continues to battle their way back to Paradise Valley against the mining company's hired guns. All the way, Daniel learns about courage and what it means to be a real man.

Tall Tale contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Arboreal Abode: Paul Bunyan is living in a Californian Sequoia forest. (In this version, he's a very large guy but not a giant as he was in the original tall tales.) He's converted the trunk of a single felled Sequoia into a spacious house.
  • Achilles in His Tent: Paul Bunyan has become a recluse after the logging industry was modernized.
  • All Just a Dream: Right before a shoot-out with the Big Bad and his mooks, Daniel loses consciousness and wakes up in the raft he fell asleep in back in the beginning. Subverted, when he learns that the coal company has already begun mining, and Pecos, Bunyan, and Henry show up to help stop them.
  • Arc Words/Phrase Catcher: "The Code of the East/North/South/West"
    "Respect the land! Defend the defenseless! And don't ever spit in front of women or children!" *Spit*
  • Bad Ass Boast: Pecos' introductory (and parting) words. The latter is said while he's lassoing a tornado.
    I am a ring-tailed roarer! I can draw faster, shoot straighter, ride harder, and drink longer than any man alive! I'm the rip-snortingest cowboy that ever rode north, south, east, or west of the Rio Grande! I'm Pecos Bill! Yee-haw!
  • Bar Brawl: It happens right after some tough guy pushes Pecos Bill's...
  • Berserk Button: Insulting Texas.
    Tough Guy: You're from Texas?
    Pecos: I do have that honor, sir!
    Tough Guy: I though I smelled something funny in here!! (laughs along with his gang)
    Tough Guy: You mean the "great state of two-bit whores"?
    Pecos: Mister, you can insult me, and you can insult my friends. Hell, you can even insult my mother, or my horse. But mister don't you ever insult the great state of Texas!
  • Blasting It Out of Their Hands: Pecos prefers shooting off the "trigger finger" as opposed to killing.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Nobody ever seems to run out of bullets for their six shooters.
  • The Cameo: William H. Macy as one of the Big Bad's investors. Burgess Meredith as an old man who tells Daniel & Pecos where they can find Paul Bunyan.
  • Carry a Big Stick: John Henry wields his sledgehammer in combat just as effectively as he drives steel with it.
  • Cool Horse: "Widowmaker" Pecos' stallion.
  • Cool Train: J.P. Stiles has a magnificently baroque creation as his Base on Wheels.
  • Crippling the Competition: In a rare good guy example, Pecos Bill shoots the trigger fingers off rival gunslingers as an alternative to killing them.
  • Guns Akimbo: Pecos Bill carries a pair of Merwin Hulbert revolvers which he usually dual wields. Similarly, Calamity Jane has a pair of Colt revolvers which she exclusively fires in this fashion.
  • I Take Offence to That Last One: You can insult Pecos Bill to his face, or you can insult his mama or his horse. But don't ever insult Texas or you'll regret it.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Paul Bunyan.
  • Large Ham: Swayze and Platt
  • Memetic Badass: Pecos Bill is this in-universe.
  • Mighty Lumberjack: Paul Bunyan is literally the embodiment of this trope.
  • Not His Sled: John Henry actually loses his legendary contest with the steel-driving machine, though at the end he mentions looking into a rematch.
    • Well, since he would have died during his introduction if it had followed the original story...
  • Plot Hole: It's never explained how or when Daniel went from resting with Pecos, Paul, and John Henry after crossing the desert to being right back home in Paradise Valley after his bad dream, in the same place that he was when he went to sleep.
  • Right-Hand Cat: Stiles is seen a few times petting a hairless sphynx.
  • Robber Baron: Evil coal-mining magnate J.P. Stiles wants to turn Paradise Valley into a coal mine and will let nothing stand in his way.
  • Saving the Orphanage: Daniel is trying to protect his family farm from an evil developer, leading him on a long quest across the country to protect the deed to the farm and meeting legendary heroes of American tall tales who join him.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Daniel gives this to Styles when he's poised to knock down the last pillar holding up the train tunnel:
    Styles: Boy, be reasonable! You know we're gonna win in the end. There'll be others like me. And more after them. And more after them. As long as there's a profit to be made, we'll never stop. We're coming.
    Daniel: Not through our land! ::whack::
  • Stout Strength: Paul Bunyan in this movie is not a giant, just "Three Hundred Pounds of Raging Fury!''
  • Tall Tale: Natch.
  • Technical Pacifist: Pecos Bill will not kill a man on a Sunday. He shoots off their trigger finger instead.
  • Tempting Fate: Grub and Zeb after Pecos Bill disarms them.
    Pecos: I ought to plug you two right now, but I make it a rule never to kill a man on Sunday.
    Zeb: Today's Wednesday.
    Pecos: Wednesday?
    [cue Oh, Crap! from Grub and Zeb]
  • World's Strongest Man: John Henry, at least according to Pa's tall tales. When he loses the contest against the Steam driver, he gets so mad that when he drives a rail into the rock he's standing on, the whole boulder splits in half.