- Directed by Don Bluth
- November 21, 1986
- Fievel Mousekewitz-Phillip Glasser
- Tanya Mousekewitz-Amy Green (singing voice provided by Betsy Cathcart)
- Papa Mousekewitz-Nehemiah Persoff
- Mama Mousekewitz-Erica Yohn
- Bridget-Cathianne Blore
- Tony Toponi-Pat Musick
- Tiger-Dom DeLuise
- Henri le Pigeon-Christopher Plummer
- Honest John-Neil Ross
- Gussie Mausheimer-Madeline Kahn
- Warren T. Rat-John Finnegan
- Digit-Will Ryan
- Moe-Hal Smith
- Jake-Dan Kuenster
The Mousekewitz family emigrates from Russia to the United States for a better life but their youngest gets lost and must find his way back to them in New York City.
An American Tail is a classic bit of animation that is aimed at kids but has plenty beneath the surface for adults as well. There is great music and heart and it just tells an engaging bit of drama that’s made lighthearted because rather than people they use mice and cats and other creatures to tell the narrative.
The animals live in a secret parallel society. In this the mice are the immigrant class of the era from across the world. And the analogous elements do not just stop at where the mice come from. That there helps this animated movie rise above dozens of other animated features from over the decades.
Ever hear the word ‘pogrom?’ It is not something used much anymore but you have seen its end result in the history books. A pogrom by definition is “an organized massacre of a particular ethnic group, in particular that of Jewish people in Russia or eastern Europe.” Some have called it the precursor to what the Nazis did.
One of the first bits of action in this movie is a pogrom of the Mousekewitz village of Shostka, Russia during Hannukah. Cossacks storm the village and attack the people while accompanying cats as a parallel to the Cossacks attack the local mice. I never really got that until I became an adult and learned a little bit more about history.
An American Tail is a turn of the century immigrant story as told through a more child friendly lens. Adults will clearly see what is going on, but the young ones will not. We have corrupt politicians, cat oppression (which is a parallel to the issues immigrants face), a love at first sight story, and individuals like Warren T. Rat (the chief villain) looking to take advantage of the ignorant new arrivals for their own nefarious purposes. Heavy stuff when you understand what it is.
An American Tail just tugs on your emotions. Fievel’s sister Tanya believing that he is still alive in her heart of hearts to Fieval’s journey and his eventual reunification to his family it just pulls on your heartstrings. This story has hope and faith in it.
As with all hand on animation this looks as good today as it did then. Hand drawn animation withstands time. There’s something enduring about that which is made by hand and not by a keyboard.
But this movie would not have been as effective without the music by the legendary James Horner. Aside from the amazing “Somewhere Out There,” he was behind it allThat man had a gift when it came to movie music. He knew how to give each scene something special to make it better. And more importantly he understood that music should tell the story along with the film. Not enough film composers understand understood that then or now. Some can create really good music that works in the film, but it doesn’t always tell the story which elevates what is being put in so much more.
An American Tail is a great bit of non-Disney animation. It has heart, great music, and a great story. If you haven’t checked this out, you should.