“An American Tail” stars Phillip Glasser, Amy Green, John P. Finnegan, Nehemiah Persoff, Erica Yohn, Pat Musick, and Dom DeLuise. Released on November 21, 1986, the film is about a young mouse who sets out on a perilous journey to reunite with his family.
The film is directed by Don Bluth, who also directed films such as “The Secret of NIMH”, “The Land Before Time”, and “Anastasia”. Two years ago, I took the opportunity to talk about one of Don Bluth’s earlier works, “Thumbelina”, which you can find in the “Classic Reviews” page. So today I figured, “Why not talk about a Don Bluth film that’s actually decent?”. You know, the one that didn’t suffer from box office losses and negative reviews. It has been quite a while since I watched this film, which spawned a theatrical sequel, two direct-to-DVD films, a short-lived animated series, and the creation of Steven Spielberg’s animation company, Amblimation. I remembered watching the sequels when I was young, but the original? Just bits and pieces. Luckily, I was able to catch the film during its special theatrical run this morning to see if it's worth a trip down memory lane.
Set in the 1880s, the story focuses on a Russian-Jewish family of mice known as the Mousekewitzes. When their home is destroyed by the vicious cats during an anti-Jewish arson attack, they attempt to move to a place where they don’t have to worry about getting eaten by the ferocious felines, which is America. However, a massive thunderstorm causes a separation between the young mouse, Fievel (Glasser), and his family. Now, he must scour the unknown world to search for his parents while meeting some new and unexpected characters along the way. This is a pretty simple kids movie that certainly knows how to deliver the charm despite a few scary moments here and there. Although, I would say that I didn’t remember the narrative being so…uneven. I guess that’s what happens when you watched a childhood movie for the first time during adulthood. If you’re looking for a film that matches the same quality as Disney in terms of storytelling, this film doesn’t really do any favors. The way “An American Tail” tells this type of story clearly parallels people’s fight for hope and freedom in this day and age, but it was unable to provide some elements to make the plot and the characters more engaging or interesting. Aside from that, once you get used to its frightening imagery, it’s an enjoyable ride that’ll warm the hearts of people young and old. Even though the characters were pretty basic, the cast did a nice job at bringing them to life, most notably Glasser as Fievel and DeLuise as Tiger, a huge, yet lovable, cat. Glasser remarkably captured the innocence and curiosity of the main character and DeLuise had plenty of light-hearted moments to keep the film from being too dark despite only appearing in the third act. The animation also had its perks in showcasing the vast world of the United States from a mouse’s perspective. While it did have some tiny hiccups during a couple of sequences, the film still retains the endearing and nostalgic art of 2D animation more than 30 years later. Similar to “Thumbelina”, “An American Tail” offers a few songs that rival the likes of Disney, but never came close to being as memorable as “Circle of Life” from “The Lion King” or even “Let it Go” from “Frozen”. The only song that stood out for me was “Somewhere Out There”, which was played twice during the entire film. That musical piece alone was my main highlight of the film’s soundtrack because of the melody and its message.
Overall, “An American Tail” is as cute and enjoyable as I remembered it, but I was quite surprised at how it actually turned out after viewing it for the first time as an adult. While the story felt a bit uneven and the characters lack any sort of personal depth, the film is still a charming and family-friendly experience that isn’t afraid to be a bit scary at times. It’s a safe bet that kids and adults are going to enjoy it due to its likable characters and its animation style, but it might not be able to win over some people who are expecting it to be a non-Disney animated classic. Maybe someday I will be able to look at its sequel, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up just yet.