Film Review: An American Tail
In 1986, Don Bluth released An American Tail which starred Phillip Glasser, Amy Green, John P. Finnegan, Nehemiah Persoff, Erica Yohn, Pat Musick, Dom DeLuise, Christopher Plummer, Cathianne Blore, Neil Ross, Madeline Kahn, Will Ryan, Hal Smith, and Dan Kuenster. The film grossed $84 million at the box office and spawned multiple sequels including the theatrical Fievel Goes West and direct to video movies, The Treasure of Manhattan island and Mystery of the Night Monster. There was also a 13-episode TV series called Fievel’s American Tails. Winner of the ASCAP Award for Most Performed Songs from a Motion Picture, the BMI Film & TV Award for Most Performed Song from a Film, the Grammy Awards for Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or for Television and Song of the Year, and the Youth in Film Awards for Best Animation Voice Over Group and Best Motion Picture – Animation, the film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song, the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song – Motion Picture,After the Mo and the Saturn Awards for Best Fantasy Film and Best Music. It was the highest-grossing non-Disney animated film at the time and the success of it was a factor in Steven Spielberg establishing Amblimation which became DreamWorks Animation.
In 1885, the Mousekewitz family travels from their home in Russia to New York following the destruction of their village by Cossack cats. With a belief in the American dream and how “there are no cats in America and the streets are paved with cheese,” their son Fievel is washed overboard in a storm, causing him to search for the family who believes he is dead. At the same time, the mice have found that there are cats in America, work in a sweatshop and live with extortion from New York’s gangs.
One of the most popular animated films that came out of the 1980s, An American Tail is an incredibly moving and wonderful film. As a whole, the story is great, revolving around Fievel’s search for his family that takes him from the high torch held by the Statue of Liberty to the deepest slums of New York City meeting an interesting cast of characters including a French pigeon that inspires him to never say never, a drunken yet reliable politician who wants to help him but can’t and a cat that would rather eat broccoli than a mouse. Also notable is how often he very narrowly runs into his family, only to be pulled away from them before he’s able to reveal himself. It wonderfully culminates at the end in Fievel being reunited with them simply because Papa played his violin which is what led Fievel back to them.
However, what’s possibly the greatest aspect of the film is how Bluth was able to convey the plight of immigrants in the late 19th century through the eyes of a family of mice. In this film, the cats are always the oppressors with the mice being the average, everyday working class. The film is a great parallel to how people in the 1800s fled their home countries because of how the oppressors were treating them for promises of a better life without the oppression, seen in how the mice believe there aren’t any cats in America. Yet, not only were the promises of oppression in America quickly seen as false very quickly upon arrival, but it’s shown that the cats are even more ruthless in America and constantly threaten to eat the mice, demonstrating how the cats as the oppressors are the predators to the mice as the working class who are treated less than human by those over them.
The climax of the film is a particularly interesting point in the film, as the Giant Mouse of Minsk that Fievel had the idea to have the mice build and unleash to fight back against the cats was based off a story his father told him. What’s really great about this is that Fievel is literally unleashing a Golem on the cats; it’s an artificial being that’s modeled after those who created it but is considerably bigger than them and it’s being used to fight off those oppressing the helpless. What’s more is that the original Golem’s creator was Jewish, as were the mice who Fievel emigrated with.