Director:- Don Bluth
Back in the late 80’s, early 90’s. Don Bluth was the shit.
From ‘The Land Before Time’ to ‘The Secret of NIMH’ all the way to his work on the ‘Dragon’s Lair’ game franchise – He was undoubtedly my favourite filmmaker. Though I didn’t know who he was in all honesty. But hell, the movies – were awesome! Emotional, hard-hitting, gritty and realistic. All that, with some inspiring and beautiful animation that still stand the test of time today against the likes of Pixar.
An American Tail – set in 1895 – is a story of survival. It also plays out as an ‘all’s not lost if you have hope’ piece of narrative, which is probably some of the best, of this particular nature, that I’ve seen.
The film’s lead, is a young Russian-Jewish mouse, Fievel, voiced by Phillip Glasser. Who, after being forced to leave their shack under a family home in Russia with his Father, Mother and two siblings – is swept away during a frightening sea storm en route to New York City – Their potential new home. Fievel is washed up ashore in New York, and is befriended by a French pidgeon, Henri. Who, willingly gives him a bubble bath in the near-constructed Statue of Liberty (the scene is crushingly funny and so heart-warming at the same time it almost seems impossible), and encourages him to look for his family – Who believe that their son perished during the storm.
Now, watching this almost 20 years after I last had the VHS tape, it’s really a completely different movie altogether. As a kid, I’d often pick up more on the ‘humour’ and the songs (Especially ‘Somewhere Out There’ – that one is a killer). But maturity and age allowed me to broaden those horizons and read between the pages – to find that this film is truly a classic piece of animated cinema.
In places – it does get rather depressing, Fievel is taunted constantly by the loss of his family – though with companions at his side throughout, he’s never truly alone. But there are constant reminders and teases that his family are closer than he thinks. It actually becomes excruciating to see how often it happens – all for Fievel just to wind up disappointed.
To be fair, it’s pretty heartbreaking. But Bluth’s knack for delivering such human emotion and characterisation to rodents(?) is quite the feat. There’s laughs, there are tears, joy, sorrow, anger, resentment – All thrown in this little bag. The negatives, in this respect, outweigh the positives, however the conclusion is very endearing and totally worth the anticipation.
An American Tail is probably not your average kids flick. It’s abundant with adult-overtones. Such as war, immigration, cruelty, mass genocide and a host of others. I did find a lot of similarity between this and Christian Bale’s plight in ‘Empire of The Sun’. Obviously his character’s situation was in the middle of full-scale war, however both himself and Fievel’s vulnerability and innocence are the heart of the two films. It’s what keeps you transfixed on the events to come, and encourages you to encourage THEM to get back to where they need to be.
There’s an amazing charm to Fievel, as well as his family. His oversized red jumper, his dopey tongue expressions, his dancing to his father’s violin-playing – Effective and simple. There’s not that much around these days. Where are you, Bluth? There’s a lot of support characters in the film, the villainous ‘Warren T. Rat’, which is an amazing villain name. And ‘Honest John’, a reliable but often inebriated mouse politician living in the New York, to name a few. But it’s Dom DeLuise as ‘Tiger’, the vegan cat – who steals the show in his few minutes on-screen. Channelling The Cowardly Lion character from The Wizard of Oz, DeLuise delivers some wise-cracking wit as the cat who befriends Fievel during his search. Capped off with a lovely bit of toe-tapping duet stylings from Glasser and DeLuise.
In closing – it’s definitive animated excellence – However some wishing to show it to children will find the content of the film slightly over the mark.