An American Tail centres on Fievel Mouskewitz, a young Russian immigrant mouse who is separated from his family during their journey to America. Once in the Land of Opportunity, he struggles to survive, succeed and find his family. Oh, and avoid becoming cat chowder.
Fievel Mouskewitz comes from a family of five: his papa, his mama, his big sister Tanya, his little sister Yasha and himself. They live in Russia, where they spend time telling tales of the wondrous ĎAmericaí, land of opportunity, land of oodles of cheese and (most important of all) land of No Cats. So they have heard. When tragedy strikes and their home is destroyed, they make their way to America by boat. During the journey a storm strikes, and Fievel is thrown overboard... and presumed dead. The Mousekewitzesí arrival in America is not as cheerful as they had hoped.
But luck shines on Fievel, and he miraculously manages to arrive in America. Cold, hungry and way too trusting (but what can we expect of one so young and naïve?) he begins his search for his family, and the journey includes him being (1) helped by the Henri the French Statue-of-Liberty-building pigeon (2) conned by the conniving Warren T. Rat (3) rescued by streetwise Tony Topponi and (4) getting a star role in a movement by the mice to rid all the cats in America (or in New York, at least). Quite an adventure for the little guy, but all he really wants is just to find his family again.
Because I am weird, I tend to favour movies that arenít well-received classics. Which is why among Don Bluthís works, I prefer the lesser-known Secret of NIMH and Thumbelina. Iím not saying An American Tail isnít good. Itís brilliant. Itís immortal. It will live on for generations to come. But since there is so much love gushing out for this movie from fans and laymen alike, I cannot be one of them. (Have I mentioned that Iím weird? I may sound hypocritical because I am madly in love with The Little Mermaid, but thatís only because Iím well aware of the widespread hatred for that movie. Long story.)
Wow, that was long-winded. Anyway, An American Tail is basically a tale of the immigrant-boom of America. I am generally ignorant when it comes to American history, so donít expect me to quote details or dates. Anyway, An American Tail centres on the American Dream: to journey to the land of opportunity and gain success. People went to America looking for their fortune, so why not the animals, too? Which is why I think this movie is rather smart -- Don Bluth once again uses the childish medium of furry animal characters to tell an underlying mature story.
The story is about family, friendship and overcoming the odds, and it also centres on Fievel. Young, innocent, unknowing about the hardships of the world, he has to learn the hard way what real life is all about. I canít quite figure him out, though. Sometimes heís endlessly optimistic, sometimes he gives up way to easily. He comes up with great ideas, but he also makes pretty daft decisions. And he doesnít seem to mature much by the end of the movie, but that just may be a guise... Are they saying that you should still be optimistic and enthusiastic even when the world hurls its challenges at you? If they are, then cool.
Other characters are pretty memorable, too. Thereís Tanya, Fievelís sister who doesnít give up on finding Fievel (I so wished she had more screentime), the vegetarian cat Tiger (he deserved more screentime, too), the street-smart Tony Topponi and his lady-love Bridget, the semi-snobbish Gussie Mausheimer (I wuv her to bits) and a couple more others. The only thing that this movie falls short off is a really nasty villain. The cats were mean and all, but somehow I just didnít get the feeling they were that big a threat. They were just mean extortionist bullies, nothing more.
The songs? Brilliant! Instrumentals? Brilliant! Personally I found this movie to have the best soundtrack among all of Don Bluthís works. And not only because of the heart-wrenching vocal-chord-stretching Somewhere Out There (the movie visuals where Fievel and Tanya are singing to each other are priceless!), but because the other songs were also given the same amount of heart. There Are No Cats in America is catchy and fun, although I remember the first time I watched the movie I was cringing because I felt sorry that the mice had put so much hope in that myth when in fact there were cats in America. A Duo by Tiger and Fievel was also cool, because it was one of those comic relief songs that were not outrageously annoying. But my personal favourite is Never Say Never sung by Henri and Fievel in the beginning, which is catchy and fun and has lovely vocals by Christopher Plummer as Henri. I also have the nagging feeling that Henri is the prototype for another endlessly-optimistic musical Don Bluth bird (hint: Follow Your Heart).
The gem of this movie has to be the heart factor. If youíre not rooting for Fievel to find his family by at least two-thirds into the movie, thatís cold. The ending deserves one big (all together now!) ďAwwww...Ē