|An American Tail|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Don Bluth|
|Produced by||Don Bluth
|Written by||Judy Freudberg
|Story by||David Kirschner
|Music by||James Horner|
Sullivan Bluth Studios
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Release date(s)||November 21, 1986|
|Running time||80 minutes|
An American Tail is a 1986 American animated film directed by Don Bluth and produced by Sullivan Bluth Studios and Amblin Entertainment. The film tells the story of Fievel Mousekewitz and his family as they immigrate from Russia to the United States for freedom. However, Fievel gets lost and must find a way to reunite with his family. The film was released on November 21, 1986.
In 1885 Shostka, Russia, the Mousekewitzes— a Russian-Jewish family of mice —are forced to emigrate to the United States after an army of cruel cats belonging to the Cossacks (a reference to actual pogroms occurring in Russia at the time) destroy their village. During the trip overseas, the family's young son, Fievel, gets separated from the others and washes overboard in a storm. The others arrive mournfully in America, believing that Fievel has drowned.
Fievel, however, floats to America in a bottle and, after a pep talk from a French pigeon named Henri, embarks on a quest to find his family. He is waylaid by conman Warren T. Rat, who gains his trust and then sells him to a sweatshop. He escapes with Tony, a street-smart Italian mouse, and they join up with Bridget, an Irish mouse trying to rouse her fellow mice to stand up to cats. When a gang of cats called the Mott Street Maulers attacks a mouse marketplace, the immigrant mice learn that the tales of a cat-free country are not true.
Bridget takes Fievel and Tony to see Honest John, a drunk (but reliable) politician who knows all the voting mice in New York City. But, as the Mousekewitzes have not yet registered to vote, he can't help Fievel find them. Meanwhile, Fievel's sister, Tanya, tells her gloomy parents she has a feeling that Fievel is still alive, but her parents insist that the feeling eventually go away.
Led by the rich and powerful Gussie Mausheimer, the mice hold a rally to decide what to do about the cats. Warren T. Rat is extorting them all for protection that he never provides. No one has any idea what to do about it, until Fievel whispers a plan to Gussie.
The mice take over an abandoned building on Chelsea Pier and begin constructing their plan. On the day of launch, Fievel gets lost and stumbles upon Warren T.'s lair. He discovers that he is actually a cat in disguise, and the leader of the Maulers. They capture and imprison Fievel, but a goofy, soft-hearted cat named Tiger takes a liking to him and sets him free.
Fievel races back to the pier with the cats in hot pursuit when Gussie orders the mice to release the secret weapon. A huge mechanical mouse, inspired by the bedtime tales Papa told to Fievel of the "Giant Mouse of Minsk", chases the cats down the pier and into the water. A tramp steamer bound for Hong Kong picks them up and carries them away.
During the battle, Fievel is once again separated from his family and falls into despair when a group of orphans tell him that he should have given up a long time ago. Papa Mouskewitz overhears Bridget and Tony calling out to Fievel, but is sure that there may be another "Fievel" somewhere, until Mama finds their son's hat. They team up for a final effort to find him and, in the end, the sound of Papa's violin leads Fievel back into the arms of his family. The journey ends with Henri taking everyone to see his newly completed project— the Statue of Liberty, and the Mouskewitzes' new life in America begins.
- Phillip Glasser as Fievel Mousekewitz. While "Fievel" is the generally accepted spelling of his name, the opening credits spell it as "Feivel", the more common transliteration of the Yiddish name (פֿײַװל Fayvl). (Cf. Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz and Feivel Gruberger.) (The ending credits spell his name as "Fievel".) However, many English-speaking writers have come to adopt the spelling Fievel (with reversed i and first e) especially for this character; it was this spelling that was used on the film's poster, in promotional materials and tie-in merchandise, and in the title of the sequel An American Tail: Fievel Goes West. He was named after Spielberg's maternal grandfather, Philip Posner, whose Yiddish name was Feivel. The scene in which he presses up against a window to look into a classroom filled with American "schoolmice" is based on a story Spielberg remembered about his grandfather, who told him that Jews were only able to listen to school lessons through open windows while sitting outside in the snow. His last name is a play on the Jewish-Russian last name "Moskowitz", the name of the human occupants of the house his family is living under in the beginning of the film.
- Amy Green as Tanya Mousekewitz (singing voice provided by Betsy Cathcart), Fievel's older sister. Optimistic, cheerful and obedient, she continued to believe that her brother was alive after he was washed off the ship en route to America. She was given an American name 'Tillie' at the immigration point at Castle Garden.
- John P. Finnegan as Warren T. Rat, a cat disguised as a rat and the leader of the Mott Street Maulers, a gang of cats who terrorize the mice of New York City. He is accompanied nearly all the time by his accountant Digit, a small British-accented cockroach.
- Nehemiah Persoff as Papa Mousekewitz, the head of the Mousekewitz family who plays the violin and tells stories to his children.
- Erica Yohn as Mama Mousekewitz, Fievel's mother. She appears to be the stricter of the two Mousekewitz parents and has a fear of flying.
- Pat Musick as Tony Toponi, a streetwise young mouse of Italian descent and with a "tough New Yorker" attitude.
- Dom DeLuise as Tiger, a very large, cowardly, long-haired orange cat who also happens to be vegetarian.
- Christopher Plummer as Henri, a pigeon of French descent, who is in New York City while building the Statue of Liberty.
- Cathianne Blore as Bridget, an Irish activist and Tony's girlfriend.
- Neil Ross as Honest John, a local Irish-born mouse politician who knows every voting mouse in New York City. An ambulance-chasing drunkard who takes advantage of voters' concerns to increase his political prestige, he is a stereotype of the 19th-century Tammany Hall politicians.
- Madeline Kahn as Gussie Mausheimer, a German-born mouse considered to be the richest in New York City, who rallies the mice into fighting back against the cats.
- Will Ryan as Digit, Warren T.'s British cockroach accountant who has a fondness for counting money, but is plagued by frequent electrical charges in his antennae whenever he gets nervous or excited.
- Hal Smith as Moe, a fat rat who runs the sweatshop Fievel is sold to by Warren T.
While all of the animal characters were animated from scratch, the human characters were animated using the rotoscoping technique, in which sequences were shot in live action and then traced onto animation cels. This provides a realistic look for human characters, and distinguishes the cartoonish animal characters from the more realistically animated humans. Rotoscoping is frequently employed in Don Bluth films, including The Secret of NIMH and Anastasia.
The musical score for the film was composed by James Horner. The song "Somewhere Out There", composed by Horner and written by Barry Mann, won a Grammy Award. One scene incorporates the John Phillip Sousa march Stars and Stripes Forever.
At the time of its release, An American Tail became the highest grossing non-Disney produced animated feature, drawing over US$47 million. It was also one of the first animated films to outdraw a Disney film, beating out The Great Mouse Detective (also released in 1986 but four months earlier) by over US$22 million. It would later be outgrossed by the next Bluth film, 1988's The Land Before Time, which marginally outperformed Oliver and Company. The record would quickly be shattered with the release of The Little Mermaid three years later.
The film was released on VHS in the same year by CIC Video, with a Spanish dubbed version separately released on VHS as Un cuento americano (An American Tale, dropping the pun inherent in the English title), and is now available on a DVD that contains the main English track, as well as dubbing for French and Spanish.
An American Tail has grossed up to $47 million in the United States and $84 million worldwide.
The staff of Halliwell's Film Guide gave it one star out of four. "[This] expensive cartoon feature," they wrote, "[has] not much in the way of narrative interest or indeed humor." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film two stars out of four, calling it a "dark and gloomy story," adding that "only a few children will understand or care that the Mousekewitzes are Jewish." Vincent Canby of the New York Times gave the film two stars out of five, calling the film "witless if well-meaning." An American Tail and several other films directed by Bluth have since developed a cult following.
- American Film Institute Lists
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs:
- Somewhere Out There - Nominated
- AFI's 10 Top 10 - Nominated Animated Film
Sequels and spinoffs
The film was followed by its theatrical sequel An American Tail: Fievel Goes West (1991), the television series Fievel's American Tails, and two direct-to-video sequels: An American Tail: The Treasure of Manhattan Island and An American Tail: The Mystery of the Night Monster, none of which Don Bluth had any involvement with.
Fievel later served as the mascot for Steven Spielberg's Amblimation animation studio, appearing in its production logo. Also, as reported on the official An American Tail website, Fievel has become the mascot for UNICEF as well. There is also a Fievel-themed playground at Universal Studios Florida, featuring a large water slide and many over-sized objects such as books, glasses, cowboy boots, and more. It is the only such playground at any of NBC Universal's theme parks.
Art Spiegelman suspected Spielberg of plagiarism due to the fact the Jews are depicted as mice in An American Tail just as in Spiegelman's earlier Maus, a metaphor Spiegelman had adopted from Nazi propaganda. Instead of pursuing copyright litigation, Spiegelman opted to beat the movie's release date by convincing his publishers to split Maus into two volumes and publish the first before he even finished the second.
- Baby Name Feivel - Origin and Meaning of Feivel
- Behind the Name: Meaning, Origin and History of the Name Feivel
- Joseph McBride. Steven Spielberg: A Biography, Simon & Schuster 1997, pages 20-21.
- "An American Tail". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2012-07-05.
- Gritten, David, ed. (2007). "An American Tail". Halliwell's Film Guide 2008. Hammersmith, London: HarperCollins Publishers. p. 37. ISBN 0-00-726080-6 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].
- "3:AM Cult Hero: Don Bluth". N/A. 3:AM Magazine. Retrieved April 2, 2012.
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs Nominees
- AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot
- Billen, Andrew (December 2, 2003). "The mouse with the sting in his tale". London: Times Online. Retrieved 2009-05-19.