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An American Tail (G)
Don Bluth Wiki; IMDb; Rotten Tomatoes; TV Tropes; Universal; Wikia; Wikipedia

Caution: spoilers!

So, this came out in 1986, when I was like 11. I don't remember when I first saw it- whether it was in a theater, on TV, or VHS- but I suppose it must have been sometime in the 80s. Which of course means that the movie has great nostalgic value for me. There was a sequel which came out in 1991, Fievel Goes West, which I don't recall for sure if I've ever seen, though I did see its spin-off TV series, Fievel's American Tails. And in 2012, I finally picked up a double-feature DVD of the two movies, so I'm watching the first movie now for the first time in quite a few years. (There were also a couple of direct to video sequels, which I've never seen and probably never will.) I should mention that I have been a bit reluctant to get a DVD of the first two movies, because I couldn't find one that wasn't full frame, and I tend to prefer widescreen DVDs. However, I finally learned from the internet that apparently Don Bluth movies were filmed with an aspect ratio that's meant to be seen full frame. So I guess it's cool. I also learned that some audio changes from the theatrical version had been made on the DVD, but I doubt I'd notice, since it's been so long since I've seen the movie. And I probably wouldn't mind, anyway.

The movie begins in Shostka, Russia, in 1885. It focuses on a family of mice, the Mousekewitzes: Papa, Mama, their eldest child Tanya (who gets a babushka for a Hanukkah present), Fievel (who is given his father's hat), and a baby named Yasha. Papa begins to tell a story about the "Giant Mouse of Minsk," which was so big that it scared all the cats; but he soon switches to telling a story about how wonderful America is (since Mama didn't like him mentioning cats). Then, suddenly, Cossacks ride in and start burning down the humans' village, while cats start chasing all the mice of the village. Fievel tries to scare the cats away, but barely manages to escape them, before they all give up the hunt, apparently.

The next scene is in Hamburg, Germany, where the Mousekewitzes and other mice are boarding a ship to America. It's on the ship that we get to hear the movie's first song, "There Are No Cats in America," which basically consists of various mice (starting with Papa) telling terribly tragic stories of loved ones they've lost to cats; but then the chorus, sung by all the mice, is really peppy and catchy and memorable and fun. But immediately after the song, the ship is caught in a storm, and due to Fievel's overactive curiosity he ends up getting thrown overboard by the storm. (It's quite a harrowing scene.) In the next scene, the Mousekewitzes arrive in America, saddened by the loss of Fievel. (We also see how immigrants, both human and mouse alike, are forced to change their names. At least the Mousekewitzes get to keep their family name, though Tanya's name is changed to Tilly.)

However, in the next scene we learn that Fievel has survived, somehow having wound up inside a bottle, and floating to Ellis Island, where he meets a French pigeon named Henri. Fievel thinks he'll never be able to find his family, which prompts Henri to sing "Never Say Never," another memorable (and inspiring) song. So Fievel decides he can find his family after all, and goes off searching for them. But he quickly meets a shady character named Warren T. Rat, who has an accountant named Digit (who is a cockroach). Warren tells Fievel he knows where his family is, but actually sells Fievel to a sweatshop. It's there that he meets a mouse named Tony Toponi, who gives Fievel the new name "Philly." The two of them soon escape together, though Philly goes off on his own.

But after a brief misadventure, he meets up with Tony again, who says he'll help find Philly's family. Tony is quickly distracted, however, by the sight of a pretty Irish mouse named Bridget, who's trying to organize mice to take action against cats that have been causing them problems. Tony seems to be the only one interested in her... though not so much what she's saying as just... you know, her. (And she's immediately interested in him, too.) Meanwhile, Philly is confused by all the mice being afraid of cats, because he still believes, as his Papa told him, that there are no cats in America. Unfortunately, he quickly discovers his Papa was very wrong.

After Bridget's little rally gets broken up by a cat attack, Tony introduces her to Philly, and she decides to take him to meet "Honest John," a heavy-drinking politician who she says knows every mouse in town. Honest John is at a wake for a mouse who's been killed by a cat. Before Philly can talk to him, a wealthy mouse named Gussie Mausheimer (who has a kind of speech impediment or something) shows up, wanting Honest John to help her organize a major rally for all the mice in town to figure out what to do about the cat problem. After Gussie leaves, John tells Philly and Bridget that he hasn't met his family yet. So, Bridget takes Philly back to her place for the night. There he sings "Somewhere Out There" (the most memorable, lovely, moving, bittersweet song in the movie), while elsewhere, Tanya (or Tilly) sings the same song (she's the only one in her family who believes Fievel is still alive). (The song was covered by Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram for the closing credits; both the original and the cover version are on the movie's soundtrack. Of course, Ronstadt and Ingram are better singers, and the cover did quite well on the Billboard charts; but while I quite like their version, I prefer the original, as I generally tend to do with songs in animated movies that are covered by professional singers. It's the original version that's more likely to make me cry. Though I should mention that Tanya's singing voice is provided by someone other than her speaking voice, not that I could really tell the difference.)

Anyway, the next day Gussie and John have their rally, and Bridget and Philly are on the stage with them. When Gussie says they need a plan, Philly whispers something to her, and she likes his idea. That night, all the mice work together to construct... something. Meanwhile, Philly gets himself captured by a gang of cats called the Mott Street Maulers, after making a surprising discovery about their leader (which I won't spoil). But he's guarded by a cat named Tiger (a vegetarian whose personality is reminiscent of the Cowardly Lion from "The Wizard of Oz"). Philly and Tiger soon form an unlikely friendship, as they have a lot in common (and sing a song together, called "A Duo"). Oh, and Philly mentions that his favorite book is The Brothers Karamouseov.

After their song, Philly escapes from the cats, and Tiger gets fired. Philly runs to the pier, where the other mice are waiting to release their secret weapon after luring the cats there; but because of Philly, the cats show up earlier than planned. Still, the plan does eventually work (and I won't reveal what it was, but it recalls something from the beginning of the movie). Unfortunately, even after the cats are dealt with, the mice still have problems, as a fire threatens to consume the pier. Tony and Bridget desperately search for Philly, and when Tanya hears them calling "Philly Mousekewitz," she goes to find out if Philly is Fievel, and is followed by her parents. (The Mousekewitzes meeting Tony and Bridget has always been one of my favorite and best-remembered scenes in the movie.)

Philly finally gives up on ever finding his family, but then... his family, along with Tony, Bridget, Gussie, and Tiger, are out looking for him. And the movie finally has its major heartwarming scene when the family is finally reunited. (I like the small touch that for like half a second it looks like Fievel and his Papa are going to run right past each other, because throughout the film there were so many times that Fievel and his family were frustratingly close to finding each other, and they never even knew it.) And... well, there's one more scene after that, which is nice, but not that important.

Anyway... it seems like I've given away an awful lot about the movie, like basically the whole plot. But trust me, I've left out plenty of details. Anyway, it's a totally amazing movie. The mice are all so cute, and I love all the acting and the music and the humor and the drama (both subtle and intense) and the characters and historical allusions and... everything. And I should say, it's kind of surprising that it's rated G, considering how dark the plot is, how scary it can be at times, and there's John's drinking, and whatnot. (Though I should also say that in spite of drinking and some other stuff about Honest John that seems disreputable, he's basically a decent sort.) Not sure what else to say, except that the movie's success (a Bluth movie beating out Disney movies) spurred Disney to work harder, which may be partly what led to Disney's "Renaissance" era of 1989-99 or so (1984-1994, according to Waking Sleeping Beauty). Though, while I greatly appreciate that, I'm also quite appreciative of the fact that this movie helped prove that studios other than Disney can make high quality, commercially successful animated films.


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