Don Bluth/20th Century Fox/Blue Sky review: An American Tail

My opinion right after watching the film

My opinion right after watching the film is that I do think the pacing has become a bigger issue in the film, and the characters seem much more like pot devices than actual characters. There is still a lot of endearing charm in the film that makes up for a lot of the flaws. Overall, it is kind of good, but it falls short of being great.

Production

Production for the film started in December 1984, and was a collaboration between Spielberg, Bluth, and Universal Studios. The concept was initially going to be about an all-animal world like Robin Hood, but Bluth suggested to make it a secret world within humans like The Rescuers. Spielberg agreed after watching The Rescuers, wanting to capitalize on the success of that movie. The script was a lot longer than they intended it to be, so a lot of dialogue and the intense scenes weer cut to make children appeal to it more.

Sears was a main marketer for the film (especially the main character), so Bluth worked with them and Amblin Entertainment for the designs of the film, wanting a more stylistic shift that was similar to 1940’s Disney, instead of the modern animation at the time. Several people all over the word worked on the animation of the film, and the crew discovered that sing a video printer helped them out severely.

When many studios and companies have their hand in the production of a film, they all want more control and say what happens, which caused a lot of production difficulty , to the point that Bluth felt like he lost a lot of freedom. The film was initially supposed to be produced under a $6.5 million budget, but that grew into $9 million, causing salaries to be reduced and frozen for a year and a half. There was also a bunch of union drama, since the new Sullivan Bluth studios were non-unionized, and there were other issues involved.

Story

The film stars with a family of mice celebrating Hannukah in 1885, and are talking about America. They end up leaving their homes after an Anti-Jew slew of people come to ravage the season, as well as the cats attacking the mice. Everyone ends up on a boat to go to America, and Fievel (Phillip Glasser) decides to be an idiot, and go out to leave his family in order to see fish and water overflow into the ocean, which causes him to go overboard. He still manages to make it to New York in a bottle, and with the encouragement of a pigeon named Henri (Christopher Plummer), he decides to go look for his family.

Fievel ends up being trapped in a sweatshop due to Warren T. Rat (John P. Finnegan), but ends up escaping soon after, and meets an Italian mouse named Tony (Pat Musick). They end up going with a group of mice who are talking about not letting cats ruin their lives, including Irish mouse named Bridget (Cathianne Blore). Her and Tony end up kissing almost instantly, and I don’t get why this random plotpoint had to show up in the manner that it did.

So the trip end up going to see Honest John (Neil Ross) to search for Fievel’s family, as he is a politician. He tells them that he can’t help, since Fievel’s family has not registered to vote yet. I find it so intriguing how they built up this world for mice, and connect it to humans without it being anthropomorphic or illogical. Fievel and his sister Tanya (Amy Green) sing the same song at the night, as she has a feeling that her brother is still alive.

Fievel somehow ends up in Warren’s lair, and discovers that he is a cat in disguise of a mouse, but he catches Fieel, and ends up getting caught briefly. He makes it back to where the mice are to tell them that the cats are here, but a lot of people do not believe him, but the Secret Weapon is already unleashed. The cats cause a fire in the area, and long story short, Fievel ends up in an orphanage, though his family overhear his friends chant his name. They get Tony and Bridget to clarify, and even when there is some doubt, there is no confirmation until they see his hat. Fievel overhears his family’s voice, and everyone reunites.

I like watching the film, and I liked the story well enough, but I would be lying if I said it wasn’t underwhelming. It just seems like they are running the mill, and there isn’t really much to gain. A lot of likable aspects in the film, but there is not much depth to it. Not one I would really rewatch, and it is just a very simple but not symbolic film.

Characters

A lot of the characters are relatively fine, buy they aren’t really strong characters. There are a lot of random characters who feel like plot devices, or one overbearing characteristic, so I feel like there needed to be a bit more focus. The parents are just the parents, the sidekick couple is just the sidekick couple, and I barely have anything to say about any of them.

Fievel is extremely naive and adventurous, which causes him to get lost from his family. He doesn’t really learn much throughout the film, but we are supposed to feel bad for him, and they do a good enough job at that.
So he is a cat disguised as a mouse, who wanted to ravage the city, and this is tied to the plot through Bridgett Fievel. He doesn’t seem to be as contrived as the last villain of NIMH though.

Animation

The animation is definitely a bigger improvement over The Secret of Nimh in the fact that I never got to see the white cell lines. While I am more impressed with the backgrounds of the former, though they really made 1800s New York City and Europe look really cool. I really like the character designs, though it is the typical Bluth animation style, but it is still pleasant to look at, and the colour scheme is bold.

Music

I don’t remember much about the music, compared to it’s predecessor. From what I remembered, it was the typical 80’s ballad music score, which is fine enough, but not memorable in the slightest. Actually, all of the songs are generic and forgettable, and it didn’t need to be a musical, so it just seems like more padding.

Reception at Release

When the film was released on November 21st, 1986, it made $47 million in the domestic box office, and $84 million worldwide, outgrossing The Great Mouse Detective that was released in the summer. This was a huge deal, sine this was one of the (if not the) first animated films to ever outgross Disney.

Critically, it received mixed-to-positive reviews, with The Great Mouse Detective beating it in this aspect. While a lot of people liked the animation and the characters, some of the narrative was sloppy, and the film was a bit too dark and humourless for children. It did win a few awards though, but mostly for the song “Somewhere Out There”.

Reception Today

It’s reception today is that it is one of the better Bluth films, and it was one of the few films that managed to beat WDAS films. Overall, it seems like it s a well-regarded film 30 years later. It does have kind cult following, or one that is bigger than a cult following.

Score

Story: 7/10

Characters: 6/10

Animation: 8/10

Music: 6.5/10

27.5/40 = 69%

3 thoughts on “Don Bluth/20th Century Fox/Blue Sky review: An American Tail

  1. You are overlooking something…the movie also does a pretty good job explaining the plight of the new arrivals and the various ways they could get screwed over pretty well. There is a layer to it most animated movies don’t have.

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