Friday, April 24, 2015


I'm going to review a film by former Disney animator Don Bluth, who was huge in the world of animation until the 90s; and the film I'm going to review is not only a film I grew up watching during childhood, but is also considered to be one of his best animated films, that's very dark and depressing, which is...

I honestly haven't watched the film from beginning to end in years. In fact, I actually watched its sequel "Fievel Goes West", more than I watched this film when I was a kid. However, after not seeing it for a very long time, and hearing the reputation it's been getting for being dark and depressing by fans and critics, does it still hold up, as well as being darker than I remember it; ON WITH THE REVIEW!

The film starts out in Russia in the year 1885, as a Jewish Russian family of mice; decide to head for America after being constantly terrorized by a gang of Cossack Cats. During their long and depressing voyage to America, Fievel foolishly gets into trouble on deck during a stormy night and is swept away from his family. However, he manages to make it to America by floating inside a bottle. Fievel decides to go out and find his family in America, while coming across many depressing disappointments, as well as dangerous and horrifying obstacles.

Image result for An American Tail statue of liberty

I'm going to start off by talking about my main problem with the film. My main problem with the film is not so much with the dark and depressing stuff that happens in the film, it’s really how it teaches kids about America through the point of view of mice. While I like that the film shows the humans life in early America, as we see the mice's similar interpretation of life in early America; for a kid’s film, and even as a kid who grew up with the film, I found it to be really confusing. The story is straight forward enough for kids to get into it, but when it comes to teaching kids about immigration in America, it's really not told well enough for them to understand it. As an adult, I do understand everything what both the mice and human world are supposed to represent; but as a kid no. Kids are not going understand, or even get into the politics of America; the life of being an immigrant; or what the mice world symbolizes to the human world. The film also hardly ever mentions why the immigrants names had to be changed, which is something that needed to be a little more direct, than what we were given. However, the scene that really confused me when I was kid, as well as being horrified, is the opening sequence when the Cossacks burn down the house of a Jewish family in the human world. The film never explains to kids why, it just happens. Knowing now as an adult, it's obviously Anti-Semitism; but as a kid, it's just a random act of evil. I also was never aware that Fievel's family was Jewish when I was a kid, nor did I think it mattered when I was a kid, because I thought Jews were treated just as equal as Christians, but back at the time where the film’s taking place, they weren't and that is a huge thing to downplay and explain very little about. I'm not saying that the film has to explain the historical stuff like a documentary or an educational kids program that talks down to them, but I feel like that the writers should’ve put a little more detail and thought when showing kids immigration life in America through the world of talking mice. As an adult I appreciate the film more after understanding the historical context of it; but as a kid, I was bored and confused which is why I didn't watch the film too often. Like I said, the story is good enough to get kids invested, but the historical aspect needed to be a little clearer in what its teaching kids, since that aspect is one of the main themes of the movie.  

Image result for Fievel an American Tail

Our lead character Fievel (Voiced by Phillip Glasser) is a character that I found to be very adorable and loveable. I know there are people out there who find Fievel annoying and overly cutesy, and to be fair, I can understand why. He even makes some very stupid and idiotic mistakes in the film's first act, which causes him to not only get into serious danger, but causes him to get separated from his family. With that said, I still really enjoy the character, and don't really mind all the stuff that he's been criticized for. First of all, he's a little kid and kids around that age do make foolish and idiotic mistakes against their parents wishes (I know I did), and as idiotic as his mistakes are, we not only wouldn't have had a movie, but he does later on redeem himself by helping the mice come up with a plan to attack the cats, and in the end, you do sense that he has learned from his foolish mistakes from his experience, as well as growing up a bit. So there is some development to this character. As for his personality, I really don't mind him being cutesy; while the film does have a handful of cutesy and humorous moments for the character, there is a handful of really sad and depressing moments for the character as well that don't feel cutesy, they really do feel dead on depressing. On top of it, he's not only adorable, but he's so innocent, fun, optimistic, curious, and passionate, that I simply don't have the heart to hate this character. I really do like how the film manages to make him feel like a real character, instead of an overly sugar-coated upbeat character.

 Image result for An American Tail fievel and his family

Looking at the film's supporting characters, they do hold up fine. Before I talk about them though, I should talk about another aspect in the film that I hear critic's complain about which is the racial stereotypes. While it does get very cringe worthy at times; I do feel like that Don Bluth is attacking those stereotypes, instead of reinforcing them, much like what animator Ralph Bakshi did with his film "Coonskin". The stereotypes in this film are satirizing the stereotypes that you'd see in those old political cartoons, only done in mouse form. While I do think its done clever here, much like how I feel about Bakshi's film "Coonskin", I do feel uncomfortable looking at the stuff at times, and I'm sure there will be a good amount of people who will be offended by the film, whether they get the satire or not, and considering that this film is a kids film, it makes this concept a little more cringe worthy, when "Coonskin" was made for adults. Aside from that aspect which will indeed leave audiences mixed, I really do like the characters in this family. Fievel's family are so sweet, fun, and loveable, that I really do want to see Fievel reunite with his family even more, and the pay-off is perfect! However, what happens to the baby that Fievel's Mom has been caring for, is sadly left unknown, but SCREW IT, the pay-off is still wonderfully perfect! Fievel's Italian friend Tony (Voiced by Pat Musick) is a character who I constantly enjoy watching throughout the film, with his from the street personality. As for his Irish love interest Bridget (Voiced by Cathianne Blore), while likable, there's really nothing about her that really stands out, and her relationship with Tony is really just there. There's really no conflict or hardly any chemistry between them, which is very disappointing, and her Irish accent, is really not that good. The French Pigeon (Voiced by Christopher Plummer) while he’s in the movie very little, I do really enjoy the upbeat and encouraging personality that Plummer brings to the character. He really does bring you (Along with the character) back on your feet after witnessing such a very depressing and scary moment a few scenes ago. Fievel also befriends a cat named Tiger (Voiced by Dom DeLuise) and while DeLuise doesn't have too much to work with when it comes to comedy, the heart and energy that he does put into the character is good enough for his performance to become plausible. It's just a shame that he's not in the film that often. The character that I found myself laughing the hardest, who used to bore me as a kid is the rich German mouse Gussie (Voiced by Madeline Kahn). She is so fun and humorous with that Elmer Fuddish German accent, that she steals every scene she's in, as well as being a really fun character. Don't get me wrong, she did a much funnier job with the accent in "Blazing Saddles", but for a kid’s film, it's just as funny. The only character that I was really mixed about is the Irish politician Honest John (Voiced by Neil Ross).  I like the satire of the political stereotype that he represents (Who is an Irish mouse version of Boss Tweed from Tammany Hall), and getting one or two funny moments; the Irish stereotype, as well as his personality, does get annoyingly cringe worthy at times. I like what the film is doing with the stereotypes, but this character does at times goes a little too far to the point where he becomes insulting, instead of funny.

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The film's main villain is Warren T. Rat (Voiced by John P. Finnegan) who in a twist is really a Cat (I honestly don't feel like I'm giving anything away). Despite that this character goes from being adult mouse size, to Cat size throughout the film, he's still a really great villain. He's fun, intimidating, tough, and Finnegan gives this character lots and lots of personality. Out of all characters that Fievel meets on his journey, Warren T. Rat is the best one out of all the characters that Fievel comes across. I even love Warren's cockroach sidekick (Voiced by Will Ryan), who I was a bit annoyed by when I was a kid, but now I freaking can't get enough of him!

 Image result for Cats An American Tail

Since I just talked about the villain, I might as well talk about the dark elements in the film that give the film such a huge recognition both good and bad, as well as the animation. When I heard about how sad and depressing the film was received by critics and audiences, I thought it was an exaggeration, because as a kid, I didn't find myself that depressed or scared by it. So after all these years, when I finally decided to watch the film, I was thinking to myself "Holy crap, this really is dark and depressing!". First of all, the Cats in this film are horrifying to look at; I mean if I were a mouse being chased by these monstrous looking cats, I'd be scared too! Not to mention that moment when Fievel is almost being eaten by a cat; I completely forgot how disturbing it was. It's not just the Cat's that are scary, we also get a monster tidal wave from Fievel's imagination; the secret weapon that the mice built; and the film itself having does have a huge dark and gloomy tone to it. The depressing scenes are more depressing than I remember them. Fievel is constantly fooled into thinking that his parents are near which leads into something either sad or scary; his parent’s mourning over his supposed death is heartbreaking; and the scenes when Fievel and his family pass by each other, without even noticing one another, is both teasing and disappointing. The film does have its happy, cute, and humorous moments, even the animation at times does look bright, colorful, and dreamlike, as well as capturing the beauty of old America. However, even during some of those moments, we're still met with something dark, scary, depressing, and disappointing. This film is "Brave Little Toaster" and "Return To OZ" territory. All full of dark, sad, and edgy things, with a cute leading character; some funny and cute moments; and an ending that makes the journey through all this hardship worth while.

 Image result for somewhere out there an american tale

Now we finally go to the film's music, how does that hold up? Well, if you want to know the truth about the songs, they hold up ok. The song that the mice sing on their voyage to America called "There Are No Cats In America"; while having a very upbeat choir and colorful animation for whenever they sing the title of the song, when you get down to it, it really is a very depressing song (Especially since we all know that what the mice are singing about is sadly isn't so), however, it does mix the happiness and the sadness perfectly. The friendship song "We're Duo" sung by Tiger and Fievel is a cute and humorous number, and I really do like the inter-species friendship between Fievel and Tiger in this movie. While their friendship isn't shown that much in the film, it's not only cute, but it does teach kids about tolerance with different types of people really well, without sounding preachy. The song "Never Say Never" sung by the French Pigeon and Fievel, is also a really upbeat and encouraging song as well. While I do praise the songs that I just mentioned, as well as still remembering them after having not seen the movie in years, in all honesty, there's really nothing that special about them. They're not bad, but they're not incredible. The song I really do admire though is the song "Somewhere Out There" sung by Fievel and his Sister Tanya as they miss each other but hope that they will reunite someday. Despite the song sounding a little bit like "Somewhere Over The Rainbow", it's a really emotional and touching song. I think that mainly has to do with the fact that the kids singing the song don't sound like professional singers, in fact, they actually sound bad. However, the heart and the emotion that the kids who sing the song bring, along with the music, animation, and lyrics, are so tear-jerking and depressing that it works perfectly. This song could've easily been a corny and overly whimsical number, but it works on every level of emotion that the song and scene brings. As for the film's score composed by James Horner, it’s absolutely perfect. While the animation and voice acting plays just as a major role with the film's emotion and atmosphere; the score is what really makes the film so beautiful, so sad, and so rich. Just listening to the music on its own, it really does bring the same impact as if you were watching the movie. However, the best part about the film is the music, voice acting, and animation never ever upstages each other, they all blend together perfectly.

While I do consider this film to be one of Don Bluth's best work, I honestly don't think it’s for everybody. Since the film does go a little overboard with the dark and depressing aspect, it might turn kids away from the film like the other two kids film's that I've mentioned in the review. The film's racial stereotypes, while I do think it's a clever satire on the stereotypes, I can see a good amount of viewers (Adults mostly) being offended by them, whether they get the satire or not. However, what I think the film's main problem is which will really confuse and even bore kids is the historical context. It's not done poorly or anything, but it does need to explain itself a little bit more to give kids an understanding of why Fievel, his family, the mice, and even the humans have to go through half of the things that we are seeing. However, the good things I've mentioned, whether kids are scared, sad, or confused, are still good. The story of Fievel trying to find his family is still a very engaging story; the characters are fun, likable, and cute; the villain is a riot; the animation is one of Bluth's best; the songs are good, if not incredible; and the music is very touching. Not for everyone, but for me personally I love it, as well as loving it more as an adult, than I did as a kid.


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