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.
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.
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.