MarzGurl Loves Don Bluth: An American Tail
September 9, 2011
(Clips from the movie are shown)
MarzGurl (vo): The 1980's were probably Don Bluth's brightest years in the animation industry, and his 1986 movie, An American Tail, is really quite a good example. Bluth made some real gold when he was working with Universal Studios and Amblin Entertainment, which isn't hard to see based solely on the fact that An American Tail and The Land Before Time were pretty major box office success stories, even going so far as to beat out the Disney animated features released in their respective years. An American Tail basically talks of the trails and tribulations of what an actual Russian Jewish family might have had to suffer through in 1885, except it was brought down to a much friendlier, child-friendly level, using mice and cats to illustrate the point. We're introduced to a family of mice, the Mousekewitzes. There's a mom, a dad, a girl named Tanya, an infant (Yasha), and our main character, Fievel. It starts when Fievel receives the over sized hat that he's so well known for in just about every image you see of him. Papa starts telling his kids a story about how wonderful it would be to live in America.
Papa: (whispers) This, I know for a fact. In America, there are no... cats!
MarzGurl (vo): And speak of the devil, in comes some cats. Well, actually, in come the Cossacks for an attack on the Jews, but ignore that part, we're focused on these beast-like cats; amusing little guys wearing warm clothes and hats with big old mustaches. This gives us our first example of just how big of an idiot Fievel is, practically running himself headfirst into the cats. He continually makes similar mistakes over the course of the movie, which is what gets him into the biggest heap of trouble. After the attack, the family boards an immigration boat to America. Papa likes to spend his time playing the fiddle, which leads into the first song in the movie.
Papa and fallen mouse: But...
Mice: (singing) But there are no cats in America, and the streets are paved with cheese / Oh, there are no cats in America, so set your mind at ease (giggling)
MarzGurl (vo): The song is mostly upbeat, which is jarring because the song is mostly about how the cats slaughtered family members and loved ones in different countries.
Papa: (singing) And I woke up an orphan. Oy vey! (The mouse next to him moans in fear)
Male Italian mouse: (singing) With her rosary on the ground. (kisses the rosary) Poor mama mia!
Male Irish mouse: (singing) In a flash of teeth and fur, her tail was all he left of her
MarzGurl (vo): Suddenly, a huge storm oversweeps the boat. I love the personification given to the waves; Imagine you're a kid, it's dark outside, and there's this huge man-killing wave coming right at you! Yeah, you might see something just as scary as this in the flashes of light from the lightning. I think it's perfect for illustrating what eventually throws Fievel off the boat. So yeah, Fievel's an idiot and runs out into the storm. Papa tries to save him, but can't, as far as he's concerned, his son is lost and gone forever. How amazingly fortunate, then that Fievel ends up in a bottle floating so very closely to Ellis Island. This is where we start to notice instances where Fievel is missing his hat and then suddenly, he picks it up and puts it back on, or it magically appears, attached onto his belt in some instances, very convenient. He's picked up by a French pigeon, (Henri) who's working on building the Statue of Liberty, then comes another song. It's...okay.
Fievel: (singing) Never say never
Henri: (singing) Whatever you do (spoken) Again!
Fievel: (singing) Never say never
Henri: (singing) To me (spoken) See how easy?
MarzGurl (vo): The pigeon hooks him up with a ride to Immigration, or so Fievel thinks, but he doesn't exactly find anything he's looking for. Instead, he stumbles into Warren T. Rat. Okay, spoiler alert: Warren is actually a cat disguised as a rat, which we don't actually find out until later in the movie, but honestly, I mean, in comparison to all the other cats in this movie, this is a really small cat. Like, I wouldn't blame this guy for having compensation issues, this is a friggin small cat. Anyway, Warren has this British cockroach named Digit. He doesn't serve much purpose other than being mildly annoying. He's voiced by Will Ryan, who later appears in a number of other Don Bluth animated movies, all of which appear to be the exact same annoying role, just in a different movie.
Digit: Good, fire me, I'm fed up with that filthy smoke!
Warren T. Rat: Digi...
Digit: And this pocket... (Pushes out everything in Warren's pocket) I've seen kitchen stoves cleaner than this place!
Warren T. Rat: Hey, c'mon...
MarzGurl (vo): So Warren picks up Fievel, who's looking for his parents, but tricks him into getting stuck into what basically amounts to slave labor. Here, he meets another older kid, Tony, who starts calling Fievel by the more American name, Philly. But that doesn't last long, as Fievel makes his escape pretty much instantly. The scene is critically short, as are a good ton of other scenes in this movie, which is probably my one major complaint about the whole thing. There's so much story here, but not really enough time to tell it. Anyway, Fievel escapes through the window and continues his search for his family. Here, Fievel sees the dirty underbelly of New York, made worse by the fact that he's homeless and hungry. Every so often, he thinks he hears his father's fiddle, only to be sorely mistaken. Well, Fievel runs into Tony again, who says he's going to help Fievel find his family, but he's immediately distracted by a beautiful Irish girl (Bridget) yelling in the street about doing something about the cats. They immediately fall in love. I'm not kidding, immediately! Wow...well, so much for Fievel getting any help. Eventually, though, he makes it to Honest John, who supposedly knows every mouse in New York in hopes that he may know his family. He's not a horrible dude, but he is a drunk who takes the names of dead mice in order to create ghost votes for himself in a future election. We watch as he gets addressed by a rich mouse by the name of Gussie. She insists on getting John's help in starting a rally to fight against the cats. After she leaves, Fievel can address Honest John, but as it turns out, he doesn't know who the Mousekewitzes are at all. Guess they're too fresh off the boat. Tony and his new girlfriend give Fievel a place to sleep for the night. This leads into what is probably the most memorable song in the whole movie.
Fievel: (singing) Somewhere out there, beneath the pale moonlight / someone's thinking of me, and loving me tonight
MarzGurl (vo): It's hard to listen to at times because they're using actual untrained children's voices, and yet, that's part of what kinda makes it charming. But the song has been remade multiple times and is really quite a good song all on its own. The next day, the mice rally to do something to fight against the cats. As with a ton of other situations, Fievel and his family end up in the same place, but never come across one another. It's especially irritating because Fievel gets practically right up on stage to give Gussie an idea to fight off the cats, but nobody sees him. As the mice prepare for whatever incredible master plan Fievel has thought of, Fievel hears yet another fiddle and he's led away. Even when the fiddle starts leading him straight into cat territory, he still doesn't turn around and he walks right on in. While walking through, we're introduced to Tiger, another character played by Dom Deluise, where he just kinda comes through as Dom Deluise.
Tiger: (laughs) I got it! Rummy! (laughs)
Tough cat: Tiger, for the hundredth time, we're playing poker.
Tiger: (giggles) I knew that, I knew that, but who could concentrate with all that, you know, noise? (giggles and purrs)
MarzGurl (vo): Soon, we finally figure out that Warren T. Rat is a cat and not a rat, surprise! And of course, Fievel gets caught. Luckily for him, he later makes friends with Dom Deluise, so he really has nothing to worry about. They even have a fun friendship song and everything!
Tiger: (singing) We're a duo, a duo, a pair of lonely ones who were made to be a two
MarzGurl (vo): And now it's time for the daring escape! Fievel leads the cats back to the resistance mice, who have prepared quite the cunning plan. After a goofy little interchange between the cats and the mice, including lots of fireworks and silly contraptions, the mice chase the cats into a trap onto the edge of a dock, where they're carried onto a boat destined for China. But by the end of the exchange, Fievel is separated from everybody! Oh, no, we're just about right back where we started! Will Fievel and his family ever be reunited?! Oh, yes, yes, they will. Hey, wait a minute, I've been wondering this for a few scenes in the movie: there's Fievel, Papa, Mama, Tanya. What happened to the infant from the beginning of the movie?! Who's taking care of that baby?! Anyway, the family's all back together again, and at the end of everything, we finally get to see a fully completed Statue of Liberty. Yay, happy endings all around!
It's really quite the good movie, if not for the one thing I briefly mentioned before, but it's worth repeating. It really does feel like there's too many steps in the story to tell in just a little over an hour. There are lots of scenes that are incredibly brief, like Fievel's escape from the sweat shop, or Tony falling in love with the cat resistance mouse girl or what have you. At times, it feels like I'm watching a clip show from some other much bigger movie, but it is quite pretty to look at. A few times you see humans, you can really put focus on what Don Bluth wanted us to see; the humans were rotoscoped while the animals were animated purely by hand. It kinda makes the distinct difference between the two, so you know you should be focusing on the mice while what's happening up in the real world just sorta adds to the atmosphere.
(A photo of Steven Spielberg is shown)
MarzGurl (vo): Now apparently, Steven Spielberg, who also worked on the movie, was suspected of plagiarism from an earlier work entitled...
(The cover for Maus is shown)
MarzGurl (vo): ...Maus, in which Jews were also depicted as mice. I suppose that sounds like kind of a big deal, but I'm rather pleased that no lawsuits came of it, because I'm still a rather large fan of this movie and still find it to be a stunning piece of animation.
(The poster for The Land Before Time is shown)
MarzGurl (vo): In 1988, Don Bluth would follow up this movie with yet another Amblin Entertainment produced animated movie, The Land Before Time. I'm sure many of you will remember just how long winded I've been over it and its sequels, TV series, and video games, so I'll spare you another discussion on The Land Before Time.
(The poster for All Dogs Go to Heaven is shown)
MarzGurl (vo): But following The Land Before Time came yet another fantastic addition to Don Bluth's portfolio, All Dogs Go to Heaven. We'll talk about that movie when next we meet.
(Somewhere Out There plays over the credits)