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An American Tail
AnAmericanTailPoster.jpg
Theatrical release poster by Drew Struzan
Directed by Don Bluth
Produced by
  • Don Bluth
  • Gary Goldman
  • John Pomeroy
Screenplay by
Story by
  • David Kirschner
  • Judy Freudberg
  • Tony Geiss
Starring
Music by James Horner
Editing by Dan Molina
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date(s) November 21, 1986 (1986-11-21) (United States)
June 19, 1987 (1987-06-19) (Ireland)
Running time 80 minutes
Country
  • United States
Language English
Budget $9 million
Money made $104.5 million

An American Tail is a 1986 American animated musical adventure comedy-drama film directed by Don Bluth from a screenplay by Judy Freudberg and Tony Geiss and a story by David Kirschner, Freudberg and Geiss. The film features the voices of Phillip Glasser, John Finnegan, Amy Green, Nehemiah Persoff, Dom DeLuise, and Christopher Plummer. It tells the story of Fievel Mousekewitz and his family as they emigrate from Shostka to the United States for freedom. However, he gets lost and must find a way to reunite with them.

The film was released in the United States on November 21, 1986, by Universal Pictures. It received mixed reviews and was a box office hit, making it the highest-grossing non-Disney animated film at the time. Its success, along with that of fellow Bluth film The Land Before Time and Disney's Who Framed Roger Rabbit (both 1988), and Bluth's departure from their partnership, prompted executive producer Steven Spielberg to establish his own animation studio, Amblimation, in London, England. The film spawned a franchise that included a sequel, An American Tail: Fievel Goes West (1991); a CBS TV series, Fievel's American Tails (1992); and two additional direct-to-video sequels, An American Tail: The Treasure of Manhattan Island (1998) and An American Tail: The Mystery of the Night Monster (1999).

Plot

In 1885 Shostka, the Mousekewitzes, a Russian-Jewish family of mice who live with a human family named Moskowitz, are having a celebration of Hanukkah where Papa gives his hat to his 5-year-old son, Fievel, and tells him about the United States, a country where there are no cats. The celebration is interrupted when a battery of Cossacks ride through the village square in an anti-Jewish arson attack and their cats likewise attack the village mice by throwing molotov cocktails at the Moskowitz home. Because of this, the Moskowitz home, along with that of the Mousekewitzes, is destroyed.

In Hamburg, the Mousekewitzes board a tramp steamer headed for New York City. All the mice aboard are ecstatic at the prospect of going to America as there are "no cats" there. During a thunderstorm on their journey, Fievel suddenly finds himself separated from his family and washed overboard. Thinking that he has died, they proceed to the city as planned, though they are devastated by his loss.

However, Fievel floats to New York City in a bottle and, after a pep talk from a French pigeon named Henri, embarks on a quest to find his family. He encounters greedy conman Warren T. Rat, who sells him to a sweatshop. He escapes with Tony Toponi, a street-smart Italian-American mouse, and they join up with Bridget, an Irish mouse trying to rouse her fellow mice to fight the cats. When a gang of them called the Mott Street Maulers attacks a mouse marketplace, the immigrant mice learn that the tales of a cat-free country are not true.

Bridget takes Fievel and Tony to see Honest John, an alcoholic politician who knows the city's voting mice. However, he can't help Fievel search for his family, as they have not yet registered to vote. Meanwhile, his older sister, Tanya, tells her gloomy parents she has a feeling that he is still alive, but they insist that it will eventually go away.

Led by the rich and powerful Gussie Mausheimer, the mice hold a rally to decide what to do about the cats. According to Honest John, Warren is extorting them all for protection that he never provides. No one knows what to do about it, until Fievel whispers a plan to Gussie. Although his family also attends, they stand well in the back of the audience and they are unable to recognize Fievel onstage with her.

The mice take over an abandoned museum on the Chelsea Piers and begin constructing their plan. On the day of launch, Fievel gets left behind and inadvertently enters the Maulers' hideout, upon hearing what he believes is his father's violin playing. He instead finds Warren there playing and discovers that he is a diminutive cat in disguise and the leader of the Maulers. They soon discover, capture and imprison Fievel, but his guard is a reluctant member of the gang; a goofy, soft-hearted long-haired orange tabby cat named Tiger, who befriends and frees him. Angry that he has let Fievel escape, Warren promptly dismisses him (which he is more than happy to accept, as he never liked Warren or his cacophonous violin playing).

Fievel races back to the pier with the cats chasing after him. There the disguised Warren attempts to extort the mice again to surrender Fievel and their money in exchange for their safety, but when Tony removes Warren's disguise in front of the mice with the aid of a slingshot, they defiantly refuse. Furious, Warren then sets fire to the pier's entrance in an attempt to burn the mice alive, until Gussie finally orders the mice to release the secret weapon. A huge mechanical mouse, inspired by the tales Papa told Fievel of the "Giant Mouse of Minsk", chases Warren and his gang down the pier and into the water. A tramp steamer bound for Hong Kong picks them up on its anchor and carries them away. However, a pile of leaking kerosene cans has caused remnants of the fire Warren had started to ignite the entire pier, and the mice are forced to flee when the human FDNY arrives to extinguish it.

During the fire, Fievel is once again separated from his family and ends up at an orphanage. Papa and Tanya overhear Bridget and Tony calling out to Fievel, but Papa is sure that there may be another "Fievel" somewhere, until Mama finds his hat.

Joined by Gussie, Tiger allows them to ride him in a final effort to find Fievel and they are ultimately successful. The journey ends with Henri taking everyone to see his newly completed project—the Statue of Liberty, which appears to smile and wink at Fievel and Tanya, and the Mouskewitzes' new life in the United States begins.

Cast

  • Phillip Glasser as Fievel Mousekewitz. While "Fievel" is a generally accepted spelling of his name, the opening credits spell it as "Feivel", the more common transliteration of the Yiddish name (פֿײַװל Fayvl). (Cf. Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz and Feivel Gruberger.) The main protagonist, He is the five-year old only son of Papa and Mama Mousekewitz. A High-spirited, daring yet naïve Russian-Jewish mouse, Fievel becomes a frightened child when he is separated from his family. The strength and the encouragement from his new American friends from Henri to Tony and Bridget give him the fortitude to reach his goal in reuniting with his family while starting a new life in America. Fievel was the same name of Steven Spielberg's grandfather, whose stories as an immigrant influenced the movie. (The ending credits spell his name as "Fievel".) However, many English-speaking writers have come to adopt the spelling Fievel (with reversed i and first e) especially for this character; it was this spelling that was used on the film's poster, in promotional materials and tie-in merchandise, and in the title of the sequel An American Tail: Fievel Goes West. His last name is a play on the Jewish-Russian last name "Moskowitz", the name of the human occupants of the house his family is living under in the beginning of the film.
  • John Finnegan as Warren T. Cat, a small cat who disguises himself as a rat. Leader of the Mott Street Maulers, an all-cat gang which terrorizes the mice of New York City. Conniving and a schemer, he misleads the gullible Fievel at one point. Later on, he gets his comeuppance when Fievel discovers and later exposes him as a cat to the Mouse community. He is accompanied everywhere by his accountant Digit, a small British-accented cockroach.
  • Amy Green as Tanya Mousekewitz (singing voice provided by Betsy Cathcart), Fievel's 14-year-old older sister, whom he mutually adores. Optimistic and cheerful, less daring but more obedient than her brother, she alone believes (correctly) that he survived being washed overboard en route to the United States. She is given the American name "Tillie" at the immigration point at Castle Garden.
  • Nehemiah Persoff as Papa Mousekewitz, the head of the Mousekewitz family who plays the violin and tells stories to his children.
  • Erica Yohn as Mama Mousekewitz, Fievel's mother. Countering Papa's dreamy idealism, she is a level-headed pragmatist, besides being stricter with their offspring than he is. She also has a fear of flying.
  • Pat Musick as Tony Toponi, a streetwise teenage mouse of Italian descent. His "tough guy" attitude suits his New York surroundings. The name "Toponi" is a play on "topo", the Italian word for "mouse". He hits it off with Fievel, acting as a surrogate big brother to the younger mouse, whom he calls “Philly”. In a subplot, He falls in love with Bridget.
  • Dom DeLuise as Tiger, the most physically-imposing member of the Mott Street Maulers, whom he serves as an enforcer...and often as the brunt of their cruel jokes. This bushy-tailed, orange long-haired tabby stands 3 feet tall on his rear legs. Although he's hardly the brightest color on the rainbow, as it were, Tiger's heart is big and soft as his sumo-esque belly. His warm nature endears him to mice and birds; it doesn't hurt that he's also a vegetarian (unless you count the occasional fish). He enjoys card games like poker and gin rummy, despite being terrible at them. Tiger's voice also helps him stand out; he sings Bass and Baritone, from D2 or E2 to F4 or G4.
  • Christopher Plummer as Henri le Pigeon, a pigeon of French descent, who oversees construction of the Statue of Liberty.
  • Cathianne Blore as Bridget, an attractive, elegant Irish-born mouse and Tony's significant other. Her parents were slain and devoured by the Mott Street Maulers, making her an advocate in speaking out against the cats. Kind, passionate yet soft-spoken, she acts as a surrogate big sister to Fievel.
  • Neil Ross as Honest John, a local Irish-born mouse politician who knows every voting mouse in New York City. An ambulance-chasing drunkard, he takes advantage of voters' concerns to increase his political prestige. John is a caricature of the 19th-century Tammany Hall politicians.
  • Madeline Kahn as Gussie Mausheimer, a German-born mouse considered to be the richest in New York City, who rallies the mice into fighting back against the cats.
  • Will Ryan as Digit, Warren's British cockroach accountant who has a fondness for counting money, but is plagued by frequent electrical charges in his antennae whenever he gets nervous or excited.
  • Hal Smith as Moe, a fat rat who runs the local sweatshop. Fievel is sold to him by Warren.
  • Dan Kuenster as Jake, Warren's burly aide-de-camp. Among the Mott Street Maulers, he alone enjoys listening to his leader's violin music. Jake catches Fievel after a chase through the sewers. After Tiger takes pity on Fievel and sets him free, Jake and his fellow Maulers pursue the young mouse to the Chelsea Pier...only to face the "Giant Mouse of Minsk".

Music

"There is no way you could put a score like this in any other kind of film. It would only work in animation or if I wrote a ballet. I loved doing it."

Spielberg's original vision for the film was as a musical—it is said he wanted a "Heigh-Ho" of his own (referring to the popular song from Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs). Jerry Goldsmith who had worked on The Secret of NIMH with Bluth was initially supposed to work on the score, but had to drop out of the film due to a busy schedule. After he completed Aliens, James Horner composed the score for the film, which was recorded in England and performed by The London Symphony Orchestra and the Choir of King's College. Two excerpts of period music also appear in the film: The Stars and Stripes Forever by John Philip Sousa and Poor Wand'ring One from the 1880 comic opera The Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan. There is also a musical reference to the 1947 song Galway Bay popularized by Bing Crosby. Initially Bluth and his team were disappointed with the first score recording, but once edited, they found the music worked quite well. The final score became one of the film's strongest points.

The initial songs were written by Tom Bahler, who had worked as a music supervisor and composer. Bahler left the project, in which Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann were later brought on to compose new songs. After the first round of songs were written, it was decided a special song would be written for Linda Ronstadt to sing over the end credits with James Ingram. Titled "Somewhere Out There", it later went on to win two Grammy Awards for Song of the Year and Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or for Television. It would become one of the most popular songs from an animated feature since the 1950s.

An American Tail: Music from the Motion Picture Soundtrack
Soundtrack album by
Various Artists
Released November 21, 1986
February 11, 2019 (expansion)
Genre Soundtrack
Length 49:04 (original release)
78:28 (2019 expansion)
Label MCA Records (1986)
Geffen Records (2013)
Intrada Records (2019)
Producer James Horner
Don Bluth Music of Films chronology
The Secret of NIMH
(1982)
An American Tail: Music from the Motion Picture Soundtrack
(1986)
The Land Before Time
(1988)
Singles from {{{Name}}}
 Professional ratings
Source Rating
AllMusic
Filmtracks

An official soundtrack containing 14 tracks from the film was first released on November 21, 1986, by MCA Records, and was made available on audio cassette, vinyl record, and CD. It was later released digitally by Geffen Records on February 5, 2013.

Track list

All music composed by James Horner and Barry Mann with lyrics by Cynthia Weil. All scores are composed by Horner.

No. Title Performer(s) Length
1. "Main Title" (score)   5:07
2. "The Cossack Cats" (score)   2:15
3. "There Are No Cats In America"   Nehemiah Persoff, John Guarnieri, and Warren Hays 3:00
4. "The Storm" (score)   3:59
5. "Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor" (score)   2:44
6. "Never Say Never"   Phillip Glasser and Christopher Plummer 2:25
7. "The Market Place" (score)   3:02
8. "Somewhere Out There"   Phillip Glasser and Betsy Cathcart 2:40
9. "Somewhere Out There"   Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram 3:59
10. "Releasing the Secret Weapon" (score)   3:38
11. "A Duo"   Phillip Glasser and Dom DeLuise 2:38
12. "The Great Fire" (score)   2:54
13. "Reunited" (score)   4:44
14. "Flying Away and End Credits" (score)   5:59
Total length:
49:09

Personnel

  • Linda Ronstadt – vocals (track 9)
  • James Ingram – vocals (track 9)
  • Leland Sklar – bass (track 9)
  • Russ Kunkel – drums (track 9)
  • Don Grolnick – keyboards (track 9)
  • Bob Mann – guitar, arranger, conductor (track 9)
  • Guy Moon – synth pads (track 9)

2019 Expanded edition track list

All lyrics written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, all music composed by James Horner.

No. Title Performer(s) Length
1. "Main Title" (score)   5:13
2. "The Cossack Cats" (score)   2:21
3. "Dissolve To Sea/Lullaby" (score)   1:03
4. "There Are No Cats In America"   Nehemiah Persoff, John Guarnieri, and Warren Hays 3:03
5. "The Storm" (score)   4:02
6. "Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor" (score)   2:50
7. "Never Say Never"   Phillip Glasser and Christopher Plummer 2:28
8. "Warren T. Rat/It Will Go Away" (score)   4:11
9. "Train Trestle" (score)   2:00
10. "The Market Place" (score)   3:06
11. "The Rumble" (score)   1:56
12. "Honest John And Gussie Mausheimer" (score)   3:03
13. "Somewhere Out There"   Phillip Glasser and Betsy Cathcart 2:46
14. "Building The Mouse Of Minsk" (score)   2:52
15. "Down In The Sewer/Chase In The Mauler's Den" (score)   1:36
16. "Gussie's Plan" (score)   2:10
17. "A Duo"   Phillip Glasser and Dom DeLuise 2:41
18. "Fievel's Escape" (score)   3:17
19. "Releasing The Secret Weapon" (score)   3:42
20. "The Great Fire" (score)   2:59
21. "Reunited" (score)   4:49
22. "Flying Away And End Credits" (score)   6:03
23. "Somewhere Out There"   Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram 4:04
24. "Poor Wandering One" (score) Gilbert and Sullivan 0:59
25. "The Rally (Source)" (score)   1:12
26. "Somewhere Out There (Instrumental)"     4:01
Total length:
78:28

Media

Theme parks

A Fievel-themed playground, called "Fievel's Playland", was built at Universal Studios Florida, featuring a large water slide and many oversized objects such as books, glasses, cowboy boots, and more. A similar playground used to be at Universal Studios Hollywood, alongside a stage show based on the two movies, but were closed down in 1997 and replaced with Coke Soak and T2-3D: Battle Across Time. It is the only such playground at any of NBC Universal's theme parks.

Sequels and legacy

The film gave rise to a number of follow-up media of which Don Bluth had no direct involvement. The theatrical sequel Fievel Goes West, directed by Phil Nibbelink and Simon Wells and produced by Steven Spielberg and Robert Watts, was released in 1991 and follows the adventures of Fievel and his family as they move from New York to the Wild West. A 13-episode TV series based on it called Fievel's American Tails aired on the CBS network between September and December 1992. Two direct-to-video films were also later produced by Universal Pictures Home Entertainment: The Treasure of Manhattan Island in 1998, and The Mystery of the Night Monster in 1999. The Mousekewitz family would also be parodied, somewhat, as a family of Italian-American fleas in a few episodes of Tiny Toon Adventures, also produced by Steven Spielberg.

A video game based on this movie was released for PlayStation 2 only in Europe in 2007 by Data Design Interactive.

Fievel would also serve as the mascot for Spielberg's Amblimation animation production company in London, England, appearing in its production logo until the studio's dissolution in 1997. In March 2000, it was announced that he would also become the official children's spokesman for UNICEF, with the organization's director of communications Craig Kornblau remarking that "Fievel Mousekewitz is a popular endearing character for children everywhere," and "His immigration experiences reflect the adventures and triumphs of all cultures and their children."

Alleged plagiarism

Art Spiegelman accused Spielberg of plagiarism due to the fact that the Jews are depicted as mice in the film just as in Spiegelman's earlier Maus, a metaphor he had adopted from Nazi propaganda. Instead of pursuing copyright litigation, he opted to beat its release date by convincing his publishers to split Maus into two volumes and publish the first before he even finished the second.

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