As the 1980s went along, the animation scene was starting to pick up steam and get back to its former glory. In the earlier half of the decade, animation was at an all-time low with studios losing interest in the medium and finding it too expensive to continue with even Disney reaching rock bottom with their disastrous dark fantasy film "The Black Cauldron" in 1985. However, there was one animator who was able to keep animation alive and still move it forward into a new era and that was Don Bluth. While his first film "The Secret of NIMH" wasn't a huge financial success due to the lack of promotion from distributor United Artists, it did get the eye of director Steven Spielberg who decided to establish a partnership with Bluth to continue making films. This resulted in "An American Tail" which ended up being a financial success becoming the highest non-Disney animated film of all time at the point and even beat Disney's own "The Great Mouse Detective" at the box office. While I personally think that Disney did have the stronger animated film that year and is nowhere near as good as "NIMH", I still think this is a very enjoyable film and I had a fun time watching it.
In 1885, a Russian mouse family named the Mousekewitz's decide to leave their homeland and head for America in hopes for a better life away from the dangers in Russia and the promise of no cats being in America. They include Papa (Nehemiah Persoff), Mama (Erica Yohn), their daughter Tanya (Amy Green), baby Yasha, and their son Fievel (Phillip Glasser). On their boat ride to New York from Hamburg, Fievel ends up getting thrown overboard during a storm and his family sadly presume him to be dead save for Tanya who holds on to hope that her brother is alive. Sure enough, Fievel is alive and washes up on Liberty Island in a bottle and goes searching for his family. However, Fievel ends up in a sweatshop instead after being sold by the villainous Warren T. Rat (John Finnegan), but sure enough, escapes and with the help of two mice named Tony (Pat Musick) and named Bridgette (Cathianne Blore) and goes searching in New York hoping to reunite with his family.
We all know that Steven Spielberg is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time and has pioneered the film industry with some amazing films, but he also has done so much for the animation industry as well with this film being the first of many successful animation properties with his name attached that would eventually lead to shows like "Tiny Toons Adventures" and "Animaniacs" as well as the founding of DreamWorks. I really got to give him credit for taking a chance on Bluth who made such a breathtaking debut film even though it sadly wasn't a huge financial success and I feel he made a very good follow-up although it is nowhere near as good as "NIMH" is. I do admire Bluth making a much lighter film compared to "NIMH" which is what I feel makes the story for the most part fairly strong. The main emotional drive of the film is seeing Fievel trying to reunite with his family and it's ultimately what holds the film together. There are many moments where Fievel is so close to finding his family and yet they just barely miss each other which keeps the film feeling somewhat suspenseful and keeps its pace. It ultimately builds to one of the most satisfying endings in an animated film ever and watching it made me so delighted and happy. I really enjoyed seeing that part of the film more so than the subplot about some mice in New York rallying up to figure out how to get rid of the cats. There are some scenes where Fievel encounters mice like Gussie (Madeline Kahn) that are trying to figure out how to get rid of the cats without paying money to Warren T. Rat who will keep them at bay and I just didn't care at all about them. While I didn't find the scenes boring, I mostly found them rather uninteresting and weak compared to the main drive of the film which was so much stronger and emotionally riveting. I do think the animation is a lot more ambitious from "NIMH" and I love how grand it is in scope. Where "NIMH" was mostly keen on the areas in and around Farmer Fitzgibbon's home, here we see a lot of places and locations and it's a sight to see. There's a lot of warm colors too which gives the film a grand look to it and I think the character animation is once again a pleasure to see. It definitely has the look and feel of an old postcard from the late 1800s and I admire that aesthetic. As far as the characters go, I do think most of them work but there are a few that don't. A character that does work well is the character of Fievel. He's a character that could've dipped into being too cutesy and sappy, but I don't think Bluth overdoes it here. He gives him just enough curiosity and excitement for a young mouse and he's also brave and not afraid of taking risks, but he also isn't too down and depressed with the eye for optimism that he'll find his family. I also think the other members Mousekewitz family even though they don't have lots of screentime were a delight as well. I think Tommy and Bridgette also work well in the film and I do like that the filmmakers didn't make them too much of a pushover with the romance they had going for. I don't think it came off as forced and I do like that they don't talk down to Fievel. It makes them worth companions on helping him reunite with his family. However, there are a few characters I didn't entirely love. I didn't care for the aforementioned Gussie which mainly came down to my lack of interest in the cat subplot. I did like the character of Tiger (Dom DeLuise) for a bit, but I felt he did overstay his welcome and probably should've been written out after his scene was served. I also found Warren T. Rat an exceptionally weak and forgettable villain with his only motivation being money and making very little of an impression on me. I also think the songs of this film are also very good and memorable with my favorites being "There Are No Cats in America" and the Oscar-nominated ballad "Somewhere Out There" and the score by the late James Horner was simply outstanding. It was so emotionally sweeping and lovely that it truly carried the film just as Jerry Goldsmith's score did for "The Secret of NIMH".
"An American Tail" is simply a delightful film. The story is emotionally effective and full of life, the animation is crisp and aesthetically beautiful, and the characters are mostly delightful although some didn't entirely work for me. I do think that this is a solid film and I did enjoy it a lot even if the film was far from perfect. It's simply a delightful little animated film and I think it succeeds at being just that. I think it's a tale worth sharing for years to come.