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Monday, July 15, 2013

An American Tail

I am so very happy to bring you this Monday Matinee, because the topic for today happens to be one of my all-time favourite animated movies. I love this movie so very much, and I will be the first one to sing its praises, and talk about how wonderful a story it was, and how deep the characterizations were, and how catchy the songs were. I refuse to say a bad thing about this movie.

And, if anyone else happens to tell me different, I will fight you to the death. And I will win. Always.

(Well, okay, I'm joking about fighting you to the death. I would never do anything like that. But I am very passionate about this movie, and am actually very surprised that it took me this long to talk about it.)

You see, the film is a movie that some would consider to be very...American. The word “American” even appears as one of the words in the title. There are historic American landmarks featured, the main storyline involves immigration to America, and I'm almost positive that the vast majority of the voice actors in the film were American-born.

So, you would think that I would post this entry on or around the fourth of July, right?

Well, normally that would be the case. But over the three 4th of July's that have passed since I began this blogging venture in May 2011, I always had other topics planned.

July 4, 2011 – Monday Matinee – INDEPENDENCE DAY
July 4, 2012 – Wednesday Gift Shop – FIREWORKS

So, I thought that since I had a Canadian movie planned for Canada Day week, I would give my American readers a Monday Matinee feature as well.

Before I get into discussing today's film, I want to tell you the reason why I fell in love with the movie in the first place.

For some reason, I want to say that I saw this movie when I was in kindergarten, but I could have been in grade one, given the date that the VHS version was released. I never got the chance to see this movie at the movie theatre. The film was released in November 1986, which was part of the period that my town was without a movie theatre (the Capitol had closed earlier in the year, I believe, and the Parkedale Cinemas – now closed as well – weren't built until 1987 or 1988...can't remember when now), so seeing in on the big screen was out of the question.

But when I was in elementary school, I have a vivid memory of watching this movie in one of my classes. Again, I don't know whether it was kindergarten or grade one, but the videocassette was released in 1987, which was the year I transitioned between kindergarten and first grade. At least my timeline is fairly accurate in that regard.

Now, keep in mind that at the time I watched this film, I was just six years old. The reason I loved the movie back then was because of the music, the visuals, the funny looking animated characters, and of course, the brave little mouse who was the star of the whole show.

It wasn't until I was a little older and had studied a little bit of history in my junior high and high school years that this movie began to make a lot of sense. The whole film depicted the struggles and triumphs of European and Asian immigrants arriving at Ellis Island in New York City to become full-fledged American citizens. After all, back in the late 1800s, America was widely considered to be the land of opportunities. Dreams came true in America. And, I suppose that in 2013, this feeling still holds true.

And circa 1885, one of the countries that saw a lot of its citizens desiring a better life in America was Russia.

Many families of Jewish origin fled to the United States due to feelings of growing anti-Jewish pogroms in Russia during the late 19th century. Riots were triggered, people were murdered, and entire settlements were wiped off the map. So, hearing about all of the tales of how America was the land of the free, and the streets were paved with gold, and how everyone was treated better in America, many families of Jewish-Russian origin decided to head over there for better opportunities...only to discover that the same prejudices that they faces in Russia were also present in the United States of least in some areas of the country, they were.

Still, it was a chance that many immigrants took, and for many of them, it ended up being the right decision.

It was certainly the right decision for one family, whose village was completely destroyed by an army of Russian Cossacks. Their hopes and dreams of living a better life in the promised land known as America were about to come true...but then tragedy happens. When the youngest member of the family goes missing from the ferry and is presumed drowned, how will the family cope with the loss? And when the family member that is lost at sea miraculously survives and comes face to face with the grim reality of what America really has to offer, can he not only avoid danger, but reunite with his long-lost family?

That's the situation that Fievel Mousekewitz will be forced to confront in the movie “An American Tail”, a joint production by Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment and Don Bluth's Sullivan Bluth Studios that hit theatres on November 21, 1986.

It was a movie that did extremely well at the box office. It earned over $84 million, making it the highest grossing animated feature film of all time that WASN'T produced by Disney. Mind you, that record was broken in 1988 by another Bluth production, “The Land Before Time”, which in turn was broken one year later by Disney's “The Little Mermaid”.

The movie also helped this song reach the #2 position on the charts.

That would be Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram performing “Somewhere Out There”, which was a huge hit for both of them in early 1987. And, it was a song that was also performed in the film between Fievel and his sister Tanya when both of them end up separated from each other in their journey to America.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself here.

The film is set in 1885, and the film begins as the Mousekewitz family is forced to flee their village after it is destroyed by an army of Cossacks and their cats.

(Oh yeah...that's one thing I forgot to mention. The Jewish-Russian families immigrating to America are represented by mice...which explains the cats being a major representation of evil...which explains songs such as the one below.)

Yes, there are no cats in America and the streets are paved with cheese. That was the dream that the Mousekewitz family held onto in hopes of having a better life. There was Papa (Nehemiah Persoff), Mama (Erica Yohn), Tanya (Amy Green), and little Fievel (Philip Glasser). And, had everything gone according to plan, the Mousekewitz family would have gotten to America without any problem.

TRIVIA:  Fievel is actually named after Steven Spielberg's maternal grandfather.

But then Fievel gets separated from his family, and ends up falling off the boat transporting them from Russia to America. Papa and Mama are devastated, and they think that Fievel is gone forever. Tanya is also upset, but for a different reason. She feels that Fievel is still alive, but whenever she tries to explain to her family her feelings, they brush them off – too grief-stricken to even entertain the possibility.

Hence the inclusion of “Somewhere Out There” in the movie.  And, I dare you to get through this musical number without your eyes tearing up.  I can't.

It turns out that Tanya had reason to still hold onto hope. Fievel not only survived his ordeal, but with help from a friendly French pigeon named Henri (Christopher Plummer) – who ironically enough is helping with the creation of a very important monument – Fievel arrives in America basically unharmed.

(TRIVIA: If you want to know what monument Henri was working on, take this into consideration. The monument was a gift to the United States from France, and it was completed in October 1886. That will give you enough information for you to find out what this monument is. It certainly has become a symbol for immigration, especially in modern times.)

Of course, once Fievel arrives in America, he discovers that the dreams and happy thoughts of there being no cats there was all an old wives tale. There are definitely cats, and lots of them. And, many of them want to do harm to them all.

Well, maybe all of them except the big orange cat who goes by the name of Tiger and is voiced by Dom DeLuise. But wait...I've said too much.

To make matters worse, Fievel crosses paths with Warren T. Rat (John P. Finnegan), a cruel, vicious, unsympathetic character who forces Fievel to work in a sweatshop. Luckily, with help from Tony (Pat Musick), a street-smart Italian born mouse, they manage to escape. On their journey, they team up with an Irish activist mouse named Bridget (Cathianne Blore), who becomes Tony's girlfriend.

As the movie progresses, Fievel, Bridget, and Tony bear witness to cats destroying a marketplace run by mice, and we later learn that the gang of cats go by the “Mott Street Maulers”. Little do the trio of mice know that the leader of the gang is someone that Fievel knows very well...and that the leader is someone who has been keeping a very big secret of their own.

Fievel also meets a mouse politician named Honest John (Neil Ross), a reliable enough man, who happens to have a little addiction to alcohol – not like that would ever stop anyone from getting elected into public office. Nevertheless, Honest John truly does live up to his name, and when Fievel asks him to see if he can help him reunite with his family, he does what he can to find out some information. Unfortunately, due to the Mousekwitz family not registering to vote, Honest John doesn't have that information.

But that meeting allows Fievel and his new friends to cross paths with the wealthy Gussie Mausheimer (Madeleine Kahn), who uses her wealth to gather up all of the mice to launch a protest against the cats in a real, good, old-fashioned mouse wowie!!!

Ahem...actually, I mean mouse RALLY. She just pronounces it like wowie.

But, wowie, what a rally it is. Not only is Gussie planning on standing up to the cats, but she also wants to implicate Warren T. Rat for failing to live up to his promise to protect the mice from the cats, even though they pay him for that very service. It's extortion, and she doesn't like it.

So, what happens when FIEVEL of all mice comes up with a plan to overthrow the cat population using the stories that his Papa told him? It ends up being the whole climax of the film in which danger is faced, secrets are revealed, and one fluffy orange cat named Tiger has a change of heart.

What you have at the very end is a movie with a fantastic story – one that is taken from the pages of history itself. Again, I can't say anything bad about this movie. Not only is it a movie with great heart and warmth...but I still get taken back to watching this movie in school, just staring at the whole thing, my eyes fixated on Fievel's quest to find his entire family and the fight against the army of cats who keep them down.

Seriously, go out and see this film if you haven't already. It's fantastic.

1 comment:

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