Like a lot of Don Bluth’s films, “An American Tail” feels like a very personal animated film that tells a universal story about the immigration experience. It’s sad that “An American Tail” has gone somewhat pushed to the corner of the animated world over the years, since it’s such a touching movie and brilliant exploration of family and bonds. Fievel is one of the most likable and human protagonists of all time. He’s not heroic or overly courageous. He’s just a young mouse looking to make his way in the world and explore the vast open land that lies before him.
The Mousekewitz’s are a Jewish clan that spend most of their time beside one another and are always being hassled by the local oppressive cat population. The Cats keep them repressed, silent, and always threaten them with violence. When the Mousekewitz’s have the chance to flee and look for greener pastures, they risk life and limb for freedom in America. Most folks that have experienced immigrating to a new country for the sake of vast opportunities will be able to relate to the journey of the Mousekewitz’s and Bluth uses the characters of mice as an allegory for how small and somewhat insignificant immigrants felt upon entering Ellis Island and walking in to a land they’d yet to really understand.
When the family finally find themselves in New York, every bit of environment is gigantic and limitless allowing for a terrifying yet exciting view of how immigrants approached their new homes. During the travels on sea, young Fievel is separated from his family thrown in to the vicious ocean. Though his family is convinced he’s died, despite their best efforts to save him, Fievel is lucky enough to fall in to an empty bottle and tries to desperately make it to America to find his family and re-unite.
Along the way he’s exposed to a lot of the potential hazards and tragic circumstances of immigration, including being tangled up with a group of abandoned orphans, all of whom have completely given up on a stable home life. Dom DeLuise is also great as friendly cat Tiger, who forms an affection for Fievel and manages to become his sidekick, helping his efforts to make it to America when all odds are against the pair. “An American Tail” is such an intimate and entertaining animated epic, with complex themes about family and seeking new opportunities in the land of the free, and filled with some sweet musical numbers. It’s one of Bluth’s best.