MINOR SPOILER WARNING
Sometimes the union of two great artists makes for a film with twice the power of a regular film, whereas other times something just isn’t quite working. We get a little bit of both here with An American Tail, which is a Don Bluth film that Steven Spielberg commissioned. I haven’t done enough research on the film to say what exactly the conflicts were between them, but I think some of them may be revealed by the parts of the film that seem a little off. The choice to go with a child actor with no singing ability for the lead vocalist in a musical seems fine if you’re going for a certain sentiment, but the audience certainly pays the price for that sentimentality when he tries to hit the high notes. Parts of it are a bit dark and/or adult for a G-rated children’s film, even for the ‘80s – I’m always surprised by how much smoking and profanity makes its way into these films. I’m very confused about how an animal four times the size of a rat manages to disguise itself as a rat without anyone noticing, and the animators’ answer to this puzzle seems to be just making the size really inconsistent from scene to scene, but what’s more confusing here is the nature of the story.
In this film, characters are introduced only to be abandoned until another scene. Our protagonist may make a friend and, with little warning, immediately break into song about how they’re best friends. Everything seems to come out of the blue, making the film feel clunky. Everything seems rushed, taking away the weight of each scene. In terms of plot, the story is mostly fine, apart from its mild sense of arbitrarity – it’s just the way it’s written that doesn’t work right. The one big problem with the plot is how little the protagonist does to successfully accomplish his goal. That being said, other aspects of the story are really quite smart, like the irony that comes from how easily Fievel and his family could have found each other if not for slightly bad timing, or the way the mice romanticize America only to have their hopes destroyed by reality. Between the story, the great soundtrack, and the hilarious voice cast (because everybody likes Madeline Kahn) An American Tail is a perfectly fine film for children . . . it’s just a little irritating for screenwriters.