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An American Tail is a 1986 animated film produced by Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment, and directed by Don Bluth, originally released in movie theatres on November 21, 1986. It was the first animated film produced by Universal Pictures. It was the first Don Bluth film to involve Wolfgang Reitherman in production but he was uncredited, and he died in 1985, a year before the film was released


The film starts off on Hanukkah in 1885, opening in the village of Shostkamarker, Russiamarker, and it shows the story of the life of a family of Jewish-Russian mice who emigrate after their village is destroyed by Tsar Alexander III's Anti-Jewish pogroms. Believing in the American dream, they head to New York Citymarker because (as a song repeated early in the picture goes) "there are no cats in Americamarker, and the streets are paved with cheese." Once there, they immediately discover that there are indeed cats in America (and plenty of them), and begin living in a typical late 19th century immigrant manner – working in a sweatshop, living in horrible conditions, and submitting to a feline protection racket as an alternative to being eaten by the cats.

The film follows Fievel Mousekewitz, who is separated from his family after falling overboard the SS Austria as it approaches America after departing the Port of Hamburg. Stuck inside a floating vodka bottle, Fievel is carried to Liberty Islandmarker, where he is met by a pigeon named Henri, who is with a French delegation who are erecting the Statue of Libertymarker. Fievel is at first doubtful that he can even find his family in America, but Henri encourages him to try. Fievel makes his way to New York City, hoping to consult with Immigration, but is waylaid by Warren T. Rat, a Shakespeare reciting conman rat who sells him to a sweatshop. Fievel escapes, befriending an Italian mouse named Tony Toponi (who nicknames him "Philly") in the process. Tony and Bridget, an Irish mouse with whom Tony is friendly, begin a search for his parents, who believe that Fievel drowned at sea.

During this time, the mice of New York decide that they are fed up with the continuous attacks by cats (and paying Warren for useless protection), and must find a way to defeat them. A wealthy mouse socialite named Gussie Mausheimer holds a rally to bring more mice to their cause. However, no one is sure just what to do to get rid of the cats. It is Fievel who suggests a plan to build a giant "Mouse of Minskmarker" (based on the traditional Jewish legend of the Golem) .

They make their way to an abandoned building along the Chelsea Piersmarker that night and inside begin to work building their creation. Fievel and Tony however are late. Running hard to get to the docks, Fievel is sidetracked by the strains of a violin being played from a sewer grate. Believing it's Papa, he makes his way into the sewer, only to find out that the music is coming from Warren and a gang of cats. Warren is actually a cat in a rat disguise and is running a protection racket as the gang's boss. When they discover Fievel, the mouse is captured and imprisoned in a cage.

Fievel ends up befriending one of the cats, Tiger, who admits that he's a vegetarian. As the two talk, they discover that even though they are a cat and mouse, they share some of the same likes and dislikes. After talking, Tiger lets Fievel go. However, his escape triggers an alarm, and Fievel is chased to the New York Harbor where Fievel reveals Warren's identity as a cat with a little help from Tony. When the mice in their encampment refuse to give in to Warren's demands, he lights a match and attempts to burn them alive. However, Fievel intercepts the match, and uses it to help jumpstart their 'secret weapon' – the "Giant Mouse of Minsk," armed with fireworks provided by Chinese mice. The giant contraption chases the cats down the docks and forces them onto a tramp steamer bound for Hong Kongmarker.

It appears the mice have won out, but a remnant of the fire Warren started is still lit, and a spilled bottle of kerosene soon starts it to cause a blaze at the encampment. As the mice scramble for cover, firefighters are dispatched to the blaze to put it out. In the ensuing chaos, Fievel's family encounter Tony and Bridget, who are looking for "Philly". Tanya believes they're looking for Fievel, and Tony confirms that Philly's original name is indeed Fievel. Papa still believes that Fievel is dead, but Bridget gives Fievel's hat to Mama and she shows her husband (which he gave Fievel at the start of the movie), confirming that Fievel is alive. Tiger is also present, and overhears the conversation among the mice.

Shortly afterwards, Fievel wakes up on the streets with some orphaned mice, who tease him and talk him into abandoning any hope he has left in finding his family. Fievel believes them and sadly resigns himself to life as an orphan. The next morning, Fievel's family and new friends are searching for him together, the mice riding on Tiger, and Papa playing his violin. Fievel hears the music, and the Mousekowitz family is soon joyfully reunited. Bridget tells Tony that it is very beautiful to see a family together. Tony responds by saying, "Ain't nobody thanking me." Bridget thanks him with a kiss. Tiger is very happy to have friends, "Little tiny friends." The movie ends with Fievel and Tanya riding on pigeons to see the now-completed Statue of Libertymarker, which winks at them.


Fievel Mousekewitz and Henri the pigeon, shortly after Fievel arrives in New York City.
  • Phillip Glasser as Fievel Mousekewitz, the film's central character. While "Fievel" is the generally accepted spelling of his name, the opening credits spell him as "Feivel" which is technically the correct Yiddish transliteration of the name (see also Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz and Feivel Gruberger) since Yiddish evolved from a medieval form of German and its rules for transliteration are therefore based on German orthography (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 which 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. Fievel was named after Spielberg's maternal grandfather, Philip Posner, whose Yiddish name was Feivel. The scene in which Fievel presses up against a window to look into a classroom filled with American "schoolmice" is based on a story Spielberg remembered about his grandfather, who told him that Jews were only able to listen to school lessons through open windows while sitting outside in the snow. Fievel's last name is a play on the Jewish-Russian last name "Moskowitz", the name of the human occupants of the house Fievel's family is living under in the beginning of the film.
  • Amy Green as Tanya Mousekewitz (singing voice provided by Betsy Cathcart), Fievel's older sister. Optimistic, cheerful and obedient, she continued to believe that her brother was alive after Fievel was washed off the ill-fated SS Austria en route to America. She was given an American name 'Tillie' at the immigration point at Castle Gardenmarker on Ellis Islandmarker.
  • John P. Finnegan as Warren T. Rat, the main villain of the film's story, Warren T. is really a cat in rat's clothing and the leader of the Mott Street Maulers, a gang of cats who terrorize the mice of New York City. He is accompanied nearly all the time by his accountant Digit, a small British cockroach. Warren is based on the famous anti-immigrant Nativist, Bill Poole aka "Bill the Butcher."
  • Nehemiah Persoff as Papa Mousekewitz, the head of the Mousekewitz family who plays the violin and tells stories to his children. Too overcome with grief and believing his son to be dead after being separated during the sinking of the SS Austria, he stubbornly refuses to search for Fievel after the family lands in America.
  • Erica Yohn as Mama Mousekewitz, Fievel's mother. She appears the stricter of the Mousekewitz parents, and has a fear of flying.
  • Pat Musick as Tony Toponi, a streetwise young mouse of Italianmarker descent and with a 'tough New Yorker' attitude. Tony meets Fievel during their slavery at the sweatshop. He takes a liking to Fievel, and gives him an American name "Philly." After they escape the sweatshop, he becomes Fievel's friend and guide to the town.
  • Dom DeLuise as Tiger, a very large, cowardly, long-haired orange cat who also happens to be vegetarian. Tiger was a member of Warren T. Rat's 'Mott Street Maulers' cat-gang until he met and befriended Fievel, whom he helped to escape.
  • Christopher Plummer as Henri, a pigeon of Frenchmarker descent, who is in New York while building the Statue of Libertymarker. He is the first to meet Fievel upon entering America. He nurses Fievel back to health, and tells him that he should never give up in his search for his family (via the song 'Never Say Never'), a message which Fievel takes to heart.
  • Cathianne Blore as Bridget, an Irish activist and Tony's girlfriend.
  • Neil Ross as Honest John, a local Irish-born politician who knows every voting mouse in New York who presides over a wake for an Irish Catholic mouse done in by cats at his headquarters. A constant drunkard who takes advantage of every voter's concern to increase his political prestige. He represents the stereotype of the 19th century Tammany Hall politician. .
  • Madeline Kahn as Gussie Mausheimer, a German-born considered to be the richest in New York, who rallies the mice into fighting back against the cats.
  • Will Ryan as Digit, Warren T.'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 sweatshop Fievel is sold to by Warren T.


While all of the animal characters were animated from scratch, the human characters were animated using the rotoscoping technique, in which sequences were shot in live action and then traced onto animation cels. This provides a realistic look for human characters, and distinguishes the cartoonish animal characters from the more realistically-animated humans. Rotoscoping is frequently employed in Don Bluth films, including The Secret of NIMH and Anastasia.


The musical score for the film was composed by James Horner. The song "Somewhere Out There", composed by Horner and written by Barry Mann, won a Grammy Award. One scene incorporates the John Phillip Sousa march Stars and Stripes Forever.



At the time of its release, An American Tail became the highest grossing non-Disney produced animated feature, drawing over $47 million USD. It was also one of the first animated films to outdraw a Disney film, beating out The Great Mouse Detective (also released in 1986 but four months earlier) by over $22 million USD. It would later be outgrossed by the next Bluth film, 1988's The Land Before Time, which marginally outperformed Oliver and Company. The record would quickly be shattered with the release of The Little Mermaid three years later.

Home media

The film was released on VHS in the same year by CIC Video, with a Spanish dubbed version separately released on VHS as Un cuento americano (An American Tale, dropping the pun inherent in the English title), and is now available on a DVD that contains the main English track, as well as dubbing for French and Spanish.


The film was a box office success, marking the first Universal animation movies success in theaters. The film has grossed up to $47 million in the United States and $84 million worldwide. The movie currently has a "B" rating at Box Office Mojo. After years of its score on Rotten Tomatoes going back and forth between "fresh" and "rotten", it has managed to settle above the line at 63%. Its score among the website "community" is more secure at 84%.

Sequels and spinoffs

The film was followed by its theatrical sequel An American Tail: Fievel Goes West (1991), the television series Fievel's American Tails, and two direct-to-video sequels: An American Tail: The Treasure of Manhattan Island and An American Tail: The Mystery of the Night Monster, none of which Don Bluth had any involvement with.

Fievel later served as the mascot for Steven Spielberg's Amblimation animation studio, appearing in its production logo. Also, as reported on the official An American Tail website, Fievel has become the mascot for UNICEF as well. There is also a Fievel-themed playground at Universal Studios Floridamarker, featuring a large water slide and many over-sized objects such as books, glasses, cowboy boots, and more. It is the only such playground at any of NBC Universal's theme parks.

Suspected plagiarism

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


  1. Baby Name Feivel - Origin and Meaning of Feivel
  2. Behind the Name: Meaning, Origin and History of the Name Feivel
  3. Joseph McBride. Steven Spielberg: A Biography, Simon & Schuster 1997, pages 20-21.

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