01 October 2010
Watching this as an adult is a curious experience. I didn't realize how many times I must have watched this as a child, but it was a movie whose dialogue rhythms felt so familiar to me it was like an old song. I've had this experience a couple of times before, most notably with the first Star Wars movie. There were lines in this that I realized I'd heard a million times, knew the sound of, but hadn't understood the words. I'd been too young. It's like hearing a song you grew up on and suddenly realizing what the lyrics are about.
There's not much to say about the story of An American Tail. It's a kid's movie from an era when kid's movies were allowed to be a little darker emotionally but were expected to be even more simplistic narratively -- a trade off, I guess. Like revisiting Pinocchio or The Secret of NIMH, it's marvelous to see how varied the world can be, how legitimately frightening at times, and the songs mostly hold up better than I expected (I'm not generally a fan of musicals, as the pace of them is always a mess, but I can appreciate good songs from a musical). Each and every character (even Fievel) is fairly one-note, but they're distinct and interesting and everybody is given something to do, and something different to want, which is nice. Story wise, it feels a little like it was cutdown from something at least twice as long -- and in particular it shies away from action sequences in a way that's decidedly different from now; nowadays we'd cut short the fun and games or character moments to squeeze in more action, but I think animating chase and fight scenes was a lot harder and more expensive in the days of drawing shit by hand.
Overall it's not great, and I can't not look at it through the rose-colored lenses of my youth, when I loved the everloving shit out of it, but it's also most definitely not terrible, at all. It holds up as well as I'd hoped, and not much more than that.