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“Somewhere out there, beneath the pale moonlight
Someone’s thinking of me, and loving me tonight…”
Chances are if you were to name a well-known American animation auteur besides Walt Disney, most of us who were children in the 80’s and 90’s will point to one man: Don Bluth.
Bluth formed his studio in the hopes that he could make quality entertainment unlike what Disney was putting out; the irony is that not only did Bluth use to work for Disney up through the seventies, but his career almost mirrors much of Walt and his studio’s ups and downs. Their early films are considered their best despite the common criticism that they’re too dark for children, and over time they grew lighter and softer to the point where they were criticized for, ironically, not being dark enough. That, and they made a few princess fairytale movies in the 90’s with their fair share of Oscar-bait ballads.
There’s also one other factor in this comparison which I think is important. For years after the premiere of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, every animated movie Walt Disney produced was inevitably compared to it. There was a period where Walt himself began to loathe Snow White because she seemed to overshadow all his other accomplishments. I have to wonder if Don Bluth feels the same way about his first foray into feature-length animation, 1982’s “The Secret of NIMH”, which many consider to be his best work. Admittedly I’m in that boat too, yet I feel guilty for saying it because doing so feels as though I’m negating everything that followed. Case in point – this month’s review.
“An American Tail” is one of the first Don Bluth movies I can remember seeing, and if it weren’t for “The Secret of NIMH” it’d be my number one favorite Bluth film. But hey, it comes this close. Funny thing is, I didn’t watch it all that much when I was kid, and not entirely for the reasons you might think. Sure, this movie has everything that comes with an 80’s Don Bluth production – heavy doses of nightmare fuel and a somewhat bleak atmosphere offset by cartoony animation, lighthearted songs, recurring comic relief actors and a happy ending – but it was on another one of those tapes that had more than one feature crammed on to it. In this case, An American Tail came on right after Ferngully: The Last Rainforest. Four year-old me liked Ferngully just fine, but was never invested enough that she’d watch it all the way through to the end, usually stopping after the romantic “Dream Worth Keeping” segment because afterwards things got dark and moody and there weren’t any more songs. And if I did sit through it all, then I’d have to be in the right kind of mood to watch An American Tail because that was dark and moody and THOSE GDAMN CLOSE CALLS WHERE HE COULD HAVE FOUND HIS FAMILY IF HE ONLY –
…anyway, I’ve come to appreciate it much more for what it is an adult than as a kid for a number of reasons. That nostalgia is still there, but it’s well-tempered by time and a deeper understanding of the socio-economic background behind the making of this movie as well as the historical fictional one where the story is set.
Oh, did I mention I’m highly educated in happenings from the time period this all takes place in? Because I am. And this entire review is going to be part-silly observational jokes and part-gushing over how much history they cram into the tiniest details.