On Tuesdays here at Boomslang we fire up the flux capacitor and take a look back at a movie from days gone by. This week it’s Steven Spielberg produced, animated classic An American Tail, which was released in theatres 31 years ago today. Also if you didn’t know, it’s a mother flippin’ modern masterpiece.
The story follows Fievel Mousekewitz (Phillip Glasser), a young Russian mouse separated from his parents on the way to America – a land paved with cheese and no cats. When he arrives alone in the New World, he quickly realises he’s been sold a lie. Cheese is scarce, and there are cats. Many, many terrifying cats. Fievel is a plucky mouse though, and remains hopeful as he searches for his family, making new friends along the way.
There are some that may dismiss this movie as cutesy fluff for kids, but if they were to look again they would see so much more. Few animated movies take the time to educate children, whilst also delivering a touching, entertaining story like An American Tail does. It’s not only a lovely animated adventure, but an outstanding lesson for kids about Jewish heritage and hardship, which is perhaps more important now than ever. Also the songs are bloody good!
Lets talk about how incredibly historically accurate this movie is. But first you need to know a little background, which I apologise is depressing, cos y’know…history.
Late in the 19th century, the Russian government launched a series of pogroms, which were basically state sponsored massacres of Jewish villages. This was all because many believed Jews were responsible for the assassination of Tsar Alexander II. Turns out it was all just a silly mix-up! Happens all the time. A major portion of the Russian army carrying out these atrocities were a group called the Cossacks, which is where the feline villains in An American Tail, the Catsacks, get their name. The three major pogroms in Russia led to roughly 2.5 million Jews fleeing the country. A percentage of whom managed to make it to the USA, and in that percentage, were the Mousekewitzes! Forget that the main character is a singing mouse, this movie is historically on-point.
An American Tail epitomises remaining hopeful in the face of overwhelming adversity. When the Mouskewitz’s make it to America and discover the dream they were sold of an oppression-free life is a lie, although disillusioned, they don’t let it stop them. They refuse to be chased out of their new home, where they were promised freedom. Instead of retreating, they band together, with other immigrant mice all across New York, to stage a demonstration to let the Catsacks know they have a place here too, and they are not giving it up.
This isn’t just a story of hope, family and light stereotyping. It’s one of communities coming together to fight for a place where all belong, and thirty one years to the day since it’s release, that’s a message that remains more relevant and important than ever.