Thirty years ago today, Steven Spielberg, Don Bluth, and David Kirschner brought the animated kids movie classic An American Tail to cinema screens. It introduced the Mousekewitz family and their cute, curious, and adventurous son Fievel, who would go on to become an international icon along with his signature, over-sized, floppy hat. And yet, as classic an animated family-friendly movie as this is, you don’t have to scratch far beneath the surface to uncover the rich tapestry that conveys a strong moral message.
It was the first movie I ever saw in the theater. Thirty years later, the lessons I learned through watching the heartbreak and joy of the Mousekewitz family feel more important and relevant than ever. What I once regarded as a darkly serious and sometimes silly tale about a young mouse separated from his family on the streets of New York City has matured into a harrowing allegory for our world’s enduring evils: racism, the vilification of “the other”, and the breaking of the Golden Rule.
We could all do with a revisit to An American Tail. To be quite certain, an animated movie about cartoon mice is not going to solve the world’s problems, but the film’s very obvious moral message appears to be one that’s been forgotten by many of us who are old enough to have seen it in theaters, or perhaps never learned by entire generations of younger moviegoers. An American Tail stands the test of time, in part because its characters are so endearing, its message is so easily grasped, and, let’s face it, the soundtrack is just classic. But it also works in the modern era because the evils it rallies against are still very much a part of our culture, just as they were 30 years ago, and just as they were in late 19th century Russia where the story of An American Tail begins.