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An American Tail(1986)
While emigrating to the United States, a young Russian mouse gets separated from his family and must find them while trying to survive in a new country.
For more about An American Tail and the An American Tail Blu-ray release, see An American Tail Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on May 4, 2014 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
Starring: Phillip Glasser, Amy Green, John P. Finnegan, Nehemiah Persoff, Erica Yohn, Pat Musick
Director: Don Bluth
» See full cast & crew
An American Tail Blu-ray Review
Somewhere out there is a Blu-ray that breathes new life into Bluth's charming film. This isn't it...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, May 4, 2014
The fabled Disney Renaissance is often credited for rejuvenating the American animation industry throughout the 1990s, single-handedly saving both Disney and feature animation as a whole. But that's something of a myth. The Disney Renaissance was more a culmination of outside influences and successes than a pure, in-house renaissance. It was actually one of Disney's greatest losses -- the 1979 exodus of sixteen animators, chief among them Don Bluth -- that would, some ten years later, allow The Little Mermaid and its successors to revive Disney Animation and forge a new era. The irony, of course, being that Bluth's scorn inadvertently led to Disney's salvation. It was The Secret of NIMH (1982), An American Tail (1986) and The Land Before Time (1988) that, in large part, paved the way for The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and the many others that would follow, with An American Tail proving particularly instrumental in the broader industry renaissance. Released just one year after Disney's poorly received The Black Cauldron (1985) nearly burned down the house that Walt built, Bluth's Tail was an enormous box office success and, later, a home video darling that demonstrated the continuing viability of feature animation. And although Bluth's renaissance would sadly fizzle as Disney's renaissance began, the importance of his '80s animated canon shouldn't be overlooked or forgotten.
In 1885, a family of immigrant mice, the Mousekewitzes, make the arduous journey from Russia to the United States. There, young Fievel (Phillip Glasser) is lost and has to search for his parents (Nehemiah Persoff and Erica Yohn) and older sister (Amy Green) through the streets of New York, meeting unexpected friends every step of the way.
An American Tail has been unduly criticized since its release. Roger Ebert wrote, "few are likely to be entertained by such a tragic, gloomy story." Adding, "Fievel is made to undergo such hardships in this movie that the children in the audience may despair long before the happy ending." But Bluth has always been dismissed in some circles as too dark and unflinching a storyteller for family adventures. The Secret of NIMH, An American Tail and The Land Before Time refuse to pull the punches even modern animation so typically pull, and occasionally border on nightmarish. I would argue, though, that truth in animation resonates more deeply than beauty, whimsy and joy. The Little Mermaid and other beloved Disney classics are certainly memorable, even masterpieces in some cases. But it's Bluth's bleakest scenes that are so permanently burnt into my mind's eye. Darkness makes the light that much brighter. Pain makes the triumph that much sweeter. Tremendous tribulation gives way to more potent elation. And while such contrast and tragic subject matter may not make for a child's favorite film, it does provide a more powerful cinematic experience that lingers on the mind long after lighter fairy tale fare begins to fade.
That's by no means an indictment of The Little Mermaid or its ilk, or a suggestion that An American Tail somehow surpasses the greats of the Disney Renaissance, The Land Before Time or The Secret of NIMH (which remains a personal favorite). Bluth's Tail does have its share of issues, most of which will be more damning for those who aren't prone to childhood nostalgia. Yet there's more soul and poignance to Fievel's search for his family than Disney animation managed to muster in the 1980s, and more palpable heartache and isolation as well. No, there really isn't anything fresh or new to be unearthed here, but An American Tail tells a simple story, gloomy though it may be, and tells it well. The iconic sequence featuring "Somewhere Out There," performed across the city between Fievel and his older sister, Tanya (Amy Green), is worth the price of admission alone... if, that is, the lackluster quality of the Blu-ray edition's video presentation doesn't scare you away. Read on...
An American Tail Blu-ray, Video Quality
Universal's 1080p/AVC-encoded video presentation is a disappointment, pure and simple. First, though, it's important to separate the source from the encode. An American Tail is a softer film, with several quote-unquote problems inherent to its age and original animation cels. However, it isn't all that difficult to discern between softness, age and other issues and eyesores that trace back to a faulty master. Noise reduction takes a toll (despite the fact that grain is still present, at least to an unnatural, hyper-sharpened degree), pixilation is common (even if it's likely to go unnoticed on more modest displays), ringing and edge halos are frequent offenders, artifacting and mosquito noise are common, slight nicks and specks pepper the animation, and the film's line art isn't as cleanly defined as it could be. Some of the finer details in the background paintings are a bit smeared as well, colors are wildly inconsistent (much of which is admittedly rooted in the animation) and contrast is boosted to the point of rendering many a scene too dim, dark or richly saturated for its own good. Together, it combines to create an unremarkable, underwhelming video presentation as mediocre as it is flawed. Does the film look better than it ever has? Sure, particularly compared to its DVD counterparts. Does that mean this is the best An American Tail could ever look? Absolutely not. Had Universal commissioned a ground-up restoration and remaster using the film's original negatives and animation elements, this Blu-ray release might be something special. Don't believe it's that bad? I'm not usually a proponent of scouring screenshots for evidence, but there's hardly a standout shot to be had. Take a look before staging a spirited defense. It'll save you some time.
An American Tail Blu-ray, Audio Quality
An American Tail's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track isn't all that remarkable either, but there also aren't any major issues to point to. Voices are reasonably clean and clear, prioritization is decidedly decent, and effects and music are only held back by age. LFE output is only mildly engaging and rear speaker activity is sparse, leading to a rather flat, front-heavy experience, but it's all in keeping with the film's original sound design. There isn't a lot to complain about other than, again, Universal's repurposing of an outdated AV source; one in need of a full restoration.
An American Tail Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Only two extras are included: a "Somewhere Out There" Sing Along and the film's theatrical trailer.
An American Tail Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
An American Tail holds a special place in many an animation fan's heart, while Disney Animation owes the film almost everything. That doesn't mean it's a classic in every sense of the word, or that it stands the test of time. It stands tall among 1980s animated features, though, even if critics past and present seem unimpressed with all that Bluth brings to the screen. Unfortunately, Universal's Blu-ray release is a letdown, no thanks to a terribly problematic video presentation, a so-so audio track and a near-barebones supplemental package. Worth owning? Perhaps. Definitive? Hardly.
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An American Tail Blu-ray, News and Updates
• An American Tail Blu-ray - December 19, 2013
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has announced the Blu-ray release of Don Bluth's An American Tail, which features the voice talents of Phillip Glasser, Dom DeLuise, Christopher Plummer, Nehemiah Persoff, Amy Green and Erica Yohn. The classic animated film ...
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