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An American Tail
(1986)
Album Cover Art
1986 MCA
2019 Intrada
Album 2 Cover Art
Composed, Conducted, and Co-Produced by:

Orchestrated by:
Greig McRitchie

Songs Co-Composed by:
Barry Mann

Performed by:

Co-Produced by:
Peter Asher

Lyrics by:
Cynthia Weil
Labels Icon
LABELS & RELEASE DATES
MCA Records
(November 21st, 1986)

Intrada Records
(February 11th, 2019)
Availability Icon
ALBUM AVAILABILITY
The 1986 MCA album was a regular U.S. release, valued at under $10 for more than two decades. The 2019 Intrada album is limited to an unknown number of copies and retailed at soundtrack specialty outlets for an initial price of $22.
Awards
AWARDS
The song "Somewhere Out There" won a Grammy Award. That song was also nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe. Horner's score was nominated for a Grammy Award as well.
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ALSO SEE





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Availability | Awards | Viewer Ratings | Comments | Audio & Track Listings | Notes
Buy it... if you seek the melodically rich children's score that launched James Horner's fruitful production in the genre and gained him his first widespread awards consideration.

Avoid it... if you are consistently bothered by Horner's references to Eastern European classical music and other sources of inspiration, despite the fact that they are effectively appropriate in this context.
Review Icon
EDITORIAL REVIEW
FILMTRACKS TRAFFIC RANK: #1,125
WRITTEN 8/26/09, REVISED 5/11/19
Horner
Horner
An American Tail: (James Horner/Barry Mann) Luckily for most children, Steven Spielberg's obsession with creative retellings of Jewish hardship from an age past is irrelevant as long as the pictures are pretty, the music cute, and the story glossed over with lovable animals. Such was the case with 1986's An American Tail, basically a story of Jewish persecution by the Czar of Russia and subsequent freedom in the United States dressed up in the form of a harmless animation production. In 1885, a family of mice have to escape death when the human house above them is burned by the Russian government for reasons not explained; as they set out across the ocean to America, young Fievel (named after Spielberg's grandfather, no less) is accidentally tossed overboard in a storm, spending the rest of the story making a living in New York and searching for his family, which is never actually far away. Eluding cats and forming friendships with dubious animal kingdom characters, Fievel is eventually reunited with his family and all is well. He then heads out West with his adventuresome sister, but that's the topic of the sequel film in 1991. The historical representations in An American Tail did not escape critics and, although "Sesame Street" writers Tony Geiss and Judy Freudberg and director Don Bluth effectively captured audiences with their translation of the events into a form a child could sit through, the film came under fire for depicting too much hardship and political metaphors in the genre. Regardless of your tolerance for Spielberg's incessant messages of Jewish persecution, An American Tail is a strong film that used all the talents of Bluth's former Disney production team to create compelling visuals for the era. Joining that crew for the first time and eventually becoming a regular part of it was composer James Horner. Although Jerry Goldsmith had provided Bluth's first film (The Secret of N.I.M.H., another rat tale, of course) with an impressive orchestral score and had been offered this assignment, Horner was coming into his own by 1986, and An American Tail earned the composer his first Academy Award nomination (along with Aliens the same year) and Grammy Award win.

Horner's music for the Bluth films over this fruitful period was often very similar, performed consistently by the London Symphony Orchestra to pull classical references into a melting pot of ideas that Horner could rotate through almost indiscriminately between pictures. Most of the sources of inspiration for Horner when writing An American Tail are, not surprisingly, Russian; whereas the composer sometimes relied upon the work of Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky in situations that didn't make much sense, at least the sound fits comfortably here. Perhaps also not a surprise for most will be a reliance on Maurice Jarre's Dr. Zhivago in a similarly Russian tone and Nino Rota in a general European sense. The symphonic ensemble is joined by accordion and cimbalom to emphasize New York's multi-cultural atmosphere (and, more specifically, characters like the French-rendered pigeon). An abundance of lightly tapping metallic percussion is also well utilized to give audiences that expected dose of magical wonder. Horner's classically-informed thematic constructs of a melodramatic and romantic variety in the middle of the 1980's all eventually matured in 1988's The Land Before Time, the composer's most comprehensive and impressive capitulation of these ideas. This especially applies to An American Tail, which features one major theme and a general tone that will please any enthusiast of the later Bluth film's score. The action material and another theme in An American Tail are easily precursors to more developed incarnations in Willow, also a notable 1988 endeavor. Although Horner would eventually team successfully with lyricist Will Jennings for his subsequent efforts, some listeners consider his work with songwriter Barry Mann and lyricist Cynthia Weil for An American Tail to be superior. Indeed, it's hard to argue with the success of the songs in the context of this film, the "Somewhere Out There" duet alone popular enough to attract a Grammy Award. The quality of the other songs in An American Tail isn't at the same level, however. They're effective narrative expositions with lots of the necessary personality, but they're not as memorable in a supporting position as Alan Menken's later efforts for Disney.

The melody from "Somewhere Out There" is the only one from a song in An American Tail to substantially impact Horner's underscore. It makes for a lovely theme, especially in the delicately alternating bridge section that is the song's most malleable and recognizable section. Ironically, while this theme is probably the score's strongest melodic element, it's nowhere near being the primary identity of Horner's score. This is a mistake that most casual listeners make with An American Tail. The theme only memorably appears in fragments and/or its bridge section in "Main Title," "The Market Place," "Gussie's Plan," "Reunited," and "Flying Away and End Credits." Although the last cue does feature the most exuberant and boisterous full ensemble performances of the "Somewhere Out There" theme, none of its incarnations here are as robust as in the opening cue of An American Tail: Fievel Goes West. Outside of this theme, however, you might be surprised to learn that Horner provides An American Tail with no less than three additional major themes and two minor ones, several of which also live on in the sequel score. All three of the other major themes are paraded in convenient succession in "Main Title." Arguably the actual title theme of the film is the one for family and hope (and perhaps America, in some places) that most resembles The Land Before Time. It debuts in a full, minute-long performance at the 2-minute mark of "Main Title" and is heard in small fragments in "The Cossack Cats" and "The Storm" before a bright, violin and plucked-bass performance in "The Market Place" breathes life into it. A stretched and agonizing performance of the theme in "Releasing the Secret Weapon" is balanced by bubbly performances of the theme in "Reunited" and "Flying Away and End Credits" (the trumpet performance of the idea at about 1:40 into the latter cue is a highlight). A little more elusive is the darker companion theme for the same general concept; representing redemption in a much heavier atmosphere is a theme that most often takes the form a hymn. Heard late in both "Main Title" and "Reunited" with solemn choral tones, this theme informs (though does not directly translate to) the memorable choral crescendo in the middle of "Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor" before expanding from cimbalom to full ensemble late in "Flying Away and End Credits."



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VIEWER RATINGS
480 TOTAL VOTES
Average: 3.78 Stars
***** 172 5 Stars
**** 138 4 Stars
*** 91 3 Stars
** 53 2 Stars
* 26 1 Stars
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FVSR Reviews An American Tail
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Track Listings Icon
TRACK LISTINGS AND AUDIO
Audio Samples   ▼
1986 MCA Album Tracks   ▼Total Time: 49:44
• 1. Main Title (5:07)
• 2. The Cossack Cats (2:15)
• 3. There Are No Cats in America* - performed by Nehemiah Persoff, John Guarnieri, and Warren Hays (3:00)
• 4. The Storm (3:59)
• 5. Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor (2:44)
• 6. Never Say Never* - performed by Christopher Plummer and Phillip Glasser (2:25)
• 7. The Market Place (3:02)
• 8. Somewhere Out There* - performed by Phillip Glasser and Betsy Cathcart (2:40)
• 9. Somewhere Out There* - performed by Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram (3:59)
• 10. Releasing the Secret Weapon (3:38)
• 11. A Duo* - performed by Dom de Luise and Phillip Glasser (2:38)
• 12. The Great Fire (2:54)
• 13. Reunited (4:44)
• 14. Flying Away and End Credits (5:59)
* co-written by Barry Mann, with lyrics by Cynthia Weil
2019 Intrada Album Tracks   ▼Total Time: 78:15

Notes Icon
NOTES AND QUOTES
The insert of the 1986 MCA album includes no extra information about the score or film. That of the 2019 Intrada product includes extensive information about both.
Copyright © 2009-2019, Filmtracks Publications. All rights reserved.
The reviews and other textual content contained on the filmtracks.com site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten
or redistributed without the prior written authority of Christian Clemmensen at Filmtracks Publications. All artwork and sound clips from An American Tail are Copyright © 1986, 2019, MCA Records, Intrada Records and cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 8/26/09 and last updated 5/11/19.
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