An American Tale is a 1986 American animated musical comedy-drama adventure film produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation and Amblin Entertainment. It is directed by Dragon's Lair creator Don Bluth, co-directed by Gary Goldman and Dan Kuenster in their directorial debut, produced by Burny Mattinson, John Pomeroy, and Jeffrey Katzenberg, and executive produced by Steven Spielberg. The 29th Disney animated feature film, the film is set in an alternate history in which the Great Depression and the Russian Revolution had occurred at the same time in the 1890s, telling the story of an Jewish 7-year-old girl named Anne-Marie Moskowitz (voiced by Judith Barsi) and her family as they emigrate from the Imperial Russian territory of Ukraine to the United States for freedom. However, she gets lost and must find a way to reunite with them while discovering an all-animal hidden society.
An American Tale was released on November 21, 1986 by Walt Disney Pictures. The film received mixed-to-positive reviews and was a box office success, making it one of the highest-grossing animated films at the time. An American Tale is given credit for breathing life back into the art of Disney animated feature films after a string of critical or commercial failures produced by Disney that dated back to the early 1970s, and for playing an important role in instigating the Disney Renaissance era which led to other critically acclaimed features such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King. The film's critical and commercial success prompted Steven Spielberg to be an executive producer in Disney animated films in the 1990s, until he finished his contract in 1997.
In 1996, An American Tale was added to the United States National Film Registry for being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". Today, the film is now seen as one of the best animated films from Disney, as well as one of the most acclaimed animated movies of all time, often called one of the best in the medium. It is also known for being comedy actress Amy Poehler's favorite one, and it is among one of Steven Spielberg's favorites. It is also a favorite of film historian/critic Leonard Maltin.
A live-action film adaptation of the film directed by Jon Favreau was released on September 1, 2019.
In Shostka, 1895, the Moskowitzes, a Russian-Jewish family, are having a celebration of Hanukkah where Papa gives his childhood's toy bunny to his 7-year-old daughter, Anne-Marie, and tells her about the United States, a country where there is no war. The celebration is interrupted when a battery of Cossacks ride through the village square in an anti-Jewish villager arson attack. Because of this, the Moskowitz home is destroyed.
In Hamburg, the Moskowitzes board a tramp steamer headed for New York City. All the people aboard are ecstatic at the process of going to America as there is "no war" there. During a thunderstorm on their journey, Anne-Marie suddenly finds herself separated from her family and washed overboard. Thinking that she has died, they proceed to the city as planned, though they become depressed at her loss. However, being safe in a lifeboat, Anne-Marie survives and meets a mouse named Tanya, who used to live in a hole in the Moskowitzes' house. Anne-Marie gets surprised to hear Tanya talking when a blue magic sphere appears and tells Anne-Marie that it had given her the ability to talk with animals, so she can have her help.
Anne-Marie and Tanya float to New York City and, after a pep talk from a French pigeon named Henri, embark on a quest to find Anne-Marie's family. Anne-Marie is waylaid by conman rat Warren T. Rat, who gains her trust and then sells her to a sweatshop. She and Tanya escape with Tony Orsoni, a street-smart Italian bear, and they join up with Bridget, an Irish bear trying to rouse her fellow animals to fight a gang of crooks called the Mott Street Maulers. After they attack a marketplace, Anne-Marie learns that the tales of a war-free country are not true. When Tanya discovers the city hall, she and Anne-Marie decide to hide there after the Maulers discover her ability.
In the city hall, Anne-Marie and Tanya meet Honest Johan, an alcoholic lion who knows the city's voting humans. However, he can't help Anne-Marie search for her family, as they have not yet registered to vote. Meanwhile, her younger brother, Fievel, tells his gloomy parents he has a feeling that she is still alive, but they insist that it will eventually go away. Led by the rich and powerful Gooster McGoose, Anne-Marie and the animals hold a rally to decide what to do about the Maulers. No one knows what to do about it, until Anne-Marie whispers a plan to Gooster.
Going to find something useful for Anne-Marie's idea, Tanya meets a duo of street dogs named Charlie B. Barkin and Itchy Itchiford, who escaped from a dog pound and are now going to a riverboat deep in the forest. After they trick Tanya into giving all the stuff she got, she takes an immediate dislike to the duo. TBD
[Subplot involving Charlie B. Barkin and Itchy]
[Plotline that involves Anne-Marie being kidnapped by Carface or something]
- Judith Barsi as Anne-Marie Moskowitz
- Phillip Glasser as Fievel Moskowitz
- Burt Reynolds as Charlie B. Barkin
- Amy Green as Tanya
- Dom DeLuise as Itchy Itchiford and Tiger
- Ernest Borgnine as Carface Caruthers
- Will Ryan as Digit
- Nehemiah Persoff as Papa Moskowitz
- Erica Yohn as Mama Moskowitz
- Pat Musick as Tony Orsoni
- Cathianne Blore as Bridget
- Mel Blanc as Fee
- Don Messick as Line
- Charles Nelson Reilly as Killer and Mr. Rabbit
- Loni Anderson as Mrs. Rabbit
- Neil Ross as Honest Johan
- John Cleese as Gooster McGoose and Dr. Owl
- Madeline Kahn - TBD
- John Finnegan as Warren T. Rat
- Christopher Plummer as Henri
- Hal Smith as Moe
- Dan Kuenster as Jake
- Godfrey Quigley as Terrier
- Anna Manahan as Stella Dallas
- Candy Devine as Vera
- June Foray as Mrs. Walliot
- Ken Page as King Gator
- Melba Moore as the Magic Sphere and the Whippet angel (named Annabelle in An American Tale: In Search of Gabriel's Horn)
Production began in December 1984 as a collaboration between Spielberg and Disney, based on a concept by David Kirschner. An American Tale was the third Disney animated feature to be an original story, rather than be based on an already existing work (after Lady and the Tramp and The Aristocats). Disney chairman Michael Eisner asked director Don Bluth to "make something pretty like you did with The Fox and the Hound and The Secret of NIMH... make it beautiful." In a 1985 interview, Bluth described his role in the production as "first in the area of story, inventing incidents for the script, and now consists of looking, every three weeks to a month, at the storyboards that I and the rest of the film's production crew send some other animators and making their comments." Bluth later commented that "Steven [Spielberg] have not dominated the creative growth of Tale at all like me and the other Disney animators were. There is an equal share of all of us in the picture. Nevertheless, this was Steven's first animated feature, and it took some time for him to learn that adding a two-minute scene would take dozens of people months of work." In 1985, Bluth stated, "at this point, I'm enlightened, but I still can't believe it's so complicated."
Originally, the concept consisted of an all-animal world like Robin Hood, and Anne-Marie and her family were originally intended to be mice, with Tanya being originally intended to be one of Anne-Marie's siblings, but Bluth suggested featuring an animal world existing as a hidden society from the human world to recapture the spirit of One Hundred and One Dalmatians and The Rescuers and reworking Anne-Marie and her family into humans instead. After viewing The Rescuers, Spielberg agreed but decided to remain Tanya as a mouse and reimagining her into a character that would try to guide Anne-Marie into the right decisions, like Jiminy Cricket from Pinocchio. Writer David N. Weiss and Emmy-award-winning writers Judy Freudberg and Tony Geiss were brought in to expand the script.
Carface Carruthers was supposed to be a scared wolf, but several animators, mainly Bluth, disliked the character's designs and ultimately decided to change his species, using the violent, sadistic stereotype of a bulldog instead. The climactic battle between Tiger and Carface (during the scene where Tanya and Charlie rescue Anne-Marie) was inspired by The Jungle Book. In early script drafts, Warren T. Rat was a more major character and originally supposed to be a cat in disguise and one of Carface's henchmen, until Spielberg had decided that Warren would been better as an actual rat and appearing only in the sweatshop sequence.
When the initial script was complete, it was extremely long and was heavily edited before its final release. Bluth felt uncomfortable with the main character's name, thinking "Anne-Marie" sounded more of two separate names than a single one, and he felt audiences wouldn't remember it. Spielberg disagreed and eventually won out, though something of a compromise was reached by having most animals (mainly Tony and Itchy) refer to Anne-Marie as "Annie." Spielberg also had some material cut that he felt was too intense for children, including a scene Bluth was developing revolving around wave monsters while the family was at sea.
Disney animators described the process of voice casting as "sometimes you can select a 'name' voice [i.e., a well-known actor] because it fits the essence of the character so well. Other times, you need to seek an obscure voice, close your eyes, and just listen to it. If it has the highs and lows in the deliverance of lines and it captures the focus of the character, it allows the animators to get a true fix on the action."
- Barsi (Anne-Marie) was a child actress who began her career in television, making appearances in commercials and television shows. Animator John Pomeroy based Anne-Marie's design and mannerisms on Barsi. She was killed by her father in an apparent murder-suicide over two years after the film was released, which the film's 1988 re-release was dedicated to her memory.
- Glasser (Fievel) was discovered by accident when Bluth overheard him auditioning for an Oscar Mayer commercial.
- Green (Tanya) was a young actress who had done some previous television series work and several commercials.
- Reynolds (Charlie B. Barkin) and DeLuise (Itchy Itchiford and Tiger) had previously appeared together in five films. For this one, they requested the animators to record their parts in the studio together (in American animation, actors more commonly record their parts solo). Disney executives agreed and allowed Reynolds and DeLuise to ad-lib extensively. DeLuise had worked previously with Disney in The Secret of NIMH, and even added material to the script at various points. During the song A Duo, he suggested they stop the music where the lyrics mention "back scratch" and have Anne-Marie actually scratch Tiger's back. Charlie B. Barkin was designed specifically with Reynolds in mind for the role and Disney animators mimicked some of his mannerisms.
- Borgnine, a famous actor well-known for his work on the television shows McHale's Navy and Airwolf, was chosen to voice the villainous Carface Carruthers due to also being well-known for his antagonistic roles in 1950s films such as Johnny Guitar, Vera Cruz and Bad Day at Black Rock.
- Persoff, a respected actor in many films, was chosen to play the part of Papa Moskowitz mostly because he had a similar role as Barbra Streisand's father in Yentl.
- Yohn (Mama Moskowitz) has appeared in many features, but her work as a Russian gypsy on a TV show attracted the attention of Disney executives.
- Musick (Tony Orsoni) is one of a small number of women in animation chosen to voice a male character. She based his voice on a friend she knew from grade school.
- Reilly, a actor known for his comical roles in television shows and films, was chosen to play the dual role of the silly but serious Mr. Rabbit and Carface's comic relief henchdog Killer mostly due to an guest appearance on a 1971 episode of Disney's anthology TV series The Mouse Factory.
- Page (King Gator), is a well-known cabaret singer and actor and was cast after Don Bluth liking his performance as Old Deuteronomy in the Broadway play Cats. He would later cast as Oogie Boogie, the main antagonist of Disney's 1993 film The Nightmare Before Christmas.
- Finnegan won the role of con-artist rat Warren T. Rat by reciting excerpts of Shakespeare's Hamlet in the voice of a Brooklyn taxi driver. This idea inspired the writers to make Warren a comical rat who continually misquoted Shakespeare.
- Henri was originally to be voiced by comedian Sid Caesar, and was conceived as scraggly and worn, but later Plummer was cast for the part and Henri was drawn with a more dignified look. Bluth felt Henri was an essential character to act as a voice for the statue "welcoming" Anne-Marie and Tanya to the new world.
Will Ryan (Digit), Neil Ross (Honest Johan), Cathianne Blore (Bridget), Mel Blanc (Fee), Don Messick (Line), June Foray (Mrs. Walliot), and Hal Smith (Moe) are all voice actors well known in the animation industry.
In designing the look of the film and its characters, Disney animators worked with Amblin Entertainment and the Sears marketing department (Sears had a major marketing push on the main characters). Bluth decided to make a stylistic shift from the more angular "modern style" of animation of the time to a style similar to Disney's animation from the 1940s, where the characters have a more soft and cuddly feel. This proved successful for Disney executives, and at release many critics praised the "old fashioned style" of the film's look and feel. This was during a period when the market for nostalgia was particularly strong among baby boomers, who at this time were seeking products for their young children, and only three years before the beginning of the Disney Renaissance.
Bluth preferred to storyboard an entire picture, but it soon proved to be an enormous task. Larry Leker was brought in to assist, turning Bluth's rough sketches into final storyboard panels. Bluth commented that he would then "send them over to [Spielberg]. Often I brought him over myself, so that I could explain them. Steven and Disney executives would get very excited by what they saw, and we'd edit the boards right there...adding more drawings, or trimming some back." A large crew of animators was pulled together from around the world, utilizing cel painters in Ireland. Discussion arose about moving the entire production to an newly-build animation house in Ireland, but Spielberg balked at the idea of a story called An American Tale being produced overseas.
At this time, Disney animators discovered that using a video printer greatly increased their productivity. They could videotape an action, then print out small black and white thermal images from the tape for reference for both human and animal characters, a shorthand method similar to the rotoscoping technique (called in fact xerography) used since the earliest days of animation, in which sequences are shot in live action and traced onto animation cels. They also utilized the process of building models and photographing them, particularly the ship at sea, and Carface's casino riverboat on the forest. The model for the character of Charlie B. Barkin was a German Shepherd, appropriately named Burt. Burt the dog often spent time with the animators at the studio.
During production, Spielberg expected to view the dailies and approve all major work on the film, and various outside parties also requested changes here and there. This caused the production to buckle from excessive oversight, and made Bluth feel that he was losing freedom of control over the production process. As the release deadline approached, pressure grew throughout the crew and numerous problems arose, ranging from slower-than-expected cel painting in Ireland to low footage output by some animators. Also, the songwriters had written the score much later than originally desired.
Suddenly scenes had to be dropped to save time and money and new, shorter scenes had to be created to help pick up the story points lost in the process, sometimes making the story line look jumbled.
Notable cuts include the Moskowitzes journey across Europe, a scene in which they first meet Tiger and he gets stuck up in a tree, an upbeat song that Anne-Marie was planned to sing while imprisoned in the sweatshop, a scene that gave greater explanation of the changing of names at Ellis Island, and several scenes of Charlie's nightmare about being condemned in Hell. Cuts are also responsible for Anne-Marie's baby siblings Ivan and Yasha's apparent disappearance after the boat trip. Bluth owned a private 35mm print of Tale with the cut-out scenes and planned to convince Disney executives on releasing a director's cut of the film as part of the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection series after returning from Ireland in the mid-1990s, but the print was eventually stolen from Bluth's locked storage room, diminishing hopes of this version being released on home media (though the cut-out scenes of Charlie's nightmare were discovered by YouTube on October 29, 2016).
The film was also plagued by union difficulties. Disney had agreed to accept $6.5 million to get it produced (which later grew to $9 million), at a time when the studio was spending around $12 million per film. Bluth knew it would be difficult, but felt it was worth the sacrifice to work with Spielberg on a major project. With the agreement of his employees, salaries were frozen for a year and half. When many workers attempted to withdraw from the film's production crew, it sparked a battle between Bluth and the union that continued through most of production.
Spielberg's original vision for the film was as a musical—it is said he wanted a "Heigh-Ho" of his own (referring to the popular song from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs). Initially, Jerry Goldsmith was announced to compose the film after scoring The Secret of NIMH, but had to drop out of the film due to a busy schedule. After he completed Aliens, James Horner composed the score for the film, which was recorded in England and performed by The London Symphony Orchestra and the Choir of King's College. Two excerpts of period music also appear in the film: The Stars and Stripes Forever by John Philip Sousa and Poor Wand'ring One from the 1880 comic opera The Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan. There is also a musical reference to the 1947 song Galway Bay popularized by Bing Crosby. Initially Bluth was disappointed with the first score recording, but once edited, he found the music worked quite well. The final score became one of the film's strongest points.
After the first round of songs were written, it was decided a special song would be written for Linda Ronstadt to sing over the end credits with James Ingram. Called "Somewhere Out There", it was composed by Horner and Barry Mann with lyrics by Cynthia Weil, won a Grammy Award, and became one of the most popular songs from an animated feature since the 1950s.
An official soundtrack containing 23 tracks from the film was first released in November 21, 1986 by Disneyland Records, and was made available on audio cassette, vinyl record, and CD. It was later released digitally on February 5, 2013.
- "Somewhere Out There (end credits version)" (3:59) – sung by Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram
- "Main Title" (5:07)
- "The Cossacks' Attack" (2:15)
- "There Is No War in America" (3:00) – sung by Papa Moskowitz, an Italian man, and an Irish man, and the chorus
- "The Storm" (3:59)
- "Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor" (2:44) – Chorus
- "Anne-Marie Meets Tanya" (4:06)
- "Never Say Never" (2:25) – sung by Anne-Marie (Betsy Cathcart), Tanya (Betsy Cathcart), Henri, and the chorus of female pigeons
- "The Market Place" (3:02)
- "Riverboat Casino" (6:03)
- "You Can't Keep a Good Dog Down" (2:30) – sung by Charlie B. Barkin and Itchy Itchiford
- "Animals' Carnival (1:17)
- "Let Me Be Surprised" (4:54) – sung by the Whippet angel
- "A Duo" (2:38) – sung by Anne-Marie (Betsy Cathcart) and Tiger
- "At the Race Track" (1:49)
- "Money Montage" (3:43)
- "What's Mine Is Yours" (1:48) – sung by Charlie B. Barkin and the chorus of bunnies
- "Somewhere Out There (film version)" (2:40) – sung by Anne-Marie (Betsy Cathcart) and Fievel
- "Hellhound" (2:09)
- "Let's Make Music Together" (2:24) – sung by King Gator
- "Charlie and Tanya to the Rescue/King Gator's Help/Tiger vs. Carface/The Great Fire/Charlie's Sacrifice" (19:10)
- "Reunited" (4:44)
- "Flying Away/Charlie Returns to Heaven/End Credits" (7:10)
Walt Disney Records the Legacy Collection edition track list (Tracks in bold are previously unreleased.)
- Main Title (5:13)
- The Cossacks' Attack (2:21)
- Dissolve To Sea/Lullaby (1:03)
- There Is No War In America - sung by Papa Moskowitz, an Italian man and an Irish man, and the Chorus (3:03)
- The Storm (4:02)
- Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor (2:50)
- Anne-Marie Meets Tanya (4:06)
- Never Say Never - sung by Anne-Marie, Tanya, Henri, and the chorus of female pigeons (2:28)
- Warren T. Rat/It Will Go Away (4:11)
- Train Trestle (2:00)
- The Market Place (3:06)
- The Rumble (1:56)
- Honest Johan and Gooster McGoose (3:03)
- "Riverboat Casino" (6:03)
- "You Can't Keep a Good Dog Down" (2:30) – sung by Charlie B. Barkin and Itchy Itchiford
- Down In The Sewer/Chase In The Maulers’ Den/Meeting Carface (1:36)
- Carface and Charlie (4:06)
- Animals' Carnival (1:17)
- "Let Me Be Surprised" (4:54) – sung by the Whippet angel
- "A Duo" (2:38) – sung by Anne-Marie and Tiger
- Anne-Marie and Tanya’s Escape (3:17)
- We Meet Charlie and Itchy (2:29)
- I Want That Girl Back! (1:30)
- In Charlie's Junkyard Home (3:30)
- At the Race Track (1:49)
- Money Montage (3:43)
- "What's Mine Is Yours" (1:48) – sung by Charlie B. Barkin and the chorus of bunnies
- "Somewhere Out There (film version)" - sung by Anne-Marie and Fievel (2:46)
- Hellhound (2:09)
- Fee, Line and Killer's Ray Gun Attack (2:10)
- "Let's Make Music Together" (2:24) – sung by King Gator
- Dr. Owl/We Have to Find Her Family/You're Not My Friend/Fee, Line and Killer's Attack (10:30)
- Charlie and Tanya to the Rescue/King Gator's Help/Tiger vs. Carface/The Great Fire/Charlie's Sacrifice (19:10)
- Orphan's Alley (1:06)
- Reunited (4:49)
- Flying Away/Charlie Returns to Heaven/End Credits (7:10)
- "Somewhere Out There (end credits version)" (4:04) – sung by Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram
- Poor Wandering One (Gilbert and Sullivan) (0:59)
- The Rally (Source) (1:12)
- Somewhere Out There (Instrumental) (4:01)
- TBD - an upbeat number of Anne-Marie singing about opportunities in America in an attempt to rally the animal workers' spirits. Now the scene merely has her arrive at the sweatshop and escape immediately that night. The song was deleted after producers believed the song was too long.
- Green with Greed - This song was supposed to be sung by Carface and Digit while discussing the former's plan to use Anne-Marie's ability for his casino riverboat. That song was deleted after Spielberg's decision to have Carface as a non-singing villain in order to make him "be seen as a real threat to our heroes."
- If We Hold Out Together - Originally, this song was supposed to be sung by Tanya as a lullaby to Anne-Marie while they were visiting Mr. and Mrs. Rabbit's abandoned church about having courage to achieve their goal. Although the song's recording archives by Betsy Cathcart (along with Judith Barsi and Amy Green's finished recording for their characters' speaking voices in the sequence) and storyboards had survived, Spielberg decided that the song was too long to appear in the film, which was replaced by a two-minute version of "Somewhere Out There" (which was originally intended to appear only in the end credits). This song was used instead as the end credits song for The Land Before Time, which was was dedicated to Judith Barsi.
- You Can't Keep a Good Dog Down (reprise) - TBD
- Love Survives - This song was supposed to be sung by Anne-Marie during the "Orphan's Alley" scene while remembering her good memories with her family back in Russia, while crying. Spielberg feel the song was too depressing, so he decided to remove it.
- Linda Ronstadt - vocals (track 1)
- James Ingram – vocals (track 1)
- Leland Sklar – bass (track 1)
- Russ Kunkel – drums (track 1)
- Don Grolnick – keyboards (track 1)
- Bob Mann – guitar, arranger, conductor (track 1)
- Steve Lukather - guitar solo (track 1)
- Guy Moon – synth pads (track 1)
Original theatrical run
Home video release
In a then-atypical and controversial move for a new Disney animated film, An American Tale was first released on VHS as part of the Walt Disney Classics series on August 28, 1987, a year after the release of the film. Before An American Tale, only a select number of Disney's catalog animated films had been released to home video, as the company was afraid of upsetting its profitable practice of theatrically reissuing each film every few years; a strong promotional campaign helped it become one of the top-selling VHS releases of all time, selling over 3 million copies in its first month. The film was later released on LaserDisc in both regular and CAV play editions in November 1991 by Walt Disney Home Video.
On August 11, 1998, An American Tale and its first two sequels An American Tale: Anne-Marie Goes West and An American Tail: In Search of Gabriel's Horn were digitally restored and re-released on VHS as part of the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection in a 3-pack box set as part of Walt Disney with the three videos having clamshell cases; for unknown reasons, An American Tale: Anne-Marie Goes West and An American Tail: In Search of Gabriel's Horn were the only Disney sequels to be included on the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection.
A DVD version was first made available on January 20, 2004, which was presented in fullscreen aspect ratio only, and contained a number of changes from earlier versions, including re-dubbing certain character's voices in the "Orphan's Alley" scene, the addition of new voices where there was previously no dialog, and new "humorous" sound effects. This version was reprinted along with other Disney films such as The Land Before Time, Aladdin, The Rescuers, Robin Hood, The Little Mermaid, Hercules, The Lion King, and One Hundred and One Dalmatians. It was released in widescreen on Blu-ray for the first time on March 4, 2014, which was later included as a bundle with its three sequels An American Tale: Anne-Marie Goes West, An American Tale: In Search of Gabriel's Horn, and An American Tale: The Mystery of the Night Monster and included a digital HD and UltraViolet copy. It had the same changes as the DVD, although part of the film's end credits music score was 9% sped-up this time (due to time constrictions). A re-release of the fullscreen DVD version with new cover artwork was released as part of the Walt Disney Signature Collection on February 3, 2015.
The film is available to stream on Disney+ when the service launched on November 12, 2019.
The film maintains a 69% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an average rating of 6.3/10. The consensus is: "One of Disney's best animated classics, An American Tale is a sweet, occasionally melancholy story that shows us that friendship can triumph over ambitions". The film received a "thumbs down" from Gene Siskel and a "thumbs up" from Roger Ebert on a 1986 episode of their television program At the Movies. While Siskel found it to be "surprisingly weak" given director Don Bluth's previous work on The Fox and the Hound and The Secret of NIMH, due largely to its "confusing story" and "needlessly violent" scenes, Ebert was a fan of the movie's "rubbery and kind of flexible" animation and emotional themes, stating he felt it was a good film despite not being an "animated classic".
Some other critics found the darker subject material objectionable in a Disney animated film, given the film's depictions of death, violence, drinking, smoking, gambling, murder, demons and images of Hell. Another element who was also considered objectionable was that the main characters were Jewish and that the attack on their home at the beginning was considered an "anti-semitic one".
The rest of the reviews were generally positive, with critics praising the film's emotional qualities, humor and vibrant color palette. Conversely, Rita Kempley of The Washington Post called it "a bright-eyed story of Jewish triumphs that will find a place in many young hearts", adding that "It reiterates the happiness of homogeneity, prepares children for both brotherhood and the free enterprise system. And it's as pretty as a cascade of soap bubbles." In his own review for the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert gave it three stars out of four, giving credit to the animation and characters, calling them "full and detailed, with animation enhanced by computers and character development that makes people to laugh and cry", but that the story was too "dark and gloomy".
Halliwell's Film Guide gave it one star out of four, saying "[This] expensive cartoon feature [has] not much in the way of narrative interest or indeed humor". Vincent Canby of The New York Times gave it five stars out of ten, stating, "An American Tale looks good but the story itself... is witless if well-meaning," adding that its high points were scenes involving the characters Charlie B. Barkin, Gooster McGoose and Tiger. In his review for the Chicago Reader, Pat Graham panned its "flimsy characterizations" but praised its story and said that "the overall quality of the animation—baroquely executed if rather conventionally conceived—makes it worth a look."
The film has grossed up to $47 million in the United States, also known as the domestic box office, and $84 million worldwide. At the time of its domestic release, it became Disney's highest-grossing animated feature at the time. The film's modest success, along with the one of The Great Mouse Detective (which was released four months before) played large roles in the Disney Renaissance; due to the fact that both films were critical and financial successes, which helped the studio's animation departament from going bankrupt after The Black Cauldron had flopped at the box office a year earlier. The record would quickly be shattered with the release of The Little Mermaid, the film that many consider to be the start of the Disney Renaissance.
The film won "Best Animated Motion Picture" at the 9th Youth in Film Awards, with Judith Barsi and Amy Green also receiving an award for "Best Animation Voice Over Group" for their roles as Anne-Marie Moskowitz and Tanya. It was also nominated for "Best Fantasy Film" and "Best Music" during the 14th Saturn Awards, losing to The Boy Who Could Fly and Little Shop of Horrors, respectively.
The song "Somewhere Out There" written by James Horner received a number of accolades during the 1987–1988 award season, including Grammys for "Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television" and "Song of the Year", as well as "Most Performed Song from a Motion Picture" from both the ASCAP and Broadcast Music. It also received a Golden Globe nomination for "Best Original Song from a Motion Picture", and an Academy Award nomination for "Best Original Song", losing both to "Take My Breath Away" from Top Gun.
|Academy Award||Best Music, Original Song||"Somewhere Out There"||Nominated|
|ASCAP Award||Most Performed Songs from a Motion Picture||"Somewhere Out There"||Won|
|BMI Film & TV Award||Most Performed Song from a Film||"Somewhere Out There"|
|Golden Globe Award||Best Original Song – Motion Picture||"Somewhere Out There"||Nominated|
|Grammy Award||Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or for Television||"Somewhere Out There"||Won|
|Song of the Year|
|Saturn Award||Best Fantasy Film||An American Tale||Nominated|
|Youth in Film Award||Best Animation Voice Over Group||Judith Barsi (Anne-Marie Moskowitz) & Amy Green (Tanya)||Won|
|Best Motion Picture – Animation||An American Tale|
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
- AFI's 101 Years…101 Movies – Nominated
- AFI's 101 Years…101 Thrills – Nominated
- AFI's 101 Years…101 Heroes & Villains:
- Carface Carruthers – Nominated Villain
- AFI's 101 Years…101 Songs:
- Somewhere Out There – Nominated
- AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals – Nominated
- AFI's 10 Top 10:
- Nominated Animation Film
After three successful theatrical releases of the original film (1986, 1988 and 1990), the film gave rise to an theatrical sequel An American Tale: Anne-Marie Goes West, directed by Phil Nibbelink and Simon Wells and produced by Ron Musker, Steven Spielberg and Robert Watts, was released in 1991 and follows the adventures of Anne-Marie and her family as they move from New York to the Wild West. Two direct-to-video films were also later produced by Disneytoon Studios: In Search of Gabriel's Horn in 1996, and The Mystery of the Night Monster in 1999.
A An American Tale-themed playground was built at Walt Disney World, featuring a large water slide and many oversized objects such as books, glasses, cowboy boots, and more. A similar playground used to be at Disneyland, alongside a stage show based on the two movies, but were closed down in 1997. However, a dark ride, An American Tale: Anne-Marie's Great Adventure, was opened in Fantasyland in 2000.
Appearances in other Disney media
- This film is somehow considered, by fans and animation historians, to be one of the unofficial first films of the Disney Renaissance. This is mostly due to the fact that both this movie and The Great Mouse Detective had saved Disney's animation departament from going completely bankrupt at the time, and it should be noted that this film did play a big impact on the Disney Renaissance as well.
- The film is considered to be "one of the three most emotional films in Disney history" along with Dumbo and The Land Before Time.
- Although it is often assumed that Carface had been caught and devoured by King Gator, he is shown as being alive in An American Tale: In Search of Gabriel's Horn. The logic of how he has escaped from King Gator is never addressed directly, so fans have come up with two possible reasons:
- Carface would've come to Heaven, just like Charlie, and stole one of the clocks to return to Earth.
- Or King Gator would've spatted Carface him out of his stomach, allowing him to escape the sewers.
- With a running time of TBD minutes, An American Tale is (to date) one of the three longest Disney animated film along with Fantasia at 124 minutes and Zootopia at 108 minutes. Since Fantasia is a compilation of shorts, An American Tale and Zootopia are the longest animated stories told by Disney.
- An American Tale is the only Disney film which Judith Barsi was alive to see fully finished. Barsi died during production of The Land Before Time. After Barsi's death, Cathy Cavadini was cast as the voice of Anne-Marie in the theatrical sequel An American Tale: Anne-Marie Goes West and the direct-to-video sequels An American Tale: In Search of Gabriel's Horn and An American Tale: The Mystery of the Night Monster.