An American Tail is the second animated film from director Don Bluth after he left the Disney studio. The first was The Secret of NIMH. Both of these “mouse” films try to recapture the magic of the classic Disney films like Snow White and Pinocchio. Yet, it struggles to compare. The music and lip-singing is distracting. The animation is detailed and full. It makes use of computer animation in a way that was unique at the time. But, it is clear, that the vision comes from the early Disney films.
The hero of the film is the second child, Fievel. His and his family undergo hardships being ruined by an oppressive government of cats in 19th century Russia. Homes are destroyed and burned. The cats chase the mice away, and the mice decide to migrate to America, where there are no cats.
The journey proves to be dangerous and difficult. The conditions are the greatest. And when a storm comes through and damages the ship, Fievel is separated from his family. As the family reaches the New York shore, they assume that Fievel has died. Actually, Fievel is very much alive and doing his best to try and find his family. Along the way he ends up working in a sweatshop and meeting a new friend Tony. He gets involved in advocating for freedom from the cats (yep, there are cats in America).
Fievel comes up with the idea to have the myth of the Giant Mouse of Minsk, a story that his Papa tells at the beginning of the film, get rid of the cats. The Giant Mouse of Minsk is a legendary rodent so massive that cats are terrified. The mice work together to construct the Giant Mouse, and after a few hiccups in the plan, the cats end up on a cargo ship headed for Hong Kong.
The story is very much a Jewish tale. The Mousekewitz family, like so many during the Holocaust, found refuge in another land during a time of great oppression. The film, however, does not bother to tell us that this is a Jewish tale. Steven Speilberg – who has told many a Jewish tale – brought the story to Bluth. But perhaps the film does not come right out and say that it is a Jewish tale, because we are like the mice.
At some time or another, we all feel like we are tiny creatures who are lost in a huge, confusing and at times oppressive world. And the journey that we are on as people of faith becomes dangerous and difficult.We often tell ourselves that when we reach the Promised Land, there will be no more hardships (cats), and find ourselves disappointed when we reach that Promised Land and find hardships. The Exodus story reminds us that as Moses led the people of God out of Egypt, it was not easy. The journey to freedom was hard, dangerous, and difficult. And once they reached the Promised Land, they were faced with more oppressive powers that caused more hardships.
But the journey is not done alone. The Church is the community through which we journey together, walking along side each other; praying for one another; nurturing each other along the way; and on occasion walking ahead to prepare the way for those coming after us.
Lent is reminds us that even though we enter a journey with the Savior, there will be still be hardships. There will be still cats. But, the hope is that there is community, and in that community, we support one another.