12 Facts About An American Tail

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YouTube

According to Roger Ebert, An American Tail is one of the most depressing children's movies of all time—but try telling that to the millions of kids who adored Fievel Mousekewitz, his emigrating family, and the diverse cast of characters who (spoiler alert) helped reunite them. If you were one of them, read on for 12 not-so-depressing facts about the animated hit.

1. IT WAS DON BLUTH'S SECOND POST-DISNEY MOVIE.

Before striking out on his own, Don Bluth was an animator at Disney, working on Sleeping Beauty, Robin Hood, The Rescuers, and Pete's Dragon, among others. On September 13, 1979—his 42nd birthday—Bluth and fellow Disney animator Gary Goldman resigned from Disney in order to work on their own projects. They devastated the studio by taking 16 animators with them, resulting in an 18-month delay on The Fox and the Hound. Their first release, The Secret of NIMH, was a critical success, if not a commercial one—and it gained Bluth a very important fan: Steven Spielberg, who soon approached him about making An American Tail.

2. FIEVEL WAS NAMED AFTER STEVEN SPIELBERG'S GRANDFATHER.

Though Don Bluth originally thought the foreign name would be difficult for children to remember, the name "Fievel" was extremely personal to Steven Spielberg, so it stayed—Fievel was the Yiddish name of his grandfather, Philip Posner.

Spielberg's grandfather used to tell him stories about growing up in Russia, including one about how Jewish children were banned from attending secondary school. But they were allowed to sit outside and listen through open windows, which they did, even during snow and other inclement weather. A scene in the movie pays homage to the real Fievel's struggle for education when Fievel the mouse sadly watches American mice going to school.

3. FIEVEL'S AMERICAN NICKNAME WAS INSPIRED BY VOICE ACTOR PHILLIP GLASSER.

Phillip Glasser, who was seven years old when he worked on An American Tail, recalled that his grandmother would remind him to work on his lines every day when she dropped him off at the studio for work. "Hey Philly," she would say in a thick Bronx accent, "Time to learn your lines." Bluth overheard their exchange one day and loved it so much that he worked it into the movie—a mouse named Tony Toponi gives him the nickname "Filly."

Glasser is producing these days; here he is talking about his 2015 film, Life on the Line:

4. HENRI THE PIGEON WAS ORIGINALLY A SCRUFFY BIRD NAMED BOBO.

In early storyboards, the avian character was intended to look a bit scraggly and rough around the edges. When Christopher Plummer was cast instead, Henri was reimagined as the smooth, polished pigeon we know and love today.

5. STEVEN SPIELBERG WAS ACCUSED OF PLAGIARISM.

Throughout the late 1970s, artist Art Spiegelman had been developing a concept for a graphic novel he called Maus—a story that depicted Jewish people as mice and Germans as cats. He believed that Bluth and Spielberg had stolen the idea for An American Tail from him, but instead of suing, Spiegelman rushed to release the first half of his book before the movie came out to prove that he wasn't the plagiarist.

6. FIEVEL WAS THE SPOKESMOUSE FOR UNICEF.

Because "His immigration experiences reflect the adventures and triumphs of all cultures and their children," Fievel was announced as UNICEF's spokesmouse in 2000.

7. DREAMWORKS MAY NOT HAVE EXISTED WITHOUT IT.

An American Tail was jointly produced by Bluth's Sullivan Bluth Studios and Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment. The success of the movie, along with that of The Land Before Time, spurred Spielberg to open an animation branch of the business called Amblimation. The company made just three movies before Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen formed DreamWorks—and most of the Amblimation employees were brought over as the "main source feeding DreamWorks' animation division." The first movie they tackled was The Prince of Egypt.

8. WRITER DAVID KIRSCHNER IS ALSO RESPONSIBLE FOR ANOTHER POPULAR CHARACTER.

Before he was a writer, David Kirschner was a doll designer. That skill paid off a couple of years after An American Tail, when he designed another character that has its own place in pop culture, though a much different one than Fievel: Chucky, the homicidal doll from Child's Play.

9. SISKEL AND EBERT DID NOT APPROVE.

Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert gave An American Tail two thumbs down—with Ebert declaring, "This is the most downbeat movie since Return to Oz, which began, you may remember, with Dorothy being strapped down for electroshock therapy." Other critics tended to agree, but judging by the box office numbers, the public did not. The "downbeat movie" made more than $47 million domestically, beating Disney's The Great Mouse Detective, another mouse-centric animated film that had been released a few months earlier.

10. THE SCREENWRITERS HAD SESAME STREET BACKGROUNDS.

There's probably a reason An American Tail resonated with children, despite the serious subject matter: Thanks to decades of working on Sesame Street, the screenwriters knew how to talk to kids.

Screenplay writer Judy Freudberg was a longtime Sesame Street resident with 35 years under her belt. Freudberg joined the show as an assistant in the music department and ended up as a writer. Fellow screenwriter Tony Geiss also wrote for Sesame Street, including "Don't Eat the Pictures."

11. NO ONE EXPECTED "SOMEWHERE OUT THERE" TO DO SO WELL.

Songwriting team Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann were given four weeks to write four songs for the movie with James Horner. They didn't think they had written a hit, but after Spielberg listened, he was convinced that "Somewhere Out There" could be a Top 40 hit. He was right—the Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram duet peaked at #2 on the charts and won two Grammy Awards. It was also nominated for an Oscar, but lost to "Take My Breath Away" from Top Gun.

12. THERE WERE THREE MORE MOVIES.

Most people know that there was a sequel to An American Tail, in which Fievel and pals head West to seek their fortunes. But there were two more movies after that. An American Tail: The Treasure of Manhattan Island and An American Tail: The Mystery of the Night Monster came out in 1998 and 1999, respectively, and went straight to video.

The Very Real Events That Inspired Game of Thrones's Red Wedding

Peter Graham's After the Massacre of Glencoe
Peter Graham's After the Massacre of Glencoe
Peter Graham, Google Cultural Institute, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Ask any Game of Thrones fan to cite a few of the show's most shocking moments, and the so-called "Red Wedding" from season 3's "The Rains of Castamere" episode will likely be at the top of their list. The events that unfolded during the episode shocked fans because of their brutality, but what might be even more surprising to know is that the episode was based on very real events.

Author George R.R. Martin has said that the inspiration for the matrimonial bloodbath is based on two dark events in Scottish history: the Black Dinner of 1440 and 1692's Massacre of Glencoe. “No matter how much I make up, there’s stuff in history that’s just as bad, or worse,” Martin told Entertainment Weekly in 2013. And he’s absolutely right. See for yourself.

The Massacre of Glencoe

The West Highland Way in 2005, view from the summit of the Devil's Staircase looking south over the east end of Glen Coe, towards Buachaille Etive Mòr with Creise and Meall a' Bhuiridh beyond
Colin Souza, Edited by Dave Souza, CC BY-SA 2.5, Wikimedia Commons

In 1691, all Scottish clans were called upon to renounce the deposed King of Scotland, James VII, and swear allegiance to King William of Orange (of William and Mary fame). The chief of each clan had until January 1, 1692, to provide a signed document swearing an oath to William. The Highland Clan MacDonald had two things working against them here. First of all, the Secretary of State, John Dalrymple, was a Lowlander who loathed Clan MacDonald. Secondly, Clan MacDonald had already sworn an oath to James VII and had to wait on him to send word that they were free to break that oath.

Unfortunately, it was December 28 before a messenger arrived with this all-important letter from the former king. That gave Maclain, the chief of the MacDonald clan, just three days to get the newly-signed oath to the Secretary of State.

Maclain was detained for days when he went through Inveraray, the town of the rival Clan Campbell, but still managed to deliver the oath, albeit several days late. The Secretary of State’s legal team wasn't interested in late documents. They rejected the MacDonalds's sworn allegiance to William, and set plans in place to cut the clan down, “root and branch.”

In late January or early February, 120 men under the command of Captain Robert Campbell arrived at the MacDonalds's in Glencoe, claiming to need shelter because a nearby fort was full. The MacDonalds offered their hospitality, as was custom, and the soldiers stayed there for nearly two weeks before Captain Drummond arrived with instructions to “put all to the sword under seventy.”

After playing cards with their victims and wishing them goodnight, the soldiers waited until the MacDonalds were asleep ... then murdered as many men as they could manage. In all, 38 people—some still in their beds—were killed. At least 40 women and children escaped, but fleeing into a blizzard blowing outside as their houses burned down meant that they all died of exposure.

The massacre was considered especially awful because it was “Slaughter Under Trust.” To this day, the door at Clachaig Inn in Glen Coe has a sign on the door that says "No hawkers or Campbells."

The Black Dinner

In November of 1440, the newly-appointed 6th Earl of Douglas, who was just 16, and his little brother David, were invited to join the 10-year-old King of Scotland, James II, for dinner at Edinburgh Castle. But it wasn’t the young King who had invited the Douglas brothers. The invitation had been issued by Sir William Crichton, Chancellor of Scotland, who feared that the Black Douglas (there was another clan called the Red Douglas) were growing too powerful.

As legend has it, the children were all getting along marvelously, enjoying food, entertainment and talking until the end of the dinner, when the head of a black bull was dropped on the table, symbolizing the death of the Black Douglas. The two young Douglases were dragged outside, given a mock trial, found guilty of high treason, and beheaded. It’s said that the Earl pleaded for his brother to be killed first so that the younger boy wouldn’t have to witness his older brother’s beheading.

Sir Walter Scott wrote this of the horrific event:

"Edinburgh Castle, toune and towre,
God grant thou sink for sin!
And that e'en for the black dinner
Earl Douglas gat therein."

This article has been updated for 2019.

15 Game of Thrones Products Every Fan Needs

Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan, HBO

Though Game of Thrones might be coming to its official end, that doesn’t mean that your fandom can’t—or won’t—carry on. Whether you’re a years-long defender of House Stark or have been rooting for House Targaryen since the beginning, there’s a candle, collectible pin, coffee mug, card game, and pretty much anything else you can imagine with your name (and preferred sigil) on it.

1. A Song of Ice and Fire Book Series; $46

Bantam's 'A Song of Ice and Fire' book series

Bantam, Amazon

If you’ve never read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series upon which the series is based, plenty more Westerosi drama awaits. And just because you’ve seen every episode of the series 10 times doesn’t mean you know which way the books will turn. (The TV show diverged from their narrative a long time ago—and dozens of the characters who have been killed off on your television screen are still alive and well in the books.) Plus, as Martin has yet to complete the series, you may just catch up in time for the newest book.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Map Marker Wine Stopper Set; $50

Nobody solves a problem like Tyrion Lannister … and his thought process usually includes copious amounts of wine (Dornish if you’ve got it). Something tells us you’re going need some vino yourself to get through the giant, hour-long hole left in your Sunday nights once Game of Thrones officially ends. Make sure you don’t let a drop of it go to waste by keeping one of these six wine stoppers—each one carved to represent the sigil of the most noble houses in the Seven Kingdoms—handy.

Buy it: HBO Shop or BoxLunch

3. Winterfell Coffee Mug; $25

If coffee is more your speed—we get it: the night is dark and full of terrors—this simple-yet-elegant Winterfell mug is an easy way to communicate to your co-workers why you’re typically a little bleary-eyed on Monday mornings.

Buy it: HBO Shop

4. Hodor Door Stop; $12

A 3D-printed Hodor door stop, inspired by 'Game of Thrones'

3D Cauldron, Amazon

An important part of being a Game of Thrones fan is accepting that showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have no problem killing off your favorite characters, often in brutal ways. One of the series’ most memorable deaths was that of Hodor, Bran Stark’s personal mode of transport, who we loved despite the fact that the only word he ever uttered for six seasons was “Hodor”—and who we loved even more when, in the final moments of his life, we learned why that was the case. Pay tribute to the gentle giant, and his backstory, with this 3D-printed door stop.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Tarot Card Deck; $25

A 'Game of Thrones' tarot card deck, from Chronicle Books

Chronicle Books, Amazon

Channel your inner Maggy the Frog and see what the future holds for you and your loved ones (your enemies, too, if the mood strikes you) with Chronicle Books’s gorgeously packaged tarot card deck. The tarot tradition and Game of Thrones mythology blend seamlessly together in this box of goodies, which includes an instruction book and illustrated cards featuring your favorite characters and most beloved scenes from the show.

Buy it: Amazon or Chronicle Books

6. Fire and Blood Candle; $12

Mad Queen or not, show that you still stand behind the Mother of Dragons by filling your home with this House Targaryen-inspired votive candle. Best of all: Just wait to see the look on the faces of your guests when they ask “Mmmm … what’s that smell?” If you’d prefer not to answer with “fire and blood—doesn’t it smell delicious?,” there are other scents available: one called "Moon of My Life My Sun and Stars," another called "Be a Dragon," and one inspired by the Iron Throne itself (which must smell like victory).

Buy it: HBO Shop

7. Clue: Game of Thrones; $50

Margaery Tyrell with the battle axe in Cersei’s bedchambers. Rewrite the rules—and brutal deaths—of Game of Thrones with this special edition of the classic board game, which tasks you with figuring out who murdered whom, using what weapon, and where the incident took place. A double-sided playing board lets you choose whether you want to set the game in The Red Keep or Meereen.

Buy it: HBO Shop or BoxLunch

8. Game of Thrones Monopoly; $24

'Game of Thrones Monopoly' game board

Hasbro, Amazon

Who wants to be the Lord or Lady of Winterfell when you can become the preeminent real estate mogul of all the Seven Kingdoms? This special-edition Monopoly board puts a distinctly Westerosian twist on the classic game, with silver tokens to represent the sigils of each of the main houses and a card holder that plays the series’ haunting score whenever you press it.

Buy it: Amazon or Best Buy

9. House Stark Hoodie; $60

If you really wanted to dress like a Stark, you’d have a master blacksmith on hand to help customize your armor—or at least turn your IKEA rug into a luxurious cape. If you’re far less crafty, there’s always this full-zip hoodie featuring an embroidered direwolf on the front and an outlined illustration of the same on the back. The minimalist design is a way to show your fandom in a way that, to the untrained eye, might just look like you’re a fan of wolves. But the rest of us will know better. And approve.

Buy it: ThinkGeek

10. Deluxe Iron Throne Funko Pop! Set; $130

Funko's Iron Throne Pop! set of five

Funko, HBO Shop

Though it seems unlikely that a few of these characters will ever sit on the Iron Throne (either because they’re dead or have gone mad), a fan can always hope. And buying them as part of this five-piece set is an easy way to collect them all. If you don’t see your favorite character here, Amazon has got plenty more squat-headed figures to choose from, including Arya, Brienne of Tarth, Rhaegal (poor Rhaegal), and Ghost (poor Ghost). If you ever happen upon a headless Ned Stark Pop!, grab it; this hard-to-find figure can sell for more than $2000 on eBay.

Buy it: HBO Shop

11. Iron Throne Bookend; $60

After devoting more than eight years of your life to seeing Game of Thrones all the way through, maybe it’s you who deserves the Iron Throne. You can’t sit on this 7.5-inch replica, the base of which features sigils from all the noble houses, but you can show off your fancy George R.R. Martin book collection … or all that dragon fan fiction you’ve been working on.

Buy it: Best Buy or the HBO Shop

12. Game of Thrones Music Box; $13

'Game of Thrones' music box

Shenzhen Youtang Trade Co., Amazon

Channel your inner Arya by psyching yourself up with the iconic Game of Thrones theme song whenever you feel the need to hear it with this hand-cranked music box.

Buy it: Amazon

13. Iron Throne Tankard; $70

Show your guests who's boss at your next dinner party—or raucous feast—as you take your place at the head of the table and guzzle your mead (or giant's milk—we don't judge) from this Iron Throne-themed tankard, completed with sword handle.

Buy it: HBO Shop

14. Game of Thrones Socks; $8

It gets cold in the North. Keep your tootsies warm with this six-pack of stylish ankle-cut socks.

Buy it: Target

15. Living Language Dothraki; $16

A copy of the Living Language Dothraki language course

Living Language, Amazon

By now, you've surely learned at least a handful of common Dothraki words and phrases. But if you wan to become fluent in the (fictional) language, this language course is one way to do it. Now: Finne zhavvorsa anni?

Buy it: Amazon

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

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