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12 Facts About An American Tail

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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.

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Mister Rogers Is Now a Funko Pop! and It’s Such a Good Feeling, a Very Good Feeling
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It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood for fans of Mister Rogers, as Funko has announced that, just in time for the 50th anniversary of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the kindest soul to ever grace a television screen will be honored with a series of Funko toys, some of them limited-edition versions.

The news broke at the New York Toy Fair, where the pop culture-loving toy company revealed a new Pop Funko! in Fred Rogers’s likeness—he’ll be holding onto the Neighborhood Trolley—plus a Mister Rogers Pop! keychain and a SuperCute Plush.

In addition to the standard Pop! figurine, there will also be a Funko Shop exclusive version, in which everyone’s favorite neighbor will be wearing a special blue sweater. Barnes & Noble will also carry its own special edition, which will see Fred wearing a red cardigan and holding a King Friday puppet instead of the Neighborhood Trolley.

 

Barnes & Noble's special edition Mister Rogers Funko Pop!
Funko

Mister Rogers’s seemingly endless supply of colored cardigans was an integral part of the show, and a sweet tribute to his mom (who knitted all of them). But don’t go running out to snatch up the whole collection just yet; Funko won’t release these sure-to-sell-out items until June 1, but you can pre-order your Pop! on Amazon right now.

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10 People Who Have Misplaced Their Oscars
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Winning an Oscar is, for most, a once-in-a-lifetime achievement. Unless you’re Walt Disney, who won 22. Nevertheless, owning a little gold guy is such a rarity that you’d think their owners would be a little more careful with them. Now, not all of these losses are the winners' fault—but some of them certainly are, Colin Firth.

1. ANGELINA JOLIE

After Angelina Jolie planted a kiss on her brother and made the world wrinkle their noses, she went onstage and collected a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Lisa in Girl, Interrupted. She later presented the trophy to her mother, Marcheline Bertrand. The statuette may have been boxed up and put into storage with the rest of Marcheline’s belongings when she died in 2007, but it hasn’t yet surfaced. “I didn’t actually lose it,” Jolie said, “but nobody knows where it is at the moment.”

2. WHOOPI GOLDBERG

In 2002, Whoopi Goldberg sent her Ghost Best Supporting Actress Oscar back to the Academy to have it cleaned and detailed, because apparently you can do that. The Academy then sent the Oscar on to R.S. Owens Co. of Chicago, the company that manufactures the trophies. When it arrived in the Windy City, however, the package was empty. It appeared that someone had opened the UPS package, removed the Oscar, then neatly sealed it all back up and sent it on its way. It was later found in a trash can at an airport in Ontario, California. The Oscar was returned to the Academy, who returned it to Whoopi without cleaning it. “Oscar will never leave my house again,” Goldberg said.

3. OLYMPIA DUKAKIS

When Olympia Dukakis’s Moonstruck Oscar was stolen from her home in 1989, she called the Academy to see if it could be replaced. “For $78,” they said, and she agreed that it seemed like a fair price. It was the only thing taken from the house.

4. MARLON BRANDO

“I don’t know what happened to the Oscar they gave me for On the Waterfront,” Marlon Brando wrote in his autobiography. “Somewhere in the passage of time it disappeared.” He also didn't know what happened to the Oscar that he had Sacheen Littlefeather accept for him in 1973. “The Motion Picture Academy may have sent it to me, but if it did, I don’t know where it is now.”

5. JEFF BRIDGES

Jeff Bridges had just won his Oscar in 2010 for his portrayal of alcoholic country singer Bad Blake in Crazy Heart, but it was already missing by the next year’s ceremony, where he was up for another one. He lost to Colin Firth for The King’s Speech. “It’s been in a few places since last year but I haven’t seen it for a while now,” the actor admitted. “I’m hoping it will turn up, especially now that I haven’t won a spare! But Colin deserves it. I just hope he looks after it better.” Which brings us to ...

6. COLIN FIRTH

Perhaps Jeff Bridges secretly cursed the British actor as he said those words, because Firth nearly left his new trophy on a toilet tank the very night he received it. After a night of cocktails at the Oscar after-parties in 2011, Firth allegedly had to be chased down by a bathroom attendant, who had found the eight-pound statuette in the bathroom stall. Notice we said allegedly: Shortly after those reports surfaced, Firth's rep issued a statement saying the "story is completely untrue. Though it did give us a good laugh."

7. MATT DAMON

When newbie writers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck took home Oscars for writing Good Will Hunting in 1998, it was one of those amazing Academy Award moments. Now, though, Damon isn’t sure where his award went. “I know it ended up at my apartment in New York, but unfortunately, we had a flood when one of the sprinklers went off when my wife and I were out of town and that was the last I saw of it,” Damon said in 2007.

8. MARGARET O'BRIEN

In 1945, seven-year-old Margaret O’Brien was presented with a Juvenile Academy Award for being the outstanding child actress of the year. About 10 years later, the O’Briens’ maid took the award home to polish, as she had done before, but never came back to work. The missing Oscar was forgotten about when O’Brien’s mother died shortly thereafter, and when Margaret finally remembered to call the maid, the number had been disconnected. She ended up receiving a replacement from the Academy.

There’s a happy ending to this story, though. In 1995, a couple of guys were picking their way through a flea market when they happened upon the Oscar. They put it up for auction, which is when word got back to the Academy that the missing trophy had resurfaced. The guys who found the Oscar pulled it from auction and presented it, in person, to Margaret O’Brien. “I’ll never give it to anyone to polish again,” she said.

9. BING CROSBY

For years, Bing Crosby's Oscar for 1944’s Going My Way had been on display at his alma mater, Gonzaga University. In 1972, students walked into the school’s library to find that the 13-inch statuette had been replaced with a three-inch Mickey Mouse figurine instead. A week later, the award was found, unharmed, in the university chapel. “I wanted to make people laugh,” the anonymous thief later told the school newspaper.

10. HATTIE MCDANIEL

Hattie McDaniel, famous for her Supporting Actress win as Mammy in Gone with the Wind, donated her Best Actress Oscar to Howard University. It was displayed in the fine arts complex for a time, but went missing sometime in the 1960s. No one seems to know exactly when or how, but there are rumors that the Oscar was unceremoniously dumped into the Potomac by students angered by racial stereotypes such as the one she portrayed in the film.

An earlier version of this post ran in 2013.

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