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.

Orson Welles's Former Hollywood Hills Estate Is Taking Vacation Reservations

Fred Mott, Getty Images
Fred Mott, Getty Images

Orson Welles's former Hollywood Hills estate is a perfect place to get away from society, grow a bushy beard, and brood over a bottle of whiskey.

Interested? The late Hollywood icon's 3000-square-foot home is available to rent for about $755 a night through HomeAway. The house, which sits on its own private 15,000-square-foot knoll, was home to Welles at the very beginning of his career and is where he wrote the screenplay for 1941's Citizen Kane. Bring along your typewriter and try to channel some of his greatness.

Quite a few other celebrities have inhabited the house as well, including Rita Hayworth, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, and David Bowie. Features of the grand four-bedroom mansion—built in 1928—include a lagoon pool, Jacuzzi, deck, and both canyon and city views.

There's never been a better time to rent Welles's abode: his final film, The Other Side of the Wind, is set to premiere at this month's Venice Film Festival before arriving on Netflix. The unfinished flick, which was shot intermittently between 1970 and 1976, has been completed and restored for its much-anticipated release. (Of course the mansion has plenty of TVs for your viewing pleasure.)

The property has a three- to five-night stay minimum, depending on the season. For more pictures, see below or head to HomeAway. And since you're already in vacation-planning mode, another creative celebrity abode to consider is F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald's Montgomery, Alabama home, which is available to rent via Airbnb.

Orson Welles' house
Courtesy of HomeAway

Orson Welles mansion
Courtesy of HomeAway

Orson Welles' former home
Courtesy of HomeAway

Orson Welles' former home
Courtesy of HomeAway

Orson Welles' former home
Courtesy of HomeAway

10 Things You Might Not Know About Robert De Niro

RALPH GATTI, AFP/Getty Images
RALPH GATTI, AFP/Getty Images

Robert De Niro is part of the pantheon of independent-minded filmmakers who cut through Hollywood noise in the 1970s with edgier fare to create what became known as “The New Hollywood.” Following stints with Brian De Palma and Roger Corman, De Niro teamed up with Martin Scorsese for the first time with 1973's Mean Streets, which launched a fruitful artistic collaboration that has produced some of the best movies of the past half-century.

Even after his shift into commercial comedies like Meet the Parents, “dedication” has remained De Niro’s watchword. The two-time Oscar winner has earned Hollywood legend status with panache and bone-deep portrayals. Here are 10 facts about the filmmaker on his 75th birthday. (Yes, we’re talkin’ to you.)

1. HIS FIRST ROLE WAS IN A STAGING OF THE WIZARD OF OZ—AT AGE 10.

Robert De Niro got bit by the acting bug early. He threatened to thrash a hippopotamus from top to bottom-us as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz at the tender age of 10. (This is the remake and casting the world needs right now.)

2. HE DROPPED OUT OF HIGH SCHOOL TO PURSUE ACTING.

Robert De Niro arrives at the UK premiere of epic war drama film 'The Deer Hunter', UK, 28th February 1979
John Minihan, Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

De Niro’s mother, Virginia Admiral, was a painter whose work was part of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, and his father, Robert De Niro, Sr., was a celebrated abstract expressionist painter. So the apple falling into drama school instead of the art studio still isn’t that far from the tree. Having already gotten a youthful dose of stage life, De Niro quit his private high school to try to become an actor. He first went to the nonprofit HB Studio before studying under Stella Adler and, later, The Actors Studio.

3. HE’S A DUAL CITIZEN OF THE UNITED STATES AND ITALY.

De Niro is American, Italian-American, and, as of 2004, Italian. The country bestowed honorary citizenship upon De Niro as an honor in recognition of his career, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing to the passport office. A group called the Order of the Sons of Italy in America strongly protested the Italian government’s plan due to De Niro’s frequent portrayal of negative Italian-American stereotypes.

4. HE GAINED 60 POUNDS FOR RAGING BULL.

Preparing to play the misfortune-laden boxing champ Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull required two major things from De Niro: training and gaining. For the latter, De Niro ate his way through Europe during a four-month binge of ice cream and pasta. His 60-pound-gain was dramatic enough that it concerned Martin Scorsese. It was one way to show dedication to a role, but the training element was even more impressive. De Niro got so good at boxing that when LaMotta set up several professional-level sparring bouts for the actor, De Niro won two of them.

5. HE AND MARLON BRANDO ARE THE ONLY ACTORS TO WIN OSCARS FOR PLAYING THE SAME CHARACTER.

De Niro won his first Oscar in 1975 for The Godfather: Part II, for portraying the younger version of Vito Corleone—the wizened capo played by Marlon Brando, who also won an Oscar for the role (Brando’s came in 1973, for The Godfather). No other pair of actors has managed the feat, although Jeff Bridges came close in 2010 when he was nominated for playing Rooster Cogburn in Joel and Ethan Coen's True Grit (a role originated by John Wayne in Henry Hathaway’s 1969 movie of the same name). Oddly enough, Bridges was in contention for the role of Travis Bickle, the role that earned De Niro his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

6. HE DROVE A CAB TO PREPARE FOR TAXI DRIVER.

If you’re looking for commitment to a role, ask Hack #265216. De Niro got a taxicab driver’s license to study up to play Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver and spent several weekends cruising around New York City picking up fares. It’s possible that having his teeth filed down for Cape Fear is the most intense transformation he’s undergone for a role, but picking up a part-time job to live the lonely life of Bickle is more humane.

7. ONE OF HIS FILMS POSTPONED ONE OF HIS OSCAR WINS.

The 53rd Academy Awards—where De Niro won for playing Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull—were originally scheduled for March 30, 1981 but were postponed until the following day because of an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. The would-be assassin, John Hinckley, Jr., claimed the attack was intended to impress Jodie Foster, who Hinckley grew obsessed with after watching Taxi Driver.

8. HE LAUNCHED THE TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL IN THE WAKE OF 9/11.

Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal speak onstage at the 'Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives' Premiere during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival at Radio City Music Hall on April 19, 2017 in New York City
Theo Wargo, Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

Producer Jane Rosenthal, philanthropist Craig M. Hatkoff, and De Niro founded the Tribeca Film Festival in 2001 as a showcase for independent films that would hopefully “spur the economic and cultural revitalization of lower Manhattan” after the devastation of the 9/11 terror attacks. With its empire state of mind, the inaugural festival in 2002 featured a “Best of New York Series” handpicked by Martin Scorsese and drew an astonishing 150,000 attendees.

9. HE WAS ONCE INTERROGATED BY FRENCH POLICE CONCERNING A PROSTITUTION RING.

One of the most bizarre chapters in De Niro’s life came when he was publicly named in the investigation of a prostitution ring in Paris. The 1998 incident included a lengthy interrogation session (De Niro filed an official complaint) and a pile of paparazzi waiting for him when he left the prosecutor’s office. De Niro railed against the entire country, vowing to return his Legion of Honour and telling Le Monde newspaper that, "I will never return to France. I will advise my friends against going to France.” (He had cooled off enough by 2011 to act as the Cannes Film Festival’s jury president.)

10. HE LOVED THE CAT(S) IN MEET THE PARENTS.

Meet the Parents’s Mr. Jinx (Jinxy!) was played by two Himalayans named Bailey and Misha, and De Niro fell in love with them. He played with them between scenes, kept kibble in his pocket for them, and asked director Jay Roach to have Mr. Jinx in as many scenes as possible.

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